Forgiveness and Power

In Jesus’ Plan for a New World, Richard Rohr writes:

The mystery of forgiveness is God’s ultimate entry into powerlessness. Look at the times when you have withheld forgiveness. It’s always your final attempt to hold a claim over the one you won’t forgive. It’s the way we finally hold onto power, to seek the moral high ground over another person.

Oh, we do it subtly to maintain our sense of superiority. Non-forgiveness is a form of power over another person, a way to manipulate, shame, control and diminish another. God in Jesus refuses all such power.

I had not before thought of forgiveness in this way, yet I paused when I read these words (quoted in an e-mail sent by my friend Andy) because the words rang so true. I think Rohr is spot on in describing what we are about when we fail to forgive another. And what makes that indictment particularly sobering is the first line of the passage: We withhold our forgiveness to hang onto power over another, yet God never withholds forgiveness; without reservation, he gives that power over completely. Rohr calls it the mystery of forgiveness. I call it mindblowingly amazing.

Update: In an e-mail exchange of correspondance among several people on the topic of forgiveness, my friend Andy wrote the following, which I share with his permission. It makes a powerful statement about something I think we forget sometimes, although it is implicit in God’s constant forgiveness of us – that forgiveness is not about the other persons’s desert. Andy writes:

The question does not concern a supposed “right” that the perpetrator has to my forgiveness. Rather, it concerns my responsibility as a disciple of Jesus Christ to continually offer forgiveness from the depth of my heart. The model, of course, is God himself. God does not offer his forgiveness to us because we have a right to it. He offers it continually out of his infinite love. He offers it continually even to the person who continually rejects his offer. The offer is never taken away. The offer, of course, is itself the act of forgiving, even when it is not welcomed by the perpetrator. Forgiveness is in the heart of the forgiver and does not depend on its acceptance by another. The refusal of forgiveness makes the act of forgiveness ineffective but does not cancel out the existence of the forgiveness.