Steven Sandage and LeRon Shults, in The Faces of Forgiveness, propose a new and fresh approach to how the Bible speaks about forgiveness and how forgiveness works in real practice today. The question I will ask today is this one: In your experience in working with forgiveness issues, how tied is the ability to forgive to personal characteristics? Or, what do you find to be the big obstacles to the capacity to forgive?
There are two simplicities in forgiveness teachings: some make it simple and immediate and if you don’t forgive there’s something seriously wrong — they seem to be a bit unfeeling about it all; the other side turns it nearly into an objective condition: if someone does something wrong, they should pay for it, and if they pay for it, bingo! they are forgiven. Sandage and Shults propose a complex path that penetrates far deeper. Most recognize that forgiveness is not simple; it is messy; and for many, many, many extremely difficult because it brings back pain and wounds that are hard to deal with.
[Added: There is another simplicity. Those who don’t forgive haven’t grasped God’s forgiveness; when they do, they’ll be able to forgive. This is whopping stick that is only rarely the issue, should be used infrequently, and tends to finds its way into the hands of a mental construction of life that gets away from the tougher realities of forgiveness by those who have been wounded.]
I’ll do a few posts on this book, but let me summarize what the book does. Sandage is a professor of marriage and family studies at Bethel Theological Seminary and Shults is a professor of theology at Bethel. The book has two major parts — Sandage has two chapters on forgiveness from a psychological research viewpoint and Shults has two chapters on forgiveness in biblical and theological perspective. They co-write an introduction and a conclusion.
A big issue in this book is the concept of face, and they’ve got a dynamic idea both in the psychological and biblical sections. These points, in two parts of the book, are worth the price of the book.
There are three sorts of forgiveness: forensic, therapeutic, and redemptive. The first deals with standing and the elimination of retribution; the second with interpersonal relations; the third is the grace-creating changes of redemption between God, a person, and others. We need to distinguish the three sorts, and be careful to keep them in their proper place.
2.0 Forgiveness and Intersubjective Formation
Here is a major idea, and the two chps by Sandage are rooted in extensive research into the literature: “the capacity for forgiveness is formed in response to the face of the other” (31). In other words, and I need to summarize quickly, intersubjectivity is needed for humans to forgive one another but intersubjectivity requires personal health and that is not always the case. So the ability to forgive is in part acquired, in part psychological, and in part an aspect of inter-relational development.
To be characterized by “forgivingness” involves two features: empathy and humility. We simply don’t really forgive if we don’t have these two features are work in our relations.
Intersubjective deficits that prevent forgiveness:
anxiety/insecure attachment style
emotional stability/secure attachment
differentiation of self
humility (or guilt-prone)