Forgiveness, mercy, and justice

“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison, and then waiting around for the rat to die.” (Anne Lamott)

Forgiveness can be one of the hardest things you’re faced with.

It could be about forgiving yourself, or about forgiving someone else for some horrible deed. It’s hard, but not impossible. But forgiveness is not about excusing what someone has done. It’s about letting go of it, and moving on with your life.

Forgiveness, mercy, and justice

What do you do when forgiveness is called for?

Some scenarios:

  • Someone recklessly cuts in front of you on the highway, almost forcing you off the road.
  • Your friend still has not paid back the fifty dollars he “borrowed” a year ago.
  • Your family has been criticizing your life-style.
  • You find out that your spouse has been unfaithful.

What do you do in situations like these? Can you forgive them? Should you forgive? Or should you “Give them what’s coming to them”?

We all know that the Bible teaches us to forgive others. But sometimes it seems like it is impossible to forgive, because the wrong that has been done is so great. Sometimes it seems like it just wouldn’t be fair to be merciful.

Mercy

When there seems to be a conflict between mercy and justice, it may be that we do not clearly understand the nature of genuine forgiveness and mercy. The Bible teaches us to show mercy in a way that lets us be both fair and genuinely useful to all involved.

One reason we sometimes get confused about mercy, is that we tend to replace mercy with artificial substitutes. Essentially, mercy is a Divine quality. “To You, O Lord, belongs mercy.” (Psalm 62: 12) Divine Mercy has nothing in common with the petty revenge and “get-even” kind of “fairness” that tends to occupy our thoughts. And it has little in common with the superficial pardon or even condoning of evil that is sometimes passed off as mercy. The Lord’s thoughts are far more merciful than ours. It is in speaking of His mercy that the Lord says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are My ways your ways.” (Isaiah 55: 7-9)

One of the things that distinguishes true mercy from its substitutes is its constancy. Peter came to the Lord asking, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18: 21, 22) A truly forgiving person will not show mercy one moment and malice the next, because the two cannot mix together. For example, to forgive your friends but not your enemies is not true mercy, because it would be done for the sake of some favor you might get in return. “Love your enemies…. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?” (Matthew 5: 44-46) We can only be truly merciful by completely rejecting any desire for malice or revenge.

This perfectly reflects the way the Lord shows mercy to us. We tend to think that the Lord is changing His mind when He forgives us, as if He decided not to punish us after all. Of course He does not really change His mind at all. He knows and foresees all things. He does not desire to hurt one day and heal the next. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1: 17) He is always a loving and gentle Father. “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear Him.” (Psalm 103: 17) “`For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” (Isaiah 54: 10) Thus forgiveness is not the Lord changing His mind about us. Rather, it is the Lord changing our minds about Him.

Another quality that marks genuine mercy is that it involves helping the person who has wronged us. Sometimes we think that a person should earn our forgiveness. We refuse to give up our bitter feelings unless the other person makes an effort to earn our good will. This gives us an excuse to feel sorry for ourselves and to neglect helping the other person do better. However, the time to help a person is when he needs it. Mercy and forgiveness involve helping a person who has done wrong do better, not waiting until he does better and then helping him. That’s why the Lord said, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5: 44, 45)

Another way we sometimes avoid helping those who have hurt us is by misapplying the phrase “forgive and forget.” It is good to forget your own malice. Is is something else to forget that the other person may need our strength or discipline. We might think that forgiving implies forgetting that evil was ever committed. However, the Bible does not tell us simply to forget about the evil in other people. Rather, we are to actively help others face their faults and overcome them. “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him: and if he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17: 3) “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, your have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18: 15) “Brethren, if a person is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6: 1)

Helping others over their faults is not inconsistent with mercy. It is part of mercy. In fact that is exactly how the Lord forgives us. He is always willing to help us do better. “I will cleanse you from all your filthiness…. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.” (Ezekiel 36: 25, 26) Notice how the Lord showed mercy to the woman taken in adultery: He said, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8: 10, 11) He didn’t forget her sin — He encouraged her to overcome it. In fact, we would never be able to overcome our faults without the Lord’s power. If we had to earn His mercy we would be lost. The Lord says, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.” (Isaiah 1: 16)a And yet this is something that is accomplished only by His mercy and forgiveness, because He is the one who can put away our sin and remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 65: 3; Psalm 103: 12)

The Lord asks for us simply to do for others what He does for us. “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6: 36) Our forgiveness should be constant and unconditional because He forgives us that way. Yet in our mercy we may confront others with their evil in order to help them become better people, just as the Lord in His mercy confronts us with our evil so that we may overcome it and accept the love and mercy He offers.

Forgiveness of sins

The Lord immediately forgives us of everything thing that we ever do that is wrong because He is love and mercy itself. The premise is that we have to stop doing a questionable behavior in order for the forgiveness to mean anything, because until we stop the Lord’s love and mercy can not enter in and find a place with us. It is never that the Lord is not willing to forgive us, but that we are unwilling to change our behavior and let His forgiveness have effect in our life.

by Rev. John Odhner
Author of A Light Burden

https://newchurch.org/

DAILY INSPIRATION

“Love to God and love towards the neighbor are the whole of the Word.”

True Christian Religion 287

Self-esteem – How to find it?

self-esteemPsychologists have found that self-esteem goes along with being confident and assertive, having good physical health, and pleasing relationships. Yet some people have low self-esteem. They feel bad about themselves. What do you think of yourself? Are you pleased with who you are or ashamed? When someone makes critical remarks about you, is it water off a duck’s back or do you fold inwardly?

How can one feel better about oneself? The answer depends on who you are.

A way for those feeling low self-esteem

Many people with low self-esteem may not necessarily think they are `worthless’ but nevertheless they do feel as if they do not matter much and have little to offer. As a child you may have had somewhat critical parents and taken on board their repeated judgments about you. Perhaps you rushed home from school proudly telling mum or dad `I came second in class’ only to be asked about who came first. How crushed a child would feel — especially if the parents found it hard to express warmth and affection.

If we have a poor sense of self-worth, we often experience an inner voice unfairly criticising our thoughts and actions.

This voice makes snap judgments and jumps to conclusions merely on the basis of superficial information. It prevents us from trying new things and puts us down. It compares us unfavourably with other people and attributes any success we may have merely to chance. Our failures are only to be expected. If we interpret what we do as a failure, then it is a short jump to saying `I am a failure’.

Cognitive-behavioural counselling might help those who are able to learn to recognise this unhelpful voice,  challenge it and find more realistic habits of thought.

A way for those feeling low self-esteem

Repeated abuse, whether verbal, emotional, physical or sexual, drums in a message that the child is inherently bad, and deserving of punishment. If this was your experience of childhood why not try to get some in-depth psychodynamic counselling to explore the roots of your problem?  You can be helped to see past experience through the eyes of an adult and find a more realistic and coherent narrative about yourself. You can’t change the past but you might be able with professional help to come to terms with it and learn to move on.

Self-esteem for Christians

If you are a Christian and do not feel good about yourself, you may be wary of self-esteem as promoting too much self-centredness or disguising the need for God. The trouble is a punitive idea of God is still around and some Christians have felt what they believe to be their basic sinful human nature deserves his condemnation.

If your relationship with God is undermining you then perhaps you could ask whether your image of God is at fault and needs ditching in favour of one that makes more sense. Why not replace him with a God who is not harsh like the one depicted in the Old Testament, and not one with anger appeased by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

An alternative religious view sees us as being neither inherently good nor bad, instead, being born with both positive and negative inclinations. We recognise in the baby’s ignorance of right and wrong an innocence of all blame. We are surrounded by a complex interweaving of problematic situations, interpersonal difficulties and social wrongs that influence our behaviour. We cannot be personally responsible for everything that is wrong in life. We need to distinguish between unrealistic and realistic guilt.

According to this view, the justice of God can only hold us accountable for the things we intentionally do believing them to be wrong.

Self-esteem for the spiritual sensitive person

I would say to the spiritually sensitive person that feeling good about what you do is very different from feeling you are good. We can humbly acknowledge that all that we achieve that is good in our lives is due to a spiritual force which is greater than we ourselves.

Paradoxically the result of this is that we would experience a greater sense of worth. We would see that all the worthwhile things we do is a result of being a willing channel for the power of divine love and wisdom.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Confidence – How to find it?

Do you lack confidence when it comes to certain situations? It could be anything: dancing, confidenceplaying sport, chatting with strangers, doing your job, making love.

Those who lack a natural talent for some activity tend to avoid doing it. So they are less likely to acquire needed skills for a good performance and the boost that comes with deserved appreciation. But you can improve your exam confidence by fine-tuning your study skills. You can improve your social and occupational confidence by dressing to look your best. Nothing breeds confidence as much as success.

Even self-confident people come unstuck somewhere

A person may be confidently dealing with the rapid rate of change after leaving their parents, making their way in the world, getting on well in a chosen job, finding a loving partner, and forming a new home; family, social and work relationships progressing satisfyingly. Yet, even confident people can get unstuck somewhere along the line.

The trouble is the future is uncertain and things sometimes have a habit of going pear-shaped just as you have started to get a bit complacent about life. There you were, outwardly doing well, when a time comes when something appears to hinder your path. The close friend with whom you spend a lot of time announces his or her decision to emigrate, the boss turns round one day saying the company you work for has gone bust, or the doctor suddenly announces those minor ailments you were having are signs of a deteriorating illness. There may be a crisis of doubt. Whatever the reason, life shakes your self-confidence and you no longer trust in your own abilities to save the day.

Calamities oblige us to reconsider the bigger picture. You may find yourself contemplating your lot and reflecting on the life you were leading and the society you were keeping. Then you are perhaps more likely to start to notice some contradictions around you such as the beauty of nature and the ugliness of mankind’s world of industry; the innocence of infancy and animals compared with the scheming deceit sometimes found in human commerce and politics. Another example for some is the trust shown in them by their children compared with the distrust they sometimes feel for their colleagues and neighbours. Thinking about such matters, you may realise you  have tended to take for granted some of the givens of your world without deeper questioning.

In what can you place your confidence?

So when it comes down to it, in what can we place our confidence? In our own abilities? In the ideas of others? Or in something beyond all of us? One example of the last of these three possibilities is to do with what the psychologist Abraham Maslow called `the whole of Being’.

He had studied exceptional people. The ideal values of what he termed `Being’ that he found in these individuals included justice, beauty and truth.

You may remember the final movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony – said by many to be one of the most triumphant and joyful movements in all music. Yet, the composer wrote it at a time when he suffered disappointment in love. At one level, his life was a negative experience with everything around him seeming to overpower him. The music, however, shows his intense inner life that could be both joyful and at peace, despite the adversity of his outer world. Within was an ideal view of life that he carried within himself, but which the world could not meet.

B cognition

Maslow labelled thoughts concerning such ideals as `B cognition’ (B for Being) that he distinguished from `D cognition’  (D for deficiency). This ties in with his distinction between growth and deficiency motivation. An example of a growth motive is an interest in finding meaning in adversity and an example of a deficiency motive is a need for comfort when hungry, cold and wet.

It is suggested that the more you can understand what has been called `the whole of Being’, then the more you would be able to tolerate what appears at first glance to be inconsistencies and contradictions in the way you think. Apparent opposites can disappear. For example the apparently opposite concepts of sickness and health may fuse and blur when, using `B cognition’, the symptom is seen as a pressure towards health. Another example is Swedenborg’s concept of conjugial love that illuminates the seeming dichotomy of sexual desire and romantic attachment, for these are no longer opposite when both are present in the same loving relationship.

I am sure that what really provides confidence is not so much what you do in meeting your natural desire for comfort and status, but rather your activity to do with deeply held ideals and values associated with B thinking. A car mechanic will feel confidence in his work if he values providing a quality service thinking about how to do his best in a sincere, reliable and considerate manner. A shop keeper will feel confidence in his role if he values honest trading; not ripping off customers by selling out of date food or damaged goods but rather thinking about giving them sufficient time to see what things are actually spot on for their requirements. The confidence is in the value of the ethical principles that sustain your efforts.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems