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Forgiveness and the Face 1

posted by xscot mcknight

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.
1.o Introduction
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
vengefulness
rumination
narcissistic
shame proneness
Intersubjective strengths:
emotional stability/secure attachment
agreeableness
differentiation of self
empathy
humility (or guilt-prone)



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Ted Gossard,

posted March 30, 2006 at 6:07 am


Through my nearly finished reading of the Joseph story in Genesis, this time I find myself reflecting on how Joseph handled the return of his brothers. How harsh it seems from at least the brothers’ and Jacob’s perspective. Yet I’ve always given the benefit of any possible doubt to Joseph in this, thinking it is an example of some kind of “tough love” that was for the good of his brothers.
Yet I wonder. I wonder if there may have been any psychological factors going on here in Joseph (surely so, since such factors are with us always). And in that dynamic of his seeing and relating to his brothers. The whole inner as well as outer world of what was going on there. Don’t know of course, since Scripture there, doesn’t spell it out.
It does seem, however, at the end, that the forgiveness was complete and that there was a genuine reunion on a level that was new in the relationship between Joseph and his brothers.



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Phil Sinitiere

posted March 30, 2006 at 6:29 am


Hi Scot,
Haven’t had a chance to get a copy of the book yet, but I wonder if Sandange and Shults discuss forgiveness in the context of racial and/or ethnic kinds of reconciliation — say in South Africa or in North America (among other examples)? Any thoughts here?



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Phil Sinitiere

posted March 30, 2006 at 8:12 am


Sorry, my previous message should read “Sandage.”



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LeRon

posted March 30, 2006 at 10:02 am


Hi Scot,
Thanks for taking on the “Faces of Forgiveness” book! After our time together at the NPC I was pretty confident that we have the same concerns (and hopes) about treatments of the atonement in evangelical theology.
Today is the first day of my course in Theology III here at Bethel, and the first text the students read will be chapter 4 of “Faces.”
I hope you don’t mind if I refer them to your blog for your insights into the issue of forgiveness?
I look forward to your comments!
LeRon Shults



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Glenn

posted March 30, 2006 at 10:39 am


Scot,
You stated – “what do you find to be the big obstacles to the capacity to forgive” – A few years ago I was taught by my pastor that a person who is sinned against may also have the right to seek restitution. Restitution many times will be the fruit of true repentance. The offended party may say he forgives and also require that justice be done. For example, I forgive you for getting divorced from me to marry your lover but I ask you to begin payments on the child support I am owed. Or – I forgive you but you will replace the money I gave you for the mutual fund investment which you used instead to buy a vacation home in Florida.
Before, I had been taught that a person who forgives never seeks restitution and many Christian friends have this belief. In fact, they have told me seeking restitution means true forgiveness has not taken place! But this philosophy has led many to become victims of a cycle of abuse by the same person or persons. For me, living in a covenant fellowship where I can trust the members to address the wrongs on a level that seeks to understand and meet real needs allows forgiveness to be more authentic. Is it me, or are many Christians caught up in a superficial understanding of forgiveness?



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Ted Gossard

posted March 30, 2006 at 11:04 am


Scot, Is it possible that Jesus calls us to something more than what Glenn is spelling out here? This is perfectly understandable, the cases Glenn is sharing.
But to actively love one’s enemies….we can hope and pray they do right, for their own good. Like Zaccheus, whom the Lord acknowledged to be a son of Abraham after his restitution (more than Torah required).
(just thinking out loud)



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Ted Gossard

posted March 30, 2006 at 11:09 am


(I’m certainly not advocating that one stays in an abusive and dangerous relationship)



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Ted Gossard

posted March 30, 2006 at 11:17 am


I realize from these posts that loving their enemies had to do with Israel’s attitude towards the Romans. And that there is a close accountability called for among God’s people. And that living under the system involves protections in laws. So I could be off here.



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Van S

posted March 30, 2006 at 12:26 pm


It is amazing to me how much of my thinking has focused on forensic forgiveness. In the courses I’ve had with Steve Sandage and LeRon Shults, my categories have definitely been shuffled (sometimes painfully). These days, I’m struggling with the impulse to reject forensic understandings of forgiveness (like the satisfaction theory of the atonement) all together. Soemthing within me deeply desires to reject this notion, but I suspect it is an over-reaction. My struggle is in having a truly holistic and balanced view of forgiveness–especially the Divine–>human forgiveness demonstrated on the Cross.



