At the root of the difficulty in learning to forgive is mistaking the action of a person for their being and not seeing that the two are separate.
At the root of the difficulty in learning to forgive someone is mistaking the action of a person for their being, and not seeing that the two are separate.
Actions that people take are often wrong, misguided, or harmful to others, and these must be opposed or limited to the extent that is needed to protect the welfare and well-being of others.
But souls are composed of much more than their current actions, whether good or bad, even if these actions have gone on for a long time, and even if they are very severe.
Souls need to be judged on different grounds altogether. In order to judge a soul we must know that soul — something that in the most basic sense is not in the human province to do. We must be able to see the causes and reasons — the formative influences that permit a soul to carry out actions that are wrong.
In order to know a soul we must understand their pain and struggle, for these are at the heart of wrong behavior. Most of the time, however, these factors remain hidden in the past — sometimes in the very distant past — and we only see the effect of the cause, not the cause itself.
To see the degree of suffering of a soul in its original form is to know the origin of misguided behavior, since souls start out in a state of purity and attunement to God and goodness, and only later choose pathways that lead them away from this.
The Garden of Eden story in the Book of Genesis can give us an example of forgiveness of misguided souls on a Divine scale which we may choose to follow. Also, the story of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke
In the first (Gen. 3:1-24), God is seen as casting out souls who have disobeyed the Divine directive to not eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. God does this in order to prevent them from transgressing even further and taking of the Tree of Life which confers immortality. Here, we have an example of the explicit limitation of wrongful behavior, based on the knowing of what souls held at that time within their hearts, motivations, and minds.
This story may or may not make sense to our sense of Divine justice versus compassion or mercy. However, there is another story related to the eating of the Tree of Knowledge that is more telling of Divine intention — an inner story that reveals God’s motives.
In this story, God recognizes that souls can no longer live within the Garden of Eden — that they have cast themselves out of the Garden by virtue of eating the apple, due to a change in their consciousness which has already begun to experience separation. He also knows what is needed to bring them back. Thus, the casting is perceived as both necessary and inevitable, and also a way back for them. It becomes the Divine Plan, following this, for God to participates in the process of return and redemption, by helping mankind come forward into the state of consciousness that has been lost. This is Divine forgiveness on a grand scale, translated into the saga of mankind’s journey home.
In the story of the prodigal son (Luke 11:11-32), similarly, the son separates from the father, taking his inheritance with him, and squandering it in a life of waste and sin. Eventually, he comes to his own conclusion that this is not the life that he wishes, that he has lost all, and wasted all, and that he needs to come home. As he returns to approach his father’s house, the father, rather than being rejecting, says to his other son: “Come, let us make a feast, for your brother who was lost has come back again, and it is a time for great rejoicing.”
If God can forgive, so must we strive to forgive in relation to those who have transgressed against us. Though the actions of others that are harmful or dangerous must be limited, another’s soul must be offered a way back to the place of love and healing so that a new choice can be made other than the one of wrongful behavior.
Forgiveness must take into consideration the fact that a soul who has left the path of light and of right-understanding, often cannot find the way back to it on their own. This is because their inner light has become obscured by their inner darkness. Thus, their way of perceiving things has become distorted. It is only by being offered love and compassion in the presence of this distortion, that many souls can begin in the most minimal way to know that a way back exists, and that hope is possible.
What this requires of us, if we choose to follow the path of forgiveness, is a commitment to leave judgment in the hands of God. In doing this, we commit ourselves to believing that Divine justice will prevail, even in the most difficult or painful situations, and that we, therefore, do not have to take matters into our own hands. This is an article of faith and of faithfulness that we follow, expressed as trust in God’s goodness and justice even when it is not visible.
Also, if we follow the path of forgiveness, we must be willing to become agents of redemption for others, rather than agents of punishment. This requires of us a belief in the power of love to heal, to create hope, and to return a soul from disillusionment, despair, and even from the worst kinds of darkness. Where love is strong, as Jesus said, even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
How do we become agents of redemption in the sense of being willing to forgive? The inner attitudes needed are:
- faith in Divine justice, which prevents us from seeking revenge;
- compassion, which allows us to search for or postulate a degree of invisible suffering in those who commit acts of harm toward others; and
- belief in the power of love and the purposes of love to change mankind’s consciousness as well as the consciousness of individuals, returning them to God and to truth.
