Hammarskjöld linked interpersonal forgiveness with the experience of peace with God

cropped-thailand_girl_205433.jpgCalled “the greatest statesman of our century” by American President John F. Kennedy, Dag Hammarskjöld was a Swedish economist, diplomat, and author.  Serving as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, his death occured as he was on his way to negotiate a cease-fire between Katangese troops in Moise Tshombe and “non-combatant” UN forces.  Awarded a Nobel Peace Prize posthumously, Hammarskjöld envisioned his professional duties as a spiritual responsibility.

Hammarskjöld only wrote one book in his life, a collection of diary reflections, entitled Vägmärken (Markings).  In an excerpt from this work Hammarskjöld emphasized the importance of forgiveness as it relates to one’s ability to experience peace with God:

“In the presence of God, nothing stands between Him and us – we are forgiven.  But we cannot feel His presence if anything is allowed to stand between ourselves and others”  (Hammarskjold, 2005, p. 359).

Hammarskjold, D. (2005). To say yes. In R. J. Foster & J. B. Smith (Eds.), Devotional classics:  Selected readings for individuals and groups (pp. 357-362). New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.


A psychological definition of forgiveness

cropped-mairani_cuevas_208847.jpgWe toss around the word “forgiveness” all the time, as we attempt to either extend it, or plead for it.  And yet, do we really know what it means to offer forgiveness?  Do we really know what it means to be granted forgiveness by another?

What exactly is forgiveness?

Dr. Robert D. Enright, referrred to by Time Magazine as “the forgiveness trailblazer” and by many in academia as “the father of forgiveness research”, and Dr. Richard Fitzgibbon, the director of the Institute for Marital Healing suggest the following definition of forgiveness for those conducting research:

“People, upon rationally determining that they have been unfairly treated, forgive when they willfully abandon resentment and related responses (to which they have a right), and endeavor to respond to the wrongdoer based on the moral principle of beneficence, which may include compassion, unconditional worth, generosity, and moral love (to which the wrongdoer, by nature of the harmful act or acts, has no right)” (Robert D. Enright and Fitzgibbons, 2000, p. 24).

Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. P. (2000). Helping clients forgive:  An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

For Further Reflection

Maybe you have thought of forgiveness as a sign of weakness.  May we suggest that, to the contrary, forgiveness requires great moral courage.  To take the high road of forgiving is to move from victim to victor.  It is the choice to be transformed by what you have experienced rather than to continue to allow your pain to be transferred to others (Ghoering).

Picture a placid pond.  Write forgiveness on a smooth stone and toss it into the middle of that pond.  Watch the ripple effect as that choice to forgive makes its way into the lives of all who share  a relationship with the offender: spouse, children, co-workers, store clerks, friends, extended family, the world.  Did you notice that as the ripples begin to wash over the lives of others, that new ripples are formed, making their way to new and unanticipated destinations, warmly embracing persons you may never know?

Ever dreamed of changing the world for good?  Here’s your chance.  Forgive.

Misconceptions regarding forgiveness

cropped-girl_188147.jpgIn their work with clients, Enright and Fitzgibbons (2000) have identified the following misperceptions regarding forgiveness: (1) the belief that forgiveness comes quickly, (2) the belief that  a one-time decision to let go of one’s anger is sufficient to fully appropriate forgiveness, (3) the belief that once one forgives, it is not permissible to be assertive any longer in that relationship, and (4) the belief that forgiveness is more beneficial for the offender than for the one forgiving.

Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. P. (2000). Helping clients forgive:  An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

For Further Reflection

Maybe you told God, yourself, or even the person who hurt you that you forgave them.  And yet, to this day, even the mere mention of their name elicits waves of anger, even rage!  “Must not have meant it when I said it”, you reason to yourself.  “Maybe forgiveness is a pipe dream! Not even possible!”, you may scream.  “And who really cares?  I don’t!” you may exclaim.  “And besides, who wants to be a doormat anyway!  Why should I let them walk away scott free while I continue to deal with all this pain?”

