June 9, 2011

"Unforgiveness is like cancer. It will eat you from the inside out."

"It's not about that other person, me forgiving him does not diminish what he's done. Yes, he murdered my son - but the forgiveness is for me."

55 comments:

Drew said...

This unsettles me a bit. I understand what she's saying, and I understand the psychological/spiritual benefits of forgiveness. But I wonder if the ease in forgiveness here is a recognition that he was a horrible sixteen-year-old when he committed the murder, and is now 34. We can assume that he is practically a different person.

I also recognize that I do not forgive easily; for much lesser offenses.

traditionalguy said...

Thanks for a twofer on Christian duties today. As Christians we are also under orders to forgive the people who harm us and repent, or else.

AFG said...

Let's hope this turns out better than the Noman Mailer and William Buckley situations.

Marshal said...

I'm note sure I would ever believe he was truly contrite. It's easy to parrot the words even honestly when your release is dependent on them. Living up to them later is completely different.

Even if I felt safe I'm not sure I'd want the reminder living next door.

Synova said...

I can see how the action reinforces the forgiveness she is determined to feel. I think that most people would think that inviting him to live there demonstrates the thoroughness of her forgiveness, but I think that it's a working-out of the forgiveness.

We expect things to either be impossible or easy. It makes us weaker because we think we never have to work.

MadisonMan said...

A very good story -- so far. I'm not sure I could be as forgiving. I hope for all their sakes that things progress towards a happy ending -- which in this case means I don't read about them again.

ricpic said...

Only hatred will save us.

Robert Cook said...

This is not pertinent to or limited to Christians, but is applicable to all people.

I remember many years ago when I was very angry at someone I was close to for an offense I perceived they had committed against me. I was very hurt and angry and resentful and I could find no ease. I was listening to Pete Townshend's then-current solo album EMPTY GLASS, and it hit me as I listened to the album that I just had to let my hurt go and forgive my friend.

In an instant, I felt lighter and immensely refreshed and at peace.

(Later--several years later--when I had matured somewhat more and reflected back on it, I realized that my friend had not necessarily actually done anything to me that required forgiveness...that is, the person had not really committed an offense against me. In my immaturity, I had simply perceived an offense. Nonetheless, it was an object lesson in not only the benefits of forgiving others, but in the necessity that we do so.)

jp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jp said...

This post reminded me of John McCain forgiving his captors/torturers.

Alex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Triangle Man said...

She is really putting the zap on his brain.

I am glad this is helping her. I am also glad that she recognizes that she is doing something to help herself, and not just forgiving out of religious duty. I think she will find true forgiveness this way.

edutcher said...

That lady has a lot of goodness inside her. The group can only suggest the path, she has to find the courage to walk down it.

And, yes, if the murderer has changed his life, good for him.

PS Cook doesn't get it. This may not be limited to Christians, but it's at the heart of what Christianity is. And without Christianity, Western society would be where it was 2 millennia ago. Or where Cook's pals in the Kremlin wanted to return it.

Fred4Pres said...

Mary Johnson is a very good person to do this.

I do not believe I could do it.

Synova said...

Forgiveness is central to Christianity, but probably even more-so is the notion of redemption.

Her forgiveness doesn't require his repentance and certainly doesn't require that there be no worldly punishment. It didn't sound like she did anything to get his sentence ended. Redemption is something else, though, not really connected to the others. And it does require repentance and, by definition, requires change.

I've heard Jewish people (as an example) explain that the notion of forgiveness is evil because it allowed people to do evil with the notion that all they needed to do was confess and be forgiven. I don't think that's a widespread understanding, and it's wrong. You don't get "cleansed from all unrighteousness" if you entered into the evil with malice aforethought and your "get out of jail free" card in your pocket.

Shouting Thomas said...

This is not pertinent to or limited to Christians, but is applicable to all people.

Yes, Kookie, but the concept was codified in Christianity and remains the great singular accomplishment of Christian theology.

You are always determined to deny the virtue of the society that nurtures and tolerates you. You are such an ingrate.

Ann Althouse said...

"I am also glad that she recognizes that she is doing something to help herself, and not just forgiving out of religious duty."

Yes, that's an especially beautiful thing about this woman. She isn't preening about her goodness. She isn't even claiming to be good. She's really the model of saintliness because she betrays no pride. She's almost confessing to self-indulgence, seeking comfort.

Strelnikov said...

"Never to forget, never to forgive" - it applies here, also.

Triangle Man said...

Let's not forget our local expert on forgiveness.

Valentine Smith said...

My brother took a bullet in the brain 8 months after returning from VN in 68. The guy who did it took a shotgun blast in the gut in the Attica uprising. He took 3 days to die. I'd like to think I would have killed him if he had lived to get out. Taking joy in knowing he suffered horribly for those 3 days is the closest I've ever come to forgiveness.

Forgiveness is for women.

Shouting Thomas said...

Of course, the other side is eternal vengeance, exemplified in one of my favorite movies of all time, Unforgiven.

"We've all got it coming, kid."

Synova said...

"Forgiveness is for women."

Because it's harder than not forgiving?

I'm assuming that you're equating "women" with "soft", as if forgiveness is the softer, weaker, option.

There's a lot to be said for vengeance and certainly even more for justice and I'm not going to tell a single person that they're wrong to delight in the pain, suffering and death of a monster. But letting that monster dominate, forever, is allowing more power than they ought to have, and if it's understandable it really doesn't hurt them in the least.

Being able to forgive isn't weak, it's extraordinary, above and beyond what it's right to expect.

Be said...

The first thing that came to mind is that maybe she's adopted another son?

Not very similar, though somewhat // experiences see me with a couple adopted younger brothers and a small book-drop service to a place that needs good literature. You'd be amazed at the assumptions of standard Do Gooders about the abilities/tastes of prison library patrons.

JAL said...

The time line is blurry.

It was "a few years" ago she felt she should meet him face to face.

A lot has gone on in this woman's heart and head in that time.

Meeting him didn't happen right away either. And the next time given is that he was released 18 months ago after serving 17 years.

Forgiveness and grace. Amazing.

This is often a process which works deeply and slowly in people's lives.

I do not know what I would do. But as a believer I would be called to forgivess.

It is not a "duty" because it is not a work. It is about heart & head, and relationship. It is about releasing a person from a debt they owe. And most often, cannot pay.

One does not forgive by reciting the words. Or chanting. Or facing Mecca 5 times a day. Or giving money. Or any of those things we try to do.

In this case the section highlighted by the Professor (which is quite accurate) didn't happen for this woman without her God setting the stage.

May God continue to bless both these people and the people who hear them.

Valentine Smith said...

I don't have the strength of character to forgive.

I do have the strength of character for revenge.

JAL said...

Forgiveness isn't about forgetting.

Nor is it about letting people go "scott free."

One can forgive and still be for accountability, for justice.

wv wordupp
Like "ante up" - except in a spelling bee? Or crossword puzzle?

JAL said...

People do things to bug me. Have hurt me.

Forgiveness isn't for breaches of protocol or spilling your soup on the $100,000 rug.

It's for the big time stuff.

I am not great at it. I like the imprecatory Psalms, as a matter of fact.

And that helps me recognize that God is much better at vengeance than I could ever be in my wildest imagination, so I tend to leave it to Him, even if I have wallowed in self destructive (and useless)bitterness from time to time.

Ankur said...

"I think that it's a working-out of the forgiveness.

We expect things to either be impossible or easy. It makes us weaker because we think we never have to work."

Bravo. This is the best thing I have ever read in the comments section at Althouse.

John Lynch said...

I guess good for her for doing something instead of just talking.

Still, that would be hard.

I know I couldn't do it because I haven't forgiven something much less important.

There are two big ways to deal with people who hurt you, as I see it.

One is to get them out of your life. Cut contact, move, get away. Get on with your life. Sounds simple, turns out to be hard.

The other is to forgive them. This is harder. And often the other person isn't interested and will just keep doing the same thing that hurt you in the first place. Then you're left asking how many times you have to forgive. Eventually you get back to option 1.

In this case both parties are trying, and that's the story. Forgiveness and redemption.

John Lynch said...

^^ and yes, synova is counted among the wise.

Ankur said...

Forgiveness is certainly a central tenet of Christianity.

It is also among the central tenets of Buddhism and Hinduism, the two other religions I am intimiately familiar with. In the Bhagwad Gita, Chapter 16, Verse 3 - Lord Krishna says specifically that to approach the divine, humankind HAS to learn how to forgive. He also made distinction between consequence and revenge. Thus, forgiveness was NOT an escape from consequence, but the cool water that calmed the fire of vengeance.


When I read this story, the almost unconscious thought was "That person is a good hindu" - which of course isn't true, because she is (most probably) not hindu at all. But she is a good human.

Be said...

Tangentially related:

Griefs.