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Van S

posted March 30, 2006 at 12:28 pm


One question: so do you think it is basically impossible for someone to forgive an offense by sheer act of will? Sometimes folks are unable to have empathy for the offendor…how can they extend authentic forgiveness if they are simply unable to have empathy?



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Dana Ames

posted March 30, 2006 at 1:21 pm


I don’t think Glenn is saying that Jesus doesn’t call us to something deeper. My experience has been that many Christians inded do get caught up in a superficial understanding of forgiveness, and Glenn and VanS are rightly pointing to the multidimensionality of it.
I can’t express in words how deeply grateful I am for this discussion. I think this is a major area in which Christians could minister real healing “for the good of the world”, and we have dropped the ball. I think we are hampered by the shallow understandings and are unwilling to engage with theology as well as the good insights psychology brings to the table. In our effort to remain “biblical”, in our fear of “not being influenced by the world”, and somehow not attending well to what it means to be mature, we fall very short in this most relational of virtues.
Really looking forward to the rest. I can see I’m going to have to get the book….
Dana



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Scot McKnight

posted March 30, 2006 at 1:33 pm


Glenn,
If we use the three kinds of forgivness in Sandage/Shults, then I would say that at a forensic level there will sometimes be the need for restitution, etc.. Therapeutically, we will often plenty to go through, in ourselves and with others and before God, to get to the point of genuinely releasing someone from what they have done to us. (Not always, but often enough.)
The big issue here, however, is that redemptive forgiveness is pre-emptive and active and creative. It forgives before it seeks restitution in an active manner so that, by that act of grace that circumnavigates restitution/retribution, it can create an alternative, redemptive community or relationship. The point, as I read this book, is that forgiveness can activate gracious relations, it can act powerfully to alter the relationship, and it can do this simply by annulling the restitution process or debt. This, so it seems to me, is precisely what Shults asked that question a day or two ago on this blog: Does satisfaction end up eliminating forgiveness?
In other words, if my debt, and the debt of the entire world of sins, understood as dishonoring God or as offending God’s good laws, requires satisfaction, what is there left to forgive? Am I not in a neutral category then? And if so, is forgiveness nothing more than the transfer of righteousness? Or, does God actually create a cylcle of embracing grace by embracing us in grace (in spite of our ungraciousness, etc)?
VanS,
Ask Steve! Ask LeRon! Well, for my take, one might forensically forgive by will; one cannot therapeutically be healed by will alone; but redemptive forgiveness requires an act of the will that can unleash if the relationship is restored in the process.



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Glenn

posted March 30, 2006 at 8:40 pm


I have not, but look forward to reading Sandage and Shults. I also enjoy this discussion and look forward to learning much from everyone’s comments. Let me go a little deeper. For me, I can forgive before I seek restitution in an active manner but I can not control that this act of grace will circumnavigate restitution/retribution. If I forgive in a pre-emptive way, this is much more forensic/judicial to me. I did this in the past. And I found this to be the big obstacle to the capacity to forgive. For some who are forgiven this does seem to encourage further sin. Does not the principle of forgiveness mean this is not “business as usual”, as if there is nothing wrong? I want to go deeper, be relational. It’s not just about me. If forgiveness is a relational transaction between the sinner and the one sinned against and not simply judicial, then forgiveness can not really take place unless there is repentance on the part of the sinner. There is a forgiveness that is not transactional. When we forgive in that sense we are freed by the power of God, we release the offender, we have love and compassion for the offender, etc. Yet until the person repents, how can I receive him back in a relationship? Where does the Kingdom enter into this? If we have the keys to the Kingdom to bind and loose, then the church has incredible authority to judge, discipline and forgive. If when two or three brothers gathered in His name bring correction, and Jesus said he is in the midst of them….., well, you get the point. God knows I still have much to learn about forgiveness, may I seek his grace.



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Glenn

posted March 30, 2006 at 8:51 pm


I know this was discussed earlier, but it does come into play with this discussion. “Does satisfaction render forgiveness no longer forgiveness?” If I am in Christ and the full penalty of justice was paid by Christ on the cross, have I not paid the price God demands? Could God offer forgiveness and grace towards me without the cross? It seems to be the only thing that satisfies.



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Scot McKnight

posted March 30, 2006 at 9:11 pm


Glenn,
Seems to me that you have defined forgiveness as satisfaction (or settlement). What then does forgiveness mean? Is there not an extension beyond satisfaction?



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Glenn

posted March 31, 2006 at 12:46 am


Scot,
My point is forgiveness includes elements of justice and satisfaction so the relationship can move forward. Could God offer forgiveness and grace towards me without the cross? It seems to be a foundational point upon which forgiveness is offered and built. Many Christians seem to stop at this point or don’t require elements of justice and satisfaction. I would start at this point but move well beyond it. Perhaps the way I define settlement isn’t as limited. As someone who has gone through extensive individual and group counseling, I see justice, satisfaction and restitution as one aspect of forgiveness that is deeply therapeutic and not simply objective. Of course forgiveness goes beyond settlement although I’m not sure how to define it? Forgiveness becomes inclusive, it does embrace the other, it ceases to feel resentment against another – all in ways that are impossible with just human willpower.
We see this in prison programs where “justice” has been carried out, the criminal has been sentenced and is serving his/her term. Yet sometimes years or decades later, the victim and criminal meet face to face. It’s a way to resolve and experience closure because the scales of justice alone can not fully resolve those issues. You’re right, settlement of an account is simply one aspect and many times an impersonal one at that!



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Becky

posted March 31, 2006 at 3:52 am


Sometime in the last 2 yrs I was told that when I no longer need to return to the pain, I will have forgiven. Emphasis there, then, is not so much on have I or haven’t I forgiven, but do I really need to keep returning to the pain. So, what’s the payoff? – get to be a victim; and what’s the payoff of being a victim? – ah, there it is. Something in me says then I would get what I wanted, rather than not getting it, which brought on the pain in the first place. But it not true cuz you can’t get from a stone (or is that blood from a stone? Can’t get water either!) Just this week I was asked if I’ve forgiven that person, and spelunking we will go again, to see how I’m still insisting on hanging onto that pain. Will I ever be willing to let it go.
I am involved with women who are survivors of childhood sex abuse. Some horrific-the person should die for it-abuse. The life reality of forgiveness is forged in that fire. I’ve learned much beyond the offered platitudes, but I have a long way yet to go. The starting place for many of us is – God I want to forgive, here’s my heart, help me.
And I think of something I heard once – forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to go back and walk on broken glass. Meaning, if a person will be like broken glass, forgiveness doesn’t mean I have to go back to them to be assaulted more. I can forgive, but honor my value.



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David

posted May 2, 2006 at 8:06 am


Forgiveness is the Mount Everest in the life of the Christian. It is the summit that one needs to climb in order to truly know that what God has done actually works. We can play around with a lot of other topics such as feeding the poor, sharing the good news but until the Spirit of God actually becomes our comforter and we can climb that mountain then we are just playing games. The message needs to go from our head to our heart. It is useless to say that you forgive when you have not. It is important to be authentic to be real with God, yourself and others. When we forgive we drink from the cup of suffering and God’s grace is activated to transform. Jesus forgave when he was on the cross, why shouldn’t we. If we are not there yet, we should at least acknowledge that is where we need to be. To all who recieved him who believed in his name he gave power to become sons of God. The kingdom of God comes in forgiveness……..it is something that we recieve from God it is not something that is self generated or manufactured. It comes from God. I had a difficult time with a person that was living with me, an in law. It was very troubling. There was no sanctuary in my life. I was very angry and like a bruised reed. One day as the sun was setting and it was glorious …….I sensed God breathing on me. I thought….things could be worse……..I could be Anne Franke. My houseguest that was causing me so much pain left in three days. Like the few loaves of bread and the fish, Jesus takes it……..he blesses it and then he breaks it and then he feeds the many. Being broken is the way that God transforms the planet. He uses other people to break us. That is the context of the Christian life. We are like smelling salts……….the vile needs to be broken for it to work. Forgiveness is the visible outworking of God’s commandment to love. Three great books. As Silver Refined by Kay Arthur, Total Forgiveness by RT Kendall and The Peacemaker by Ken Sande.



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