Last week, I discussed forgiveness as a “weapon of mass destruction,” recognizing its immense spiritual power. Today, I would like to continue with this theme of forgiveness, evaluating its current popularity as therapeutic self-help. (If you missed last week’s post, you can read it HERE.)
Interestingly, forgiveness has received a lot of positive press lately in mainstream culture. “Forgiveness is good for you” is a trending theme promoted by all kinds of secular sources, including physicians, psychologists, news outlets, and entertainment media. We can appreciate and even applaud this surge of support for forgiveness.
However, if we forgive only for our own sakes, then the power of forgiveness is stunted. True forgiveness is not primarily a self-help strategy, although we do benefit when we forgive. The tremendous dynamo of forgiveness is activated most fully when our motivation is grounded in truth and in love.
Diluting and Defusing Forgiveness
If we dilute our forgiveness by forgiving others for our own gain, then we lessen the impact of love upon the wrongdoer. We defuse the spiritual combustion that could have wreaked greater havoc on enemy forces.
Leslie Leyland Fields has written about the “therapeutic forgiveness message,” quoting those who say, “Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.” She recalls Jesus’s parable of the unmerciful servant who was forgiven a large debt but who then refused to forgive someone else’s small debt:
That man with massive debts who is called before the king is us. We’re hopeless before the holy King. We stand there shoulder to shoulder with every other debtor, even those who owe us money and honor and … love. … Our only hope is the King himself, and he does it. He clears our debts entirely. … [The man in the parable] misses this essential fact: Forgiveness is not for his personal freedom and happiness alone. It’s to bring freedom and restoration to all, especially to those who owe him. … We may begin the journey of forgiveness to ease our own burdens. But along the way we discover a chance to live out the fullness of the gospel: loving the unlovely, forgiving seventy times seven. In so doing, we reflect the kingdom of God among us.[i]
Self-Help for God?
When we are given opportunities to forgive, we are being privileged to reflect God in a dramatic way.
[i] “What We Forgot About Forgiveness.” Christianity Today. May 2014. 30-35.