To stand in judgment of others, whether these others be individuals, groups, nations, or the world, implies a willingness to stand in the present while asking the past to justify itself. To forgive others, on the other hand, implies a willingness to stand in the future in viewing the past, while asking what possible future could redeem the past, changing its present course and bringing it more into alignment with what is right and good.
This is the place on which love stands, for love has hope for all possible futures for individual persons and for the world as a whole. Love does not rely on the present context of viewing mistakes, no matter what these mistakes are. It says: How can I bring the beloved one into a deeper knowing of the light that lies within them so that past darkness can be no more?
This is love’s answer to the problem of justice and forgiveness, and it brings to this problem all the mercy, trust, and hope that is possible in the human heart that is aligned with God.
III. The Need To Blame
In order to let go of the need to blame others for what they do, there must be an understanding of the usefulness of blame to the ego as a way of creating the illusion of power.
All blame stems from the choice we make to be angry rather than to feel hurt.
All blame has, at its root, the desire to redress or correct an event, situation, or occurrence so that we are not powerless in the face of it — so that we can do something about it.
To give up blame means to give up a large portion of ‘doing something about’ being hurt. It does not require stopping ourselves from preventing wrong behavior in the sense of taking action. It means stopping ourselves from feeling entitled to anger or rage.
To give up blame means to give up a large portion of ‘doing something about’ being hurt. It does not require stopping ourselves from preventing wrong behavior in the sense of taking action. It means stopping ourselves from feeling entitled to anger or rage while opposing or correcting such wrong behavior.
This is a critical distinction that involves our deepest feelings and our deepest notions of what it means to be alive. Without justifying blame, we become willing to absorb hurt, to be vulnerable to life. We become willing to accept the pain that comes along with life’s many happenings.
Some people blame others for the misfortunes that come to them. Some people blame God. In both cases, at the root of blame is an attitude that life is unfair and that something else should have happened other than what did.
But what if we gave up the idea that life is unfair? What if we lived in the understanding that things come to us and happen to us for reasons that we do not know, but that ultimately, even when it seems impossible to our hearts, they come to us so that we can heal and grow.
What if instead of feeling that life was unfair, we felt aligned with God’s purposes for us and God’s love for us as we go through suffering? This is the key question in the face of the possibility of giving up blame. Can we believe in God’s goodness in the presence of unwanted suffering? Can we believe in the goodness of life in the presence of pain? Can we believe that God’s purpose, unknown as it may be, is always good, and that we are being led somewhere on a journey of healing as we move through the ups and downs of life?
Without a doubt, this position requires a great deal of faith — and more than faith, it requires conviction regarding the reality of God. Without this, blame becomes the human alternative by which we attempt to set things right when things are wrong. We accuse, we get angry, we try to restore an emotional balance within ourselves that does not leave us feeling helpless. The power that blame seems to give is due to the fact that it overrides feelings of helplessness. It leaves us with a sense of being able to direct our energy toward something or someone so that we are able to do something in the face of pain. To give up doing is to be willing to be powerless, to be willing to feel hurt, and we can only do this when trust in life and in God is great enough to allow us to let go of control.
To absorb hurt is difficult, but not as impossible as it might seem. It requires a fuller understanding of what it means to live with an open heart.
An open heart seeks to be fully present to life — to all of life — to live it, to feel it, to respond to it, to take risks, to suffer the consequences.
An open heart does not protect itself. It is there for life’s events to affect, come what may.
The desire to live with an open heart makes possible the absorption of hurt when necessary, and allows us to let go of accusations. An open heart is willing to be vulnerable and to feel pain if it must, not by choice, but if it must.
A closed heart, by contrast, protects itself at all costs. It erects walls, defenses, and barriers around itself, and positions soldiers at its gates so that only those who are deemed to be ‘safe’ can gain entrance. The choice to live with an open or closed heart is one that we each make as we go through life, and we make it repeatedly in the face of all of life’s circumstances. With God, such a choice becomes possible and credible because it is based on the continuing support we feel from within to learn, to grow, and to get through anything and everything. Without God, such a choice is also possible, but is much more difficult to maintain because the heart must absorb pain on its own.
In the end, what happens with blame depends on what happens to our choice concerning how we want to live. This choice determines our attitudes when crises arise, and can either push us toward a greater degree of disillusionment and despair when we cannot control what life brings to us, or can lift us to a new level of faith and trust in God and in life.
Among the more difficult things to forgive are the limitations we perceive in ourselves, the mistakes we have made, the betrayals we have enacted, the ways in which we have let both God and man down. These things are generally more difficult to forgive than the actions of others.
Self-blame, in contrast to blame of others, usually lives in a deeper part of our psyche than anger. This is because it is so painful to feel, that most of the time we bury it well so that we only feel the edges of it rather than the whole thing.
Self-accusations come from what we perceive to be our real failures to live up to our hopes, our dreams, our ideals, and our standards. They often occur silently as we feel disappointment in ourselves or a loss of hope for changing things. In such cases, we deposit layer upon layer of shame and blame in our hearts for the things we have done, for the things we have failed to do, and for the things we have wished to do but could not — in short, for all the ways in which we have let ourselves down.
Self-blame and shame are closely related, the first usually having more specificity than the second, with blame for things that can be pointed to as particular failures. Shame, too, can be specific, but it can also be a generalized feeling about one’s whole self — a sense of being bad or wrong in an overall way.
Sometimes self-blame comes from real actions that we have taken — actions that were very wrong that hurt others deeply, that we in fact knew were wrong at the time. Sometimes self-blame comes from feeling that we should have known better in a particular circumstance, even though we don’t know how we could have known.
No matter what the origin of self-blame, in each instance in which we seek forgiveness for ourselves, the first place to seek it is in our own heart and in God’s heart. In order to do so, we must be willing to feel remorse and regret for past wrong actions so that we know in our hearts that they were really wrong, and feel in our hearts remorse for having hurt others or ourselves.
Without remorse, forgiveness is not possible and healing is not possible. Jesus said: “Go, and sin no more” along with the healing he offered, and by this he meant that in order for the healing to last and for change to be real, the motive toward wrongdoing had to be wiped clean or erased. If the motive were not erased, the person could not hold the forgiveness and healing that were being offered. So it is with remorse today in relation to past wrong actions. The motive to continue to do wrong has to be erased or wiped out in each instance if we are truly to forgive ourselves. And we can only forgive ourselves to the extent that remorse and regret have actually eradicated such motives.
When remorse is present along with the desire for self-forgiveness and God-forgiveness, we create the situation of a clean wound and healing can begin. Self-forgiveness can begin. The process begins with remorse and the desire to forgive ourselves and be forgiven by God. It continues with the growth of understanding regarding how to love ourselves and others better.
Sometimes it is very hard to forgive ourselves because we feel what we have done is unforgiveable. Sometimes we are able to forgive others more quickly who have done exactly the same thing as we have, perhaps for similar reasons. In such a case, we are able to accept their limitations but not our own. We are hard on ourselves and forgiving toward them.
When self-forgiveness seems beyond reach and the struggle to feel it seems beyond possibility, it is time to stretch even further toward God’s heart — a heart so large that it can even forgive rejection of itself as in the Garden of Eden story — a heart so large that it can love any soul, no matter what that soul has done. This heart forgives us when forgiveness is sought, even when we can’t forgive ourselves.
In addition, when forgiveness seems hard, it is time to remind ourselves that we are souls, learning as we live, needing to be taught, striving for perfection, but learning through our mistakes. As souls, we need to respect the learning process in ourselves and to know that we cannot grow up before we grow up. First, we are children, then we are youths, then we are adults, both physically and spiritually.
The learning process of souls is one of the great mysteries of life, for it is life itself and the experiences of life that are the teacher. Often, these experiences have had to be painful in order that we learn what we need to. As more light fills our consciousness, however, learning can take place with progressively less pain. Having trust in our own progression can give us a willingness to fall down and get up again, to make mistakes and to try again, without self-blame, but as a young child, with a knowledge of where we will someday be.
Having confidence in the learning process of our own soul to succeed where we have failed before is one of the pillars of self-forgiveness.
Having confidence in God’s heart to forgive us where we cannot forgive ourselves is the second pillar.
Both can lead us past self-blame into the openness and reaching out to love that is our heart’s desire. Both can lead us back to God, and to God’s eternal offer of redemption.