The Danger and Shame of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is so terribly hard. On a psychological level, it feels dangerous. The shame engendered by any insult or injury is our experience of vulnerability, and we instinctively react to protect ourselves. That, we must understand, is not a sin, it is an instinct that is a gift from God.

The example of Christ, who did not “turn His face from the spitting and the shame,” is also the example of just how difficult such an action can be. In the Garden of Gethsemane Christ agonizes in the face of the coming trial. He sweated blood.

I think the recurring problem of forgiveness is our effort to find a way around the danger of vulnerability. Is there a way to forgive and remain safe? In short, the answer is, “No.” Forgiveness is a voluntary self-emptying that embraces the vulnerability entailed in that action. Enemies have a way of crucifying you. The disciple is not above his master. If they crucified Him, there is no promise they will not crucify you. Forgiveness is not a safe thing.

We want to be safe. When we see that another person is sorry for what they have done to us, we begin to think that they will now become safe. We fear forgiving those who show no sorrow or who have not clearly repented of their actions towards us. And we do well to fear it. That is a completely rational, even “hard-wired,” instinctive response. But that tells us what forgiveness actually entails and what it is that Christ asks of us.

And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Luke 6:34-36

The forgiveness in the commandments of Christ does not “hope to receive back.” It is not made in safety nor in the promise of a good outcome. We may expect “nothing in return.” Indeed, what can we expect if we forgive the “unthankful and the evil?” We can expect no thanks, and likely something unsavory in return.

Forgiveness in the Christian sense is properly an act of self-emptying. It is a voluntary act of foolishness in which we act in a manner contrary to the shame that has been cast upon us. Understood in this manner, forgiveness is of a piece with bearing the Cross itself. It is of paramount importance that the one act of general forgiveness offered by Christ is found in words spoken from the Cross. They could have been spoken from nowhere else.

There are a few things to note about the self-emptying of forgiveness. First and foremost, it can only be a voluntary offering. To force such an action upon someone would be toxic and harmful. God is not standing over us demanding our self-offering. Christ sweated blood in His own effort. No one could have more respect for what is involved in such an offering than God Himself. And so, the “commandment” of forgiveness should rightly be understood as an invitation to act in union with Christ who freely offered Himself on the Cross, “despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2).

The teaching of the Orthodox spiritual fathers is that we should forgive everyone for everything. Only in this can we be “like our Father in heaven.” But make no mistake: it is scary, hard, and without promise of safety or reward.

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. (Joh 14:21)

This is His promise.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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44 responses to “The Danger and Shame of Forgiveness”

  1. Nancy A Holloway Avatar
    Nancy A Holloway

    A prisoner is a jail where I once taught remarked in our discussion of forgiveness, “Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.” I was intrigued with that. Is that too flip a way of the effect forgiveness has on us when we truly forgive?

  2. Father Gary Avatar
    Father Gary

    Thank you, Father Stephen. It is both a relief and a challenge to know the difficulties of forgiveness. It is a relief to know that the struggle we have in forgiving others is understandable from the human perspective and context. It is a challenge to realize that despite that struggle, we are still called to forgive, as scary as it may seem to us, and as foolish it may appear to the world.

  3. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    If I might pitch in at this point, personally I don’t think the statement is too flippant. But that all depends on the context and tone of the person who speaks these words. It might seem a bit trite having been a meme bantered for a while, and that might contribute to the perception that it is too flippant.

  4. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Father,
    I believe it is very helpful to see that forgiveness is indeed standing at the Cross and bearing our own cross (as the good thief), which, as you say, can only be done voluntarily, in our desire to unify our hearts with Christ.

  5. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    There indeed isn’t a “point” in the modality you suggest. But there is way of life and love.

    The Way of Life and Love is not transactional but voluntarily sacrificial born of the Cross, whether or not our feeble arguments demonstrate this well or not. Indeed, what actually demonstrates this is the way we live our lives, revealing the image and likeness of Christ in our hearts, and not in philosophical or theological arguments.

    But we certainly do live in a transactional culture. And it is hard to see anything outside of this context.

  6. Bill Atkin Avatar
    Bill Atkin


    I have to disagree. “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.” The very next thing Jesus says after saying to hope for nothing in return is that if you do your reward will be great. And indeed, the “way of life and love” were not an intrinsically desirably thing, you would have no reason to do it. As I once heard DBH say, all human desire is fundamentally based on a transcendent orientation towards the good as such, and only thus is any desire for anything specific possible.

