For the purposes of discussion I’d like to ask how you understand forgiveness.

It’s upheld as a virtue by Christianity, but I imagine different people have different understandings of that word.  One Christian friend of mine believes forgiveness is not complete without full reconciliation, and if one party makes that impossible, only a limited forgiveness can be granted — a letting go of personal animosity, but no more.  I hear a similar sentiment among conservative Christians in my family, a sort of forgive but not forget attitude.

Another friend of mine tells me that I don’t have to forgive.  I’ve had some pretty horrible things done to me by a few people.  I’ve carried a lot of anger, and then it just sort of dissipates over the years, and eventually I have come instead to feel compassion for these people and even interact with them positively, though I do limit how close I get to them and guard boundaries I had to fight very hard to establish some years ago, though I’ve had the pleasure of being able to relax them to some extent.  Some of these people are mellowing with age.

Recently I found that I had forgiven my grandparents for some serious things I won’t bother you with the detail on.  My grandfather had reached out to me, as he is very ill, and I embraced him back into my life after some years of cold distance on his part.  He wants to spend time with me before he departs.  As for his wife, I don’t exactly embrace her, but I’m able to interact with her in a limited way, and I don’t feel any more anger.

I don’t try to forgive them.  It’s just that after a number of years and having set boundaries to prevent further provocations I find myself no longer angry, and since I’m not angry, I start feeling compassion instead which is how I generally feel about people anyway.  I’m not sure my friend is right that I didn’t have to forgive in that sense because I don’t seem to have had a choice in the matter.  If my other friend is right that forgiveness involves full reconciliation, then there is one for whom I’ve let go of the anger, but there is still no full reconciliation — I feel that is impossible because of the other party, and I do not seek to make myself vulnerable again to that sort of treatment.

Mostly I have up to this point thought of forgiveness as just letting go of shit.  I don’t tend to emphasize it as a virtue since I don’t experience it as something that can be done voluntarily.  It’s a sort of natural unfolding for me.  It is important to me spiritually simply because of the benefits I receive from it, and my spirituality largely revolves around obtaining what I can best ascertain is good for me as a whole person.  But this isn’t really something I obtained through effort unless my other spiritual disciplines indirectly contributed to the state, in which case I did not do it intentionally.

What is your understanding of forgiveness or its role?  Does your faith address the matter?  I know various neo-pagans may have totally different sentiments about the word or different understandings of what it means.  What are your thoughts?

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