I’m taking way too long to finish blogging about forgiveness, so here’s what I’ll do. Today I’ll cover the second basis for forgiveness and tomorrow I’ll cover the third. On Thursday I’ll talk about the ways that forgiveness is conditional; on Friday I’ll wrap up with the ways that forgiveness is not conditional.
A while ago I talked about the first basis for forgiveness: that God has forgiven us. The second basis is closely related. It’s to see ourselves in the same category as the person who has wronged us. So much of our struggle to forgive involves a sense of superiority, rather than an acknowledgement that we are sinners in need of grace as much as anyone else.
It’s much easier to forgive when we see ourselves as we really are.
Nobody brings this out better than Miroslov Volf:
Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion – without transposing the enemy from the sphere of monstrous inhumanity into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see onself in the light of God’s justice and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness. (Exclusion and Embrace)
(Volf also touches on the third basis for forgiveness in this quote, which we’ll get to tomorrow.)
A lot of self-help literature talks about the importance of knowing oneself. This is incredibly valuable – although the knowing oneself leads to something much different than what is usually meant by the self-help approach. We come to know ourselves as sinners in desperate need of grace.
Becky Pippert puts it this way:
The biggest surprise of all has been about myself. I have had to face up to what I am sure has been clear to everyone else all along: I am deeply flawed. Mind you, I always knew theoretically that to be human was to be flawed – as in, “Hey, nobody’s perfect.” But as the years have gone by, I have had to face up to more dramatic, specific, and undeniable evidence that I was my own worst case…
We want to believe that the essential “us” is who we are in our best moments, when everything is going our way, when nothing is thwarting or threatening us. We want to believe that we are what we project to the world: nice, respectable, competent people who have it all together. Fortunately or unfortunately, life doesn’t let us get away with our charade. Sooner or later, whether through a difficult relationship with a berating boss, a demanding spouse, a difficult child, or simply through overwhelming or infuriating circumstances, we are confronted with our darker side. (Hope Has Its Reasons)
When we see ourselves as we really are, and believe that we are the worst of sinners, we’ll be much ready to forgive others when they wrong us.