Wednesday, December 11, 2019

On the nature of forgiveness

Forgiveness is not an emotion or a single action. It is rather a change in your ontological* orientation towards the forgiven person, removing them from the category of "enemy". Like love, forgiveness is a lifelong commitment. When you forgive someone you commit to carrying the burden of treating them as if the wrongs they have done you are wiped away.

You can forgive someone and still feel angry or hurt. Forgiveness doesn't depend on our feelings. We do not control our feelings but we always have freedom to forgive. What is required of us by forgiveness is that we do not allow ourselves to be motivated by the negative emotions we feel towards the person who has wronged us. And while we can't make our emotional pain disappear, we can try not to dwell on it.

Forgiveness is an asceticism. Like fasting or abstinence, forgiveness requires the repeated renunciation of desire. The impulse to lash out or complain about the person may arise 10,000 times, and 10,000 times you let it go.

Forgiveness is also a lot like "agape" love. It is not just an emotion or a simple action. You can love someone through having a wide array of emotions towards them. No one action fulfills the duty of love. Rather, love is a change in your ontological orientation towards someone, seeing their being as part of yours, and committing that you will act for their benefit as if it were your own.

Forgiveness is the sibling of love.

I had a hard time forgiving a person because I couldn't stop feeling hurt and angry. I wanted to forgive them but for a long time I couldn't figure out how to do it. Driving my car home today, these thoughts came to me, and I realize that now I can. Hurt and anger may still linger. But the choice to change my orientation towards the person to a forgiven one is entirely within my control.

I felt freedom when I had these thoughts. I laughed out loud in my apartment, astonished that the Nativity Fast had taught me the key to forgiveness of all things.

* I debated using a five-dollar word where a nickel would do. What do I mean by "change in ontological orientation"? An ontology is the map of concepts that one uses to make sense of the world. When someone has a change in ontological status to your eyes, you see them as a different sort of being. It is a kind of revelation. One example is the marriage sacrament in the Orthodox Church. In the sacrament "the two become one flesh" in the eyes of the church, the eyes of the couple, and in the eyes of God. That's a change in ontological status (2 singles, to 1 married couple).

Here I use the word "ontological" to imply the same kind of realness to the conceptual shift.