Dallas Willard on Forgiveness

I have been reading lots of Willard lately.  Here’s a passage worth thinking about.

The moral dimensions of life pose similar demands on the substance of the self. They require the drawing together of massive dimensions of the self, if not of the self as a whole. The morally significant act is an act of the whole person. This is well illustrated by the moral act of forgiveness. It seems to me that forgiveness is best understood as a choice to resume relationships, in the light of good to be realized, after some violation of moral trust that has had significant harmful effects on those who are doing the forgiving. It is decided, by the one who forgives, that the good to be realized by resumption of the relationships—by no means saying the relationships are to be just the same as before the violation—is not to be sacrificed to the gratifications of resentment and retaliation.

Forgiveness is not a tiny, inward act which a discrete effort of will brings forth in response to specific types of occasions. Rather, it is part or product of an overall orientation of lives of a certain kind, which is “there” before any occasion or whether or not any occasion ever arises. The media spokespeople and various public officials expressed amazement at how forgiveness functioned in the Amish community after the recent schoolhouse slayings. But that was the “natural,” though not the inevitable or unalloyed, response of the people involved. The intentionality, structures of thought, historical understanding, feeling, and evaluation around which their consciousness and life were organized, support and issue in forgiveness in relevant situations. The people in that community thought about and approached forgiveness from within the framework of the intentional structures of their particular kind of life and world. Forgiveness requires a substantial self, incorporating subtly nuanced and dynamically organized long-term dispositions of thought, feeling and valuation into a character embracing all essential dimensions of the self. (If it hasn’t got to your body yet, it has a ways to go.) To cultivate forgiveness as a part of human life, if it means anything at all, is to cultivate an overall character of the sort that can do forgiveness, and, when in good shape, can do it at a walk. It is better when one does not have to do this in a particularly self-conscious manner, but any sensible way is better than none at all. “The quality of mercy is not strained,” wrote a profound soul. Likewise for forgiveness. A forgiving person will not understand what all the fuss is about. What else would one do? Like the “righteous gentiles” that put themselves in mortal danger to save their Jewish neighbors. Was there, given who they were, anything else to be done?

%d bloggers like this: