Monday, 22 August 2011


 An article in the Huffington Post challenges what the writer feels are some myths about biblical forgiveness, in particular the idea that we must forgive everything unconditionally without the perpetrator needing to show remorse. The writer also suggests that our ideas about the psychological benefits of forgiveness are a modern concept which we apply anachronistically to the bible. The idea that forgiveness is necessary to psychological wholeness one which is readily bandied about in  Christian circles.  A quick look on the net and I immediately found a site telling me that, "many people are crippled by an inability to forgive and so block healing." This idea that unforgiveness will leave you crippled is not wholeheartedly supported within the psychiatric profession. A counsellor once said to me that, although holding on to intense bitterness is destructive, "forgiveness",in the sense that we often understand it, is in no way a prerequisite to healing or wholeness. She said she had met more people suffering long term damage as a result of being coerced into thinking that they must forgive unconditionally than those suffering as a result of unforgiveness. 

I am not saying for one moment that forgiveness is not emotionally beneficial. Sometimes it is necessary, and I do believe that some form of "forgiveness", even if at the least this is a moving on and putting past pain to rest, is at some point essential for emotional well being.   It is also true to say that sometimes other responses, such as anger, outrage or need to seek for justice, or quite simply a focus upon one's own needs, rather than the imagined needs of the perpetrator for their victim's "forgiveness", are more appropriate and beneficial. I have blogged before about the way that churches often deal rather badly with the subject of forgiveness, often causing damage to those who are dealing with very difficult issues such as abuse, and so I welcome this piece. Scripture should not be used to inflict further pain.
 This corrective to some of our rather trite "what-the-bible- says- about forgiveness" formulas  is needed. Nevertheless, there are some striking omissions in the piece, for example that it didn't mention the Lord's Prayer, which did seem quite astonishing. Seeing as the article did purport to be a piece about  bibilical veracity, rather than one driven primarily by pastoral concerns, I would have liked it to address scripture more widely.


  1. Thanks - that's helpful - I'm speaking about revenge/forgiveness on Sunday... (well that's the intention at the moment) - though your post is helpful to me personally as well.

  2. I am glad if it was helpful and I will look forward to your preaching. There are some comments on the Huff Post piece on Thinking Anglicans (which is where I found it.)