Part 2 of 2: Finding Healing Through Forgiveness
My doctorate is on the theology of healing through forgiveness. People come to me with so many questions about what to do with their anger or when they can’t forgive after trying many times.
I wanted to answer these struggles. I began finding relationships between psychology and theology. Things that work in psychology are based on our belief in who the human person is; they reflect what St. Thomas Aquinas or Aristotle said first.
There are connections between the way forgiveness enters places of sorrow, anger, or vengeance. Loving my enemy and blessing someone who’s cursed me requires a full flip of the passions. No wonder I can’t forgive overnight! Jesus says to forgive seventy times seven times. It’s arduous because we’re doing something virtuous that touches places where we’ve been shattered. Our emotions tell us to seek revenge or stay in a place of grief. Forgiveness is a towering call to virtue, goodness, and participation in Christ’s own heart.
When struggling with forgiveness, I consider how the Lord was brutally tortured and murdered. His way requires more than taking an eye for an eye. It’s more demanding to forgive our offenders and want them in heaven. Forgiveness is excellence in virtue and an intimacy with Jesus. As we move toward forgiveness while grappling with broken places, we come into Christ’s heart and share in his goodness.
A desire for revenge can be understandable. But someone’s dignity, innocence, or life can’t be returned. Does an eye for an eye satisfy? The Lord said that is no longer part of the covenant. He fulfilled that and instructed us to turn the other cheek and offer mercy—as He does for us.
Aquinas said sorrow nests inside anger. When someone hurts us and we are angry and want them to suffer, we must admit the sadness beneath our anger in order to find healing. Lamentation—wailing and weeping—is biblical and good. Lamentation softens sorrow, which otherwise becomes intense and depresses the soul. Lamentation weakens anger’s power.
Forgiveness does not require reconciliation. God offers us both forgiveness and reconciliation, but it’s different with humans. If both parties are open to reconciliation, we should work on that, because God reconciled all things to Himself through Jesus Christ. But we can’t control the will of our enemies. If someone is a danger to us, reconciliation will be dangerous. Or someone may deny our attempts at reconciliation. We’re obliged to love our enemies—to want their good and ultimately their salvation. But we aren’t obliged to be their friends and share in community and life with them.
Ask the Holy Spirit what went wrong in the order of charity, how the Lord sees what happened, and how He wants us to move forward. Our emotions intensify around memories we’ve been replaying. The Holy Spirit can reveal what really happened and how to properly relate to that—giving us a stance of truth through the lens of God, within which we can then lament. Even when justice is done, there’s no undoing the evil. The doctor still hurt my dad; that will remain a sorrowful mystery. But confronting it in the light of the Holy Spirit and understanding how my heart relates to that releases some of the grief.
We must decide, “Do I want what my passions are driving me toward? Could there be another way?” There are only two ways out of the anger: choose to seek revenge or choose a way that surpasses justice—the way of Jesus, an undeserved gift. The person may not deserve what we give them, but we don’t deserve what the Lord gives us. When we’re merciful, we receive his mercy.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
This article is the second of two articles condensed from an episode of The Choices We Face called Healing Through Forgiveness. Read Part 1, Finding Healing through Brokenness, here. To see additional episodes of The Choices We Face, visit here.