Friday, February 22, 2008

Science has discovered forgiveness

There is an interesting article today in the Sydney Morning Herald entitle More than divine: science discovers that there is power in forgiveness. It is interesting on a number of counts...

Let's start with the title "More than divine: science discovers..." This portrays the writer's conviction that somehow science is more real/reliable than theology. It is as if they were saying, "well you may have irrationally thought that forgiveness was a good thing, but now we KNOW rationally because science has proved it". Because apparently all theologically based ideas come from an irrational leap of faith, and so are spurious, whereas science is the only way to find truth in a world that doesn't believe in absolute truth. How many more theological ideas does science have to prove before the bright sparks figure out that theology is just as rational a way of understanding life, the universe and everything as science? (Francis Shaeffer's book Escape from Reason on this topic is a fantastic read btw).

OK, having said that, it is interesting that the study has shown that forgiveness is actually more beneficial for the 'victim' rather than the 'perpetrator'. I think the key section in this article is where it says, "Now, forgive the offender. Don't just shed the bitterness and drop the recrimination, but empathise with his plight, wish him well and move on - whether he is sorry or not." This directly mirrors the New Testament instructions that we should "pray for those who persecute you" (Mt 5:44), "love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back..." (Lk 6:35), "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." (Rm 12:14).

Now who would have guessed that if God asks us to do something that it would actually work out for OUR good?? LOL.

So there are two ways of dealing with hurt. The world's way (before science discovered forgiveness and saved us all from ourselves LOL) was to hold on to it, use it as an excuse to act out in anger towards others, and build a wall around the heart so "no one can ever hurt me like that again". The result is that we shrivel. We become less able to have meaningful relationships, because we function on this "safe" level where no one can hurt us because no one can get close enough. We become less willing to engage with life and ride out it's good and bad days, instead withdrawing within a safe emotional shell. We also tend to lash out at others if they behave in a way that reminds us of the last time we were hurt. "This is just like that time when..." and so we hold on to a serious of things that happened in our lives, and often draw out of them a lesson about who we are and what our value is, "if you were worth anything this wouldn't keep happening", "nobody loves you", "you are worthless".

My own experience in this is that over my lifetime I have developed a bit of an abandonment/rejection complex. When I was little some people I really loved moved overseas / interstate, and I couldn't understand why they would do that if they loved me. Then when my little sister was born I felt rejected, now that my parents had her, they wouldn't need/love me. Also had bad experiences at school with being rejected/betrayed by people. Then a couple of years ago I went through a nasty divorce. I don't want to get into details, I was at fault as much as my ex-husband was, so I don't want to labour the example as if he was 'the bad guy' and I the 'innocent party'. Neither of us lived up to our vows. Sadly, the marriage for both of us I think provided more of a sense of rejection than of love. It was very lonely, and deeply, deeply hurtful. I am deeply sorry for what happened, for the ways I failed to honour him and the hurt that I inflicted on him.

When the divorce finally went through I thought I would die because of the pain. I could not conceive of the possibility that the immense ocean of pain and grief would ever, ever end. I hated him as much as I loved him. What I found was this, that whole "bless those who persecute you" thing works. As I began to pray that God would bless him, more and more the pain went away, more and more I felt safe and that I didn't need to barricade myself inside an emotional shell. More and more I became grateful that if all of that had to have had happened that at least I had come to know God in the process, and I had learnt from walking with Him through suffering just how much His heart breaks for us, and also that my faith was not based on what God could do for me, but that knowing Him was consolation enough. I still regularly pray for God to bless him. It's funny but I see it now as an honour to be able to do that, given that it does me no good at all! It gives me a great sense of peace and joy.

I think an important thing to realise with forgiveness is that it requires first that you acknowledge that something wrong has been done to you. You can't forgive something that you rationalise away, and when you start building the walls you internalise the experience and make it part of who you are, and so it doesn't seem wrong, because "people just don't like me" so it was natural for that thing to have happened. To forgive I think you have to look at yourself squarely in the mirror and realise that you have worth and value and that what was done was wrong. It's only at that point that you can forgive it. If you don't think it was wrong, no matter how hurt you feel, you won't think you need to forgive it. This is particularly difficult when you weren't entirely innocent yourself, because there's a sense that "I deserved that". This comes out of spurious thinking that says "two wrongs make a right". What you did was wrong, but that doesn't make what they did less wrong. In this case, you probably need to forgive yourself as well as them.

God bless,

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