But the truth is that the full realization of the benefits of forgivenss may take time.  And the decision to release your anger in responsible and healthy ways may have to be repeated and reinforced over an extended period of time.  However, there is the day when you wake up and the anger is no longer filling your waking hours with adrenaline flow, cold sweats, and heart palpitations.

And besides that, contrary to popular belief, choosing to forgive those who hurt us deeply does not obligate us to put up with further abuse.  Furthermore, forgiveness heals your heart and soul, whether your offender ever admits they did wrong and asks for your forgiveness.

Exhale your hate.  Inhale peace.  Begin the journey of forgiveness and choose life!


Dan Allender warns against accepting an unbiblical view of forgiveness

cropped-portrait_of_a_man_202908.jpgDan Allender (1995), former President of The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, is a prominent Christian therapist.  Known for his work with those who have suffered childhood sexual abuse, he laments the lack of a clear and accurate definition of forgiveness:   “Considering how forgiveness is understood by many Christians and most unbelievers (forget the harm, pretend everything is fine, be nice and allow more misuse), it is little wonder that secular therapists are loathe to affirm such an unbiblical notion” (p. 239).

Allender, D. B. (1995). The wounded heart:  Hope for adult victims of childhood sexual abuse (Revised ed.). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

For Further Reflection

The temptation is to allow others to tell us what the Bible says, rather than reading it for ourselves.  And there are plenty of spin doctors who prooftext the Scriptures in order to get them to say what they want us to believe.  Does God really forget our sin?  If you read the Bible in context, you will find a record of redemption, which includes a recounting of the sins of God’s people followed by his judgement for those who refused to repent and turn to Him, or mercy and forgiveness for those who confessed their sin and repented of living the self-life.  Sure, God forgives.  And yes, He promises not to remember our sins against us any longer.  But that is different from believing that God somehow exercises voluntary amnesia.  What God is promising us is that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  However, to believe that God literally forgets our sin would require that God never reads His own book.  For each time He did, He would be reminded of the sins of His people once again.  And can you imagine us asking Him about a passage that speaks of a particular Biblical character’s story as recorded in the Bible, which includes an account of their sin choices, and God not knowing what we were talking about, because He had forgotten?You may wonder why God even preserved the stories of the Bible.  After all, aren’t we supposed to forget those things that are behind us and press on toward the mark?  Is there really any benefit to dredging up the past?  For example, is it really helpful to remember Peter’s denial of Jesus or David’s adultery with Bathsheeba, as recorded in the Bible?  Perhaps.  Could it be that God may have thought we could learn a thing or two by recounting the failures and foibles of those who have gone before us, even as He reminds us, through those same stories, that God forgave them.  So it stands to reason that even if it were possible, it is not a requirement that we forget the sins of those who sin against us in order to extend forgiveness to them.  And our ability to remember sins committed against us may actually help protect us from further harm, keep us from doing something similar to what our offenders did to us, or in the case of our own sins, discourage us from doing the same thing again again.  We remember.  But not with hatred and animosity.  Just an appreciation for the lessons learned.

Pretend everything is fine when it is not?  Jesus had a name for that: hypocrisy (putting on a mask).  No.  God is not into pain and pretending.  Instead, He desires that we walk in truth. So what should you do? Choose to own the pain that has resulted from the abuse or wrongdoing, grieve your loss, and then ask God to heal your heart, in His own good timing, as you take healthy and necessary steps to work through your forgiveness issues.

Be nice and allow further abuse?  Jesus said not to “cast our pearls before swine”.   And besides, how is your choice to allow others to continue to abuse you going to ever help them to grow up and be responsible adults?

Forgive. Remember.  Be honest and truthful.  Begin the process of working through your forgivenss issues.  Set healthy boundaries with those who are not safe or trustworthy.  Hold them accountable.  And whether they ever take the cues and grow up or not, you can move from victim to victor and be free!

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