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes –
I wonder if It weighs like Mine –
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long –
Or did it just begin –
I could not tell the Date of Mine –
It feels so old a pain –

I wonder if it hurts to live –
And if They have to try –
And whether – could They choose between –
It would not be – to die –

I note that Some – gone patient long –
At length, renew their smile –
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil –

I wonder if when Years have piled –
Some Thousands – on the Harm –
That hurt them early – such a lapse
Could give them any Balm –

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve –
Enlightened to a larger Pain –
In Contrast with the Love –

The Grieved – are many – I am told –
There is the various Cause –
Death – is but one – and comes but once –
And only nails the eyes –

There's Grief of Want – and grief of Cold –
A sort they call "Despair" –
There's Banishment from native Eyes –
In sight of Native Air –

And though I may not guess the kind –
Correctly – yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary –

To note the fashions – of the Cross –
And how they're mostly worn –
Still fascinated to presume
That Some – are like my own –

(Am not always a huge fan of Emily Dickinson, but I think that this one hits it out of the park.)

Fred4Pres said...

I've heard Jewish people (as an example) explain that the notion of forgiveness is evil because it allowed people to do evil with the notion that all they needed to do was confess and be forgiven. I don't think that's a widespread understanding, and it's wrong. You don't get "cleansed from all unrighteousness" if you entered into the evil with malice aforethought and your "get out of jail free" card in your pocket.


I have never heard that before, but I guess they do not understand Judaism either. Isn't the Day of Attonement about acknowledging wrongs and seeking forgiveness?

traditionalguy said...

The Hatfields and the McCoys overlooked the value of forgiveness...that it lets more people live.

rcocean said...

Sure, Forgive your enemies, but first get even.

Alex said...

Isn't the Day of Attonement about acknowledging wrongs and seeking forgiveness?

Strictly between Jews and def not involving murder.

Alex said...

I say take vengeance here on Earth and let god sort it out.

Methadras said...

Forgiveness is a bullshit sentiment if you are using it to ease your pain. Do it because you mean it, not because you are afraid to demand the price it will take to get it and only if those who wronged you can pay it.

traditionalguy said...

I agree that social order requires a retribution method. God's first covenant was orders for man to shed the blood of those that shed man's blood....that is the restraining force of the death penalty. But the message of the Prophet Jesus was to trust Him with revenge and always forgive SO THAT we can be forgiven based upon His sacrifice as our substitute. It really is a theology that says since God totally forgives us, that we have to totally forgive others or we are one upping God's status. Oh well. take His advice or not. You have free will.

k*thy said...

I see forgiveness the same way - why hold on to that anger, when the only one it's hurting is me. And that's a tough thing to admit, sometimes.

Best wishes to Oshea - I think self-foregiveness is even a tougher row to hoe, but he seems to have the willingness - and that's the first step.

C R Krieger said...

I think forgiveness is important for both mental and physical health.  I know that makes me sound like Ruth Carter Stapleton, but so be it.

Regards  —  Cliff

Random Arrow said...

I love this story.

I’ve done a few hundred cases which settled on reconciliation/forgiveness.

Forgiveness can be left as sweet and informal as a hug between the front doors of neighbors. Or formalized by ADR, settlement agreements, or post-judgment forgiveness.

My problem is that I still have no clue what reconciliation and forgiveness really are.

Yeah, I know the tropes. But, I’m impatient of theory. “There’s a time for everything,” is as theoretical as I get.

I know of no religious version of forgiveness (and I know a few) in which forgiveness is not predicated on judgment.

The trick is in getting the judgment/forgiveness fulcrum right in practice.

For example, I’ve come into cases in the aftermath of prior work by well meaning clergy with a religious preference in favor of forgiveness (they say), who’ve reconciled a sexual-molesting parent with the other parent, only to have the forgiven molester end up right back in bed with the children. And as many case examples hold for cases of civil-commercial forgiveness, when religious or non-religious business adversaries try to work out forgiveness for heart-felt reasons, only to get burned again. As one businessman said to me, “goddamned forgiveness!”

I remember one mother screaming at her husband in front of the sheriff, during the husband’s arrest, “I forgive you because I’m not killing you! Work out the rest of your forgiveness in prison!”

There’s something to that. Forgiveness on a scale. Within limits.

The feel-good (maybe even a Randian ethical-egoistic feel-good) quality of forgiveness, that is, the kind of forgiveness “that’s for me,” works – when it works.

And hurts me – and others – when it doesn’t.

I have no answers.

Cheers,

Jim

phx said...

I can't possibly judge this lady. I can only speak for myself.

From where I stand accepting the full responsibility for my life means nobody owes me anything.

If I don't forgive everyone's debt, I can't get to heaven before they close the doors.

JAL said...

tradguy - so you've got your reform theology worked out with the baptists, I see ;-)

JAL said...

@Random
I’ve come into cases in the aftermath of prior work by well meaning clergy with a religious preference in favor of forgiveness (they say), who’ve reconciled a sexual-molesting parent with the other parent, only to have the forgiven molester end up right back in bed with the children.

This stuff drives me crazy. At this point in time I thought most clergy were better educated about this.

They must not have gotten the law involved. The molesting parent would not be able to get within sight of the victim.

Unless of course, the clergy neglected to inform the law ....

Forgiveness does not mean you do not testify against the perpetrator at the trial.

As someone above mentioned, forgiveness does not mean there are no consequences.

Random Arrow said...

JAL, yeah. I hear you.

I don’t have the answers. Legislative and case-law changes which limit clergy confidentiality, and which require clergy to report all kinds of stuff – none of the legal and common sense reforms prevent clergy ignorance, nor clergy pragmatic inner reasonings (“if I tell the cops, I’ll never hear another confession for the rest of my life”), nor clergy hifalutin justifications (Martin Luther King-esque civil disobedience rationalizations - “God’s forgiveness trumps legal duty”), nor the unlimited number of other reasons why clergy or anyone else vaunts forgiveness over judgment. This kind of stuff happens all the time. I don’t mean to pick on clergy. They come to mind when forgiveness takes a warm and glowing bath in religious overtones. The woman in the story was not a member of the clergy (save she buys into her own version of the priesthood of all believers), which is just the point, though she becomes the heroine in countless upcoming sermons. And in barroom conversations slurred over stiff whiskey. We don’t really have good measures showing the value of forgiveness, the benefits of offenses forgiven, the number of costly cases which never make it into, well, cases, because they’ve been dropped by tender mercies before legal blood-letting starts.

We’ve no good measure of how to know or thank all the benign friar Tucks who do mead-soaked-good in christening all kinds of forgiveness in the hidden thickets of the human greenwood.

I agree that forgiveness does not mean there are no consequences. Consequences already exist. Forgiveness is a matter of who eats them. How much. How long. With what flavors. It’s impossible for me not to get tenderhearted and teared-up at this story.

And then go back to work. If still clueless, feeling a little inspired.

Cheers,

Jim

Robert Cook said...

"I don't have the strength of character to forgive.

"I do have the strength of character for revenge."


In other words, you have no strength of character at all, as revenge is the default mode of the human species, most of whom remain primitive brutes. You're just another one of the undifferentiated herd.

Fernandinande said...

My girlfriend's son was murdered. The murderer scammed his way into a year on some funny farm, so we sometimes talk about finishing up wear the courts failed.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

Holding a grudge, and cancer, I can assure you, are unrelated.

Holding a grudge (OK, 'unforgiveness') is a conscious choice.

Cancer, is not.

AllenS said...

Cancer does not have a conscience.

Shanna said...

This story is fascinating. A lot of time had passed before all this forgiveness occurred, and the murderer served a healthy length of time in prison, so at least some justice had been done. I think that set the tone for forgiveness.

The first thing that came to mind is that maybe she's adopted another son?

I also think this is a possibility. I think it's interesting that he wouldn't meet with her at first and seems to feel shame about what he did. I'm amazed that he is willing to live next door, but I think part of what she is trying to do, aside from forgiveness which you can do just as easily from across town, is make sure he is good and rehabilitated. Maybe she also hopes this may have an affect on other young kids in the neighborhood who might be tempted to go the same way.

The whole thing is fascinating.

traditionalguy said...

JAL @ 9:16 PM...Interesting thought. Did you mean that Reformed Theology is a Baptist specialty. Actually I took the "forgive or else" line of instruction directly from reading the red letter quotes out of the Parables. They don't seem confusing to me. In fact it is radical forgiveness of enemies teachings of Jesus which makes those obeying them seem to be a conundrum for other successful religious traditions.

virgil xenophon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
virgil xenophon said...

Following from ricpic:

"A kind Providence has placed in our breasts a hatred of the unjust and cruel, in order that we may preserve ourselves from cruelty and injustice. Those who bear cruelty, are accomplices in it. The pretended gentleness which excludes that charitable rancour, produces an indifference which is half an approbation. THEY NEVER WILL LOVE WHERE THEY OUGHT TO LOVE, WHO DO NOT HATE WHERE THEY OUGHT TO HATE."

-------Edmund Burke

k*thy said...

Mary Johnson. To me, this is what true freedom looks like.