  7. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Forgive, me Bill, I know you want to make a theological or philosophical argument. And that is not my intention because I just don’t think it is helpful if one is really searching for God. As such, I realize now that I should have said nothing at all.

  8. Cathy Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen. God Bless

  9. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Once in a catechetical situation, one of the people present said that they did not like the part of the RC Mass, where during the Eucharistic prayer is said by all, ‘Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and I shall be healed.’ Their reason for not liking it was because they thought they was worthy.

    Forgiveness and healing are two sides of the same coin, in which we are all in need. Worthiness doesn’t come into it; ‘if you O Lord should mark our guilt who would survive.’

    I am far from living as I should and my reward will not be great in heaven, but I hope in the Lord’s goodness and that He will take me to Himself when I die. I am tired of my pride and getting angry about everything that doesn’t fit into my limited understanding. I long for peace of mind and heart and freedom from the anxiety that has dogged me for most of my life; to be forgiven and healed and to let go of the crime and punishment mentality that has distorted my view of God and neighbour.

    It’s all to easy too easy become like the Pharisee ( I know I have been there) and list all the outward religious observances we have accomplished, or by doing all the socially acceptable things demanded by the zeitgeist and believing ourselves to be righteous and thus judging our neighbour by our own standards; cleaning the outside of the cup.

    If by God’s good grace we can get a glimpse of our true selves, we can only cry out ‘ Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.’ All theology is a help to lead to this point; the mind and heart working in synergy with the Holy Trinity.

  10. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’ve had trouble sleeping this evening and returning to the blog find your comment. Thank you for your edifying words. Maybe now, God willing, I can sleep in peace.

  11. Sinnika Avatar

    There is everything to gain by forgiving others.
    If we hope to be forgiven ourselves, we have to first forgive , then, God can forgive us, and we all need that.
    Unforgiveness is a big blockage for healing, it clutters up our hearts, humility is not a sign of weakness but the opposite, letting go of self in order to be free.

    Cultivating the garden of our hearts is hard work, but the weeds and thistles needs to be dug up by the roots to prepare the way for the seed, which is the Word of God.

  12. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Thank you Dee. I hope you are able to have a peaceful sleep. May the good Lord bless you and yours in all things.

  13. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There is a paradox in the words of Christ: “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.”

    “And your reward will be great,” is preceded by “hoping for nothing in return.” There is most certainly a reward, a fulfillment when we act in union with Christ…but that action is not mercenary…it is done with a certain abandon in which we are not “hoping” for something in return.

    I’m sorry if that is confusing for you. I do not know what your life situation/family/children, etc. is. But, I have found in loving someone, that I’m never quite sure what the result will be – I have no way of knowing what they will do with it – but I am certain that it is the right thing to do and that I can abandon myself to it. I believe that the “guarantor” of goodness and love is God Himself – but ultimately (perhaps because I’m finite) only God can bring ultimate good from my actions (my reward). So, I abandon myself to doing good – regardless of danger or possible rewward.

    Sorry if this is confusing for you.

  14. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac

    Thank you Father and the “usual suspects” here for your edifying and – as always, it seems – timely words…helps to know I’m not alone in struggling to forgive from the heart. In my former life as a Lutheran, I did a very good job at convincing myself I was good at forgiving others…of course viewing it as a transaction just as the Cross is sadly and catastrophically viewed as an internal transaction within God in that tradition. To this day, it is difficult to transcend that “programming”…especially more because it does require real courage, compassion, and vulnerability to forgive those whose actions have had such deleterious consequences for oneself. And yet the little glimpses i get of that inner freedom which comes when i (however briefly and fleetingly) do let go of the hurt and disappointment does speak of a “reward”…not of merit, not some transaction between God and me, just the simple reward of becoming that little bit more like Christ, who from the darkness and shame of the Cross prays for the forgiveness of those He loves that crucify Him.

    Blessed Nativity fast to all, and let us struggle in order to forgive all people for all things!

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There’s a world of difference between “transcendent orientation towards the good” and a “transactional approach.” DBH is correct. When dealing with the teachings of Christ (and when I’m writing in explication of them in an article) – it’s not engaging in pure rationality/argument. There is frequent paradox because that’s the very structure of the human heart as well. There is surely a “transcendent orientation towards the good” – but there is also fear of a more immediate danger or that any good that derives from an action will be so delayed that we doubt it, etc. I write to people where they are, drawn from my own experience and reflection in the Orthodox tradition. It becomes less than helpful to pick at it as if it were a syllogism in a logical argument.

    If an article doesn’t work for you – then that is what it is. But suggesting that others are being “disingenuous” because they are honestly engaging with something that is paradoxical (in Christ’s saying) is argumentative in an unhelpful way.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Much of the difficulty of forgiveness, I suspect, comes from the dynamic of shame in our lives. It’s one of the reasons that this has to be dealt with on a different level than the merely “transactional.” Shame is powerful – ultimately a dynamic that is only overcome with humility (bearing a little shame) and that requires a context of safety and love in which we can risk humility.

    The most extreme examples we have of this are found in the Holy Fools (it is a picture of St. Basil, the Holy Fool, at the lede of the article). I do not mean to suggest to anyone that they “jump off a cliff” in this process. But, there are small steps that exercise such risks and dangers. There’s only so much that the heart is able to bear at once.

    But this is a season of the year in which relationships come into focus – and with them – our shame and, thus, the need to forgive, etc. I posted this article in the hope that it would be of help to some.

  17. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    While on retreat some years ago, I went for a walk outside and went through a small cemetery, which had a large crucifix within it. I was not thinking about much, just trying to maintain silence and an unusual quietness of mind, for me.

    While looking at the the image of Christ on the cross, everything that I had gone through in life up to that time, made sense in a non logical way. Could I say that it was a rare moment of realisation in the nous?

    God allows what He allows out of love. I cannot rationalise or understand this, but it is true, as confusing and painful as it may be at times to accept this.

    To Father Stephen and all who contribute on this blog; thank you all and may you and your families have a Holy and Blessed Christmas.

  18. Byron Avatar

    Call it what you want, I cannot help but think that saying that there is no reward is somewhat disingenuous when you intend to get something out of it, even something relational. It is still personal gain that you are seeking, whether you choose to call it that or not. Otherwise there would be no point.

    The point of any real relationship, man and wife or just friends, is not personal gain. We are created for communion. The point of it is in the existence of it. An embrace is only about personal gain if its meaning and use is perverted.

    As Father pointed out, “gain” is a mercenary approach only. People often seem to want to reduce everything to a transaction–and they may do so, if they wish. But it is the most shallow of ways to live. Orthodoxy, love, beauty, is about fullness, not reduction.

  19. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Bill, others,

    Hebrews 11:6 ESV And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

    Look up the word, reward, on, it’s ubiquitous.

    When Christ is quizzed by the disciples, what their reward will be for following him, Mark 10:28-31 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

    With persecutions.

    But the impression you give, and I’m willing to be corrected, is that “wish fulfillment” is part of the package. But who would wish harm upon themselves? Yes, for something greater, possibly, but that greater thing, must be real. And if you think of the goal of the Christian life as the acquirement of love, then, the reward is actually not some sort of selfishness, even selfishness for God or the pleasure of the afterlife, but the reward of dispassion, unselfish love, in the Communion of the Holy Trinity with all the Saints. The disciples never leave off a conversation about what they think Messiah should accomplish without a lot of correction. The idea that they would, be at the right or left hand, is met with, a cup they don’t know is there to bear. And they all face this cup one way or another. So where is the reward? In conquering fear of death in the newness of life by the Spirit who will raise our mortal bodies, if we prove that we really believe, that God is a rewarder of those who believe.

    You can’t really believe in God if you don’t believe He rewards according to Hebrews, that’s a sort of atheism in Hebrews or deism.

    So, I agree with you in part, but not with what seems like what must be an invalid or impure motive for seeking reward. The reward is Him. There is no Heaven unless He is there. And when we see Him we will be made like Him. That likeness, will not be the selfish expectation of euphoria in God, but to be like Hiim, sufficient in Him, loving like Him who needs nothing.

    Death creates the desire for selfish pleasure, and God is immortal without any such selfish pleasure arising from fear of death. The idea that heaven is euphoria, rests on the premise that death is natural, normal – because – pleasure in most ways is associated with an impulse toward survival such that when survival has been assumed to be accomplished, the highest form would be something like euphoria, or cars and houses and so on. The selfishness arising from fear of death, is satiated, in pleasure and security. Heaven is not this. Death was always unnatural, therefore, giving us toys or euphoria, when death is no longer operable/has been conquered – is not heaven, as it assumes, death’s conditioning on us, to have been normal/normative/even part of destiny. So, the reward, may be spoken of in terms relatable – houses and families – but then you get the – with persecutions – but in the end – eternal life. And what is this eternal life. A person healed from the disease of sin and death, from seeking happiness as the end/teleological goal, and instead, is the Union/Communion with Christ and His Family. It is not static or stoic, but the happiness is no longer based on a need to cope with death with the illusions that helped us once cope with fear of death here.

    My point is, there is a reward, for sure, but it is not a reward, like a shot of heroin incrementally increasing exponentially throughout eternity, and it’s not a reward, like a fat bank account with health, it is Him, and it is being like Him.

    When we forgive then, it is not in order to get paid, in dollars or euphoria moments, but in being like God.

    Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

    45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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.

    46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?

    Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

    48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

    Now if you back up to the beginning:

    2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

    3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

    5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

    6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

    7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

    8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

    9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

    10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

    12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

    Didn’t mean to jump on you!

    Christ is Born!

  20. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    I think I’ve made some faux pas in saying Christ is Born prematurely…

    But, I wanted to add, all those “Blessings” result essentially, in being like God, or in living in the rule/Kingdom established by the love of God where you live like God, the selfless, self-emptying, “God so love the world that He – gave”, “that He delivered Him up for us all.” So, the reward to be zealous for, is completely anti-selfish.

    In one sense, it’s not really a paradox. It’s that, we have no way of imagining this except in Christ. It goes against every natural (in the use I mean for natural here) impulse toward survival. But, where did the survival impulse arise Biblically? Death. This is the reason why, a martyr, was a Saint. They believed it worthwhile to sacrifice life here, for life in/on the New Earth. Every bit of fasting and prayer, almsgiving, forgiving, selfishness denying that we do properly, is a statement of faith in the Resurrection, which put the world, right side up, and makes death again, living under it, properly insane. How can we still live in sin when we died to it already?

  21. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Bill, I am unworthy because I hurt people who love me and I often wish harm to those whom I do not like out of my own will. I continue to sin even knowing what I know. I am a willful brat.
    It is a delusion though. Transient. Mercy is not transient. Mercy endures forever–even my brattiness.
    For me, repentance was/is a gift. It is a gift that I keep trying to refuse. But God still gives it. Mercy precedes repentance/forgiveness. Communion with God reveals. There is nothing transactional about it. In fact my sense of unworthiness comes from realizing the gift is so much more than I am there is nothing I can do to get it No transaction possible. All I have to do is open the door. Shoot sometimes He busts the door down just because I see a door.

    The best spiritual direction I have ever received came from my mother as I was getting ready to go away to college. She said, “God is real. You need to find Him.”
    Actually only the first part has proved necessary. He began to reveal Himself to me once I haltingly acknowledged Him as real. He created me so He knows me already. I am not special. I am not set apart or chosen. I am just a regular guy from Peck, Kansas. If He reveals His mercy to me, that means it is available to everyone in great abundance.

    Oh, and Bill, I like you. If you are ever in Wichita on a Sunday morning, you are invited to come to St George and worship with my wife and me. After that, we can break bread together if you want.

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, I think it is always appropriate to proclaim : Christ is Born!

  23. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    ‘He created me so He knows me already.’ How intimately God knows us, even before the creation and well before our own creation and entrance into the time and space allotted to us; even the sparrows.

    ‘Even if I go the depths of Sheol you are there.’

  24. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    Father, I am a bit sorry to ask but I have been wondering, is there any sense that we have to forgive God? I know he is not the author of sickness and death and the harm our parents do to us, but he does green light these events. I think maybe trusting God is an expression of, kind of, forgiving God. Crestfallen is an interesting word. My mom asked my forgiveness a bit before her death but did not cite the big things and the real things. It is going to be a challenge for me for the rest of my life.

  25. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Please forgive me Nicole I’m not referencing your comment or any other commentators who are sincere inquirers and others here who open their hearts.

  26. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    Hi Dee, please no worries. I did not take it that way. I am glad to learn both from and with you.

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s a very good question: “Do we need to forgive God?” I would not posit that as a theological necessity – but, when thought of from the perspective of our hearts – yes. Sometimes I could see that it would help. Forgiveness, in the Greek, has the simple meaning of “to let go.” I’m willing to say that at some point, everything will make such glorious and blessed sense that the question would disappear. But in the meantime, there might well be something helpful in “letting God go,” or “letting the question of why do these things happen” go.

    As I’ve described it before – I find that if I stand before the Crucified Christ and have these conversations, things make more sense, and, above all, I am assured of His love, His infinite love, for each and for all. It is like a child who does not understand what adults are doing, but, holding a parent’s hand is willing to trust that the parent loves them and knows what they’re doing.

    Apparently, God puts much less stock in explanations than we do. That, in itself, is something to ponder.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My apologies to all:

    Sometimes I have to make decisions in moderating the conversation on the blog. There are “rules” for the conversation which I try to maintain at all times (they’re mostly about being kind to each other). But it’s also a concern that conversations can become so “off the track” so as to provide frustration for readers who stumble on the blog and simply leave because it’s a waste of time.

    I welcome good questions and have, over the years, written many thousands of responses. As an author, I feel responsible to clarify and help someone understand what I have written. Nevertheless, when a simple question seems to become a free-for-all it simply bogs down the blog in unhelpful ways. Please forgive me if I’ve deleted or edited a comment of yours.

    Thank you.

  29. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I apologize for contributing to the need to delete. And there is no need for you to apologize.

  30. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Fr. Stephen,
    I concur with Dee’s last post. Sorry!!

  31. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee, Andrew,
    It’s ok. I pray blessings for us all as the feast draws near.

  32. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Thank you Fr. Stephen.

  33. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    Sorry for long windedness! I do conceptually have a hard time remembering, that basic fear, is not sinful. A person with PTSD, and honestly, I think we all have this in varying degrees, whose instinct kicks in when triggered, this is not sinful, I know that. I know a dog who has been abused, and hides when scared, is not sinful. But it is the case, that Satan desires this all along, to leave us with an impression of God, mostly, that He does not care or have enough interest to help us. I think Jesus goes after this many times, with the parable of the persistent widow, with His “Be anxious for nothing”, etc. If we did not have some other survival mechanism in our brain, like splitting, we may not be able to survive at all in situations where we do not have faith. At the same time, Satan, uses every mind manipulation technique available to control us. Yet, what is the PTSD caused by, ultimately? Death. I suppose there is a scenario when you could be immortal with PTSD, if you were eternal in a fallen world, but we don’t know such a place. So, what do we do to cope with our trauma? Often we become addicted. I have extreme sympathy for all of this. But where’s the way out? I see no hope outside of Christ Risen. And I know you believe the same. I just don’t know how often, therapeutically, it is employed. Many of us find our therapy, in being forgiven, this is where we have been trained to find it. But though this is very good, very necessary, it doesn’t lead us out of death. And I believe, therapeutically, the NT, even the OT, is calling us out of death, and Satan’s coping mechanisms for death which he generously deals at our expense, leading ultimately to, death.

    I am challenged, deeply so, by the fact that generally speaking, when Jesus meets with someone ravaged by death and poor decisions, He doesn’t seem to go into a backstory where He is very understanding of how a person ended up this way. He doesn’t seem to give excuses to people. The invalid at the pool is told to sin no more that nothing worse happen. An exception is the woman hunched over. There seems to be, a presupposition in Jesus, that there is no good excuse for getting yourself into depths of sin. Or, Satan is to blame. The Prodigal has nothing good told about him except that he came to his senses, but even this was a common sense, it’s better to be a servant, response. And I know this is largely about the Gentile. So, I think this is where I find the conflict. That, though it’s not wrong to fear, up to the point that we sin, it seems like most fear, is inability or unwillingness to trust God. And when teaching on forgiveness, the bluntness seems like, not that there is no sympathy or understanding, but no space for, “but you don’t understand, I was abused, I was hurt, etc.” There is just the expectation, of forgive. But I think the reason for this, and why it is not mean, is that, it must be also obvious enough, that God really loves you, you can trust Him, that those who do will live forever, and nothing can ultimately take that away, nothing. Romans 8 comes to mind. It’s more in my imagination, that the questions coming before Jesus’s, “Look at the birds, the flowers, how will He not care for you,” is the answer to, all the “but, what if’s, how,” questions relating to forgiveness or trusting, and they all reassure, that death will not have a final say, in the person who lives accordingly, as their life is safe, even in famine, nakedness, or sword.

    On an aside, I’m sure you saw the news last year of the 13 Thai kids who were trapped in a cave. There is a documentary on National Geographic about it. It was the most hopeful story of humanity getting together for good I’ve seen in quite a while. Watched it last night.

  34. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I was having a bout of fear and the temptation that comes with it the other day and this Proverb popped up. The fear seemed to melt away along with the temptation.

    Lack of fear, obedience to commandments (keeping good order) and repentance seem to go hand in hand.

    But these are all ways to leave the world of death.

    Christ is Born!

  35. Nikolaos Avatar

    Father I am aware of your great command of Greek, but the Greek word for forgiveness (συγχώρεση) does not mean “to let go”. It means to make room for the other person to fit in my space.

    Perhaps it is more meaningful to think about forgiving God (never thought or heard of this before!) as making room for Him in our small heart.

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I had in mind “aphiemi” – which is the more common word used in the NT Greek.

  37. Nikolaos Avatar

    Αφιημι denotes indeed the “letting go”, as in the Lord’s Prayer in reference to our debts.

  38. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Wish my typewriter had a Greek font I could type with.

  39. Bill Atkin Avatar
    Bill Atkin


    I apologize if I’ve become a nuisance. I’ll endeavor to be quieter and do better.

  40. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar
  41. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Bill, I have been participating here for a long time. I probably. Hold the record tor deleted comments. While it is always a surprise, I am glad the ones deleted bit the dust.
    So, please stay.

  42. Kent Sanders Avatar
    Kent Sanders


    I’m a bit late to your post hear, but one of the things I wrestle with is reconciling modern psychological concepts around forgiveness with”christian” concepts of forgiveness. Where do such things as boundaries, assertiveness, etc. take place when forgiving as Christ did.


  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Those modern observations are valid. The difficulty comes when we examine what the purpose is in particular guidelines and obervations. The goal of most psychological observatins and suggested behaviors will be to be “well-adjusted” or something of the sort, and is not invalid.

    The teachings of Christ on the subject of forgiveness, as is true of so much of what He said, is not to produce a well-adjusted, happy modern person. Following the teaching of Christ will often get you killed, and He clearly said as much.

    I think of sacrificial forgiveness as a voluntary act that might very well not make us “happier” or more well-adjusted, etc. But, it is voluntary. Christ “voluntarily” went to the Cross, St. John Chrysostom said in His Divine Liturgy.

    It is why in this article I cescribed the “danger” and the “shame” of forgiveness. In certain cases, it is extremely foolish behavior, even “dangerous” after a fashion. No psychologist would recommend it. Indeed, as a priest, I would most commonly suggest ways to “forgive at a distance” if I think someone isn’t really able to undertake such a thing in a fully voluntary manner.

    Many who have been abused find themselves bound to their abusers, and even suffer from a felt “need” to forgive that is, in fact, a neurotic wound that imagines that if they do this, it will somehow rescue things, or some version of that. We can be drawn like a moth to a flame.

    In some cases I recommend this prayer (or a version of it):

    “O God, on the Day of Judgement, do not hold this against them on my account.”

    It is safer, and can be just about all the martyrdom some souls can manage (maybe even most of us).

    I write as I have about the danger and shame of forgiveness, so that we might consider the fullness of what is involved. I don’t write in order to create moral pressure.

  44. Kent Sanders Avatar
    Kent Sanders


    Thank you for your in depth response. The words “The teachings of Christ on the subject of forgiveness, as is true of so much of what He said, is not to produce a well-adjusted, happy modern person” I think those words are certainly worth further meditation. I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller on the Sermon on the Mount awhile back and he mentioned a psychologist ( whose name I forget) who rejected Christianity because he found it rather masochistic . If I remember correctly I think Keller’s point was that by the providence of God most of us experience a lot of suffering and thus we don’t necessarily have to “seek it out” . I think maybe a generous way of hearing that would be that suffering is never an end in itself but there are occasions when that will be the correct and counter cultural response. Perhaps there are some similarities to what I hear in your response. That suffering (shame) involved in forgiveness is voluntarily(not sought after) and arises out of our effort to follow our savior in the situations at hand.


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