Forgiveness is Divine

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Kristin Devine

Kristin is a geek, a libertarian, and a domestic goddess. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of https://atomicfeminist.com/

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  1. Avatar gabriel conroy
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    I haven’t read all of your posts on romantic novels (largely because it’s a literature I don’t read), but every time I do I enjoy them.

    I have many, varied thoughts on forgiveness, and not all of them are consistent with each other. So, I’m very intrigued by your topic and I think I agree with most of what you say here. I’ll comment on a few items from your post, and those comments will demonstrate my conflicted views on forgiveness:

    When a man forgives a woman for the “wrong” of having dated other men before she even met him, I don’t count that as true forgiveness. For me, in order for forgiveness to be true forgiveness, the transgression has to be a real one. Or maybe. I suppose I could feel hurt by what someone does even if they’re not culpable. So I kinda believe the opposite?

    Bestowing forgiveness is not a favor you do for someone else, not at all. It’s something you do for yourself.

    I say yes and no. I agree with your main point that forgiveness is something one does for oneself (even though, as you point out, it’s so very hard to do). But I do think it’s at least a little bit of a favor for the forgiven. If someone forgives me for a harm I’ve done, I’m off the hook in at least one respect, that is, not having to fear their revenge. Of course, I still have to live with what I’ve done. Also, going to the Christianity angle, can we say that the Christian god, by forgiving, is a favor he does for himself? It seems that’s not a way Christians would interpret forgiveness, or at least not divine forgiveness. (Of course, I’m mixing two types of forgiveness. Maybe the one is the favor to oneself and the other is the spiritual type.)

    On your point about vengeance/revenge being the opposite of forgiveness: I haven’t quite thought of it that way although now that you say it, I don’t understand why I never did think of it. And as you suggest, vengeance needn’t be the grand attack after a meticulous plan. The “humiliating, belittling, berating, demeaning, demanding penance” you mention aren’t always obviously vengeance to the one engaging in them (and perhaps not even to the target). But they are vengeance nonetheless. That, too, is something that makes perfect sense now that you mention it but I hadn’t thought of it that way before. One question, though–and it’s as much a question for myself as for you–do you believe that vengeance is the “complement” of forgiveness as well as its opposite? In other words, do we have to choose between “forgiveness” and “vengeance” or is there a way to choose not to forgive and yet to forgo vengeance? I hope I’m being clear.

    A final comment, perhaps not directly relevant to any specific thing you’ve said but related to the topic, is that I’ve found it easy, personally, to preach forgiveness as an idea or concept, but find it hard to forgive even the very petty slights I’ve “suffered.” (I use scare quotes for “suffered” because the slights I’m talking about are indeed so petty, it’s hard to credit them with the word “suffered.”) In part that’s because I haven’t for the most part been the victim of any major violation.

    Again, thanks for writing this post and hearing out my (very long) comment.Report

    • Avatar atomickristin in reply to gabriel conroy
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      Thanks so much for taking the time – I always find your comments insightful and kind.

      My experience has been that a fair number of guys actually do see a woman dating other men/too many men/not being a virgin, still to this very day here in 2019 among otherwise civilized people, as a wrong done against them. While I agree that it’s not truly forgiveness (since no legitimate crime was committed) it may as well be because the behavior that results is very much the same. Contrition is demanded, and in many cases, penance.

      Forgiveness is absolutely in no small part a favor done for another person. For sure. But there are circumstances where a person doesn’t particularly WANT to do a favor for the person who’s done them wrong, and then what? That thirst for revenge left unchecked destroys. If there’s no goodwill left, if there’s no favor forthcoming, I believe there is still a reason to forgive, for one’s own sake even if for no other reason. Great if a person can forgive out of love and kindness, but even if they can’t, there’s still an entirely selfish reason to do so.

      If God is real and in any way resembles the Christian interpretation, I would say that I don’t think They are subject to human foibles in the same way we are even though we’re created in Their image. But that having been said, God has undertaken some vengeful acts, according to the stories – particularly in the Old Testament. Maybe God learned a lesson in the and the more forgiving God of the New Testament is a course correction – for Their own sake as much as ours.

      I absolutely think there’s a middle ground where one doesn’t forgive and doesn’t seek vengeance, but just moves on – either completely by ending the relationship, or by kind of avoiding the entire issue, if that makes sense. I think in a lot of relationships people have these areas of conflict they both mutually decide to navigate around – like Uncle Jehosephat’s disgusting political opinions, or the time Cousin Tallulah borrowed that money and never paid it back. Not necessarily possible to forgive them, especially if the offense was that egregious, but at the same time there’s a lot of other stuff you love about them so you just grow this kind of scar tissue around the bad and focus on the rest of it.

      So I’d say maybe agreeing to disagree, or accepting a person warts and all, is in the middle between true forgiveness and vengeance.

      I have what I believe is a fairly unique problem in that I’m almost too forgiving. (I know that sounds like one of those backhanded compliments a person pays themselves, but it’s caused me very real harm in my life as I often silently tolerate some pretty outrageous stuff I really shouldn’t) In any conflict my tendency is to always see it the other person’s way and doubt and second guess my own reasoning/motives,. I almost invariably end up accepting the other person’s take, which probably colors my take on forgiveness vs. vengeance substantially.Report

      • Avatar gabriel conroy in reply to atomickristin
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        Thanks for your thoughtful reply and I don’t find much to disagree with in it. (And I should ‘fess up about my own insecurities. When I started dating the person who now is my wife, I asked her not to tell me about her previous relationships because I knew I would get jealous. Of course, that was on me, and not her, and it’s not the same as blaming her for decisions that supposedly (but didn’t) harm me. Still, it’s in the same ballpark of what guys apparently do.)

        This:

        In any conflict my tendency is to always see it the other person’s way and doubt and second guess my own reasoning/motives,. I almost invariably end up accepting the other person’s take, which probably colors my take on forgiveness vs. vengeance substantially.

        resonates very strongly with me. I won’t say I do it all the time, but a lot of the time. To use a (by definition imperfect) analogy, sometimes a person can tell me the sky isn’t blue and I’ll start to think I’m mistaken for thinking it is blue.

        However, it’s also possible–it’s even likely–that I act in such a way as to make others doubt their reasoning and motivations, too. For me, at least, it’s all kind of a two-way street.Report

      • Avatar veronica d in reply to atomickristin
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        My experience has been that a fair number of guys actually do see a woman dating other men/too many men/not being a virgin, still to this very day here in 2019 among otherwise civilized people, as a wrong done against them.

        [Emphasis mine.]

        This drives me bananas. It’s just so darn narcissistic, taking it as a personal affront that a person could exist for themselves, independent of whoever they might meet in the future.

        Furthermore, this seems very gendered, which is to say, I know plenty of women who act narcissistic in various ways, but I’ve honestly never met a woman who acts as if a man’s life belonged to them even before they met. That is something only men seem to do. I wonder why?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to veronica d
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          I’ve honestly never met a woman who acts as if a man’s life belonged to them even before they met. That is something only men seem to do. I wonder why?

          Does “you shouldn’t enjoy *THOSE* entertainments, you should enjoy *THESE* entertainments!” count as something adjacent to that?Report

          • Avatar veronica d in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            I’m kind of allergic to the game where one says, “Well X does Y, but Z does Q, which is just as bad.” I mean, sure, maybe, but it’s a different thing.

            The idea that a women’s sexuality belongs to men, in fact to a specific man, is not something women do in reverse. We might do other stuff — plenty of it bad. However, this is gendered.

            How do men justify this belief?

            Well, largely they don’t. What I mean is, they may come up with various “reasons” they act this way, but for the most part they simple dodge the implications of the pathology.

            Narcissists don’t realize they’re narcissistic. They cannot “see” it. All they have is image, fragility, shame, and rage.Report

        • Avatar gabriel conroy in reply to veronica d
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          says:

          Not that this necessarily proves anything, but I’ve known one woman who felt that way. However, even if that anecdatum scales up, that doesn’t mean the phenomenon isn’t gendered.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko
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    says:

    I don’t know if it provides evidence or data, but this male human has always had a hard time forgiving those who have done him great wrong. Small wrongs I can dismiss easily. You trod mud upon my nice hardwood floors. Fine, I’ll clean it up and don’t worry about it. I’ll trust that you noted my irritation and will remember to take your shoes off next time. Some medium-sized wrongs I’ve resented for a bit — on the order of, “That was very bad career advice you gave me from a position of trust, which I followed because you inspired my trust and loyalty,” — but decided that they were the result of good intentions badly implemented or confused by other events, and that too allows me to say that whatever bad thing has happened to me.

    But there are a small number of people who I think have really did me great harm, intentionally and maliciously, and did so for reasons that are hard for me to justify. (Those who know or recall my personal story may surmise that I’m thinking of my ex-wife here. I’m not.) My reaction to that has been to cut off ties and move on, limiting my revenge to “recovering from the blow rendered by malice as best I can,” and “never having anything to do with you again.” Is that “forgiveness”? It’s not what Christians would call “grace.”

    Nor have I found myself particularly able to forgive myself for serious moral missteps I have made. Again, I’ve found nothing else to do but move on to try and sin no more in the future. Letting go of the moral judgment for a seriously immoral deed is not something that I’ve been able to do. Like Jesse Pinkman in the video clip above, forgiving myself for my misdeeds and responsibility for bad things that have happened to other people has proven too tall an order for me to fill. Whether those I’ve done wrong by have forgiven me or not has never been communicated to me and while I hope I’d learn of such thoughts with gladness and acceptance in my heart, I know that at night when the demons come, they’d tell me that the forgiveness of others does not obviate the sin. If it were otherwise, as Jesse argues, moral growth would be impossible and an impediment to future similar bad acts would be removed.

    “Rendering grace” is an emotional mountain I’ve not yet climbed in my nearly fifty years of life.Report

    • Avatar atomickristin in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      I do think a LOT boils down to motive. Like in the case of the footprints on the floor, it feels a lot different when you think people are doing it to you because they don’t care and don’t mind making you do the work because they don’t value your time or taking advantage, than if they just got in a hurry or whatever.

      When someone has wronged you and you believe that it was done with the intention to not only hurt, but to actually harm/ruin the overall course of your life – not out of any personal weakness or mistaken beliefs, not out of good intentions badly implemented, but with intent, from sheer maliciousness, I can imagine that’s very hard, if not impossible, to forgive.

      It seems to me that in that case, moving on is the best you can do. That IS a kind of forgiveness, IMO. Some people don’t do that, they hang on and continue to try to get back at the person in some way – for years afterwards if not forever. I think you should be proud of the way you handled it.

      As I mentioned to Gabriel I tend to forgive too much, too easily. And so what you say about forgiving yourself – that it’s difficult for you – is interesting, because I have no trouble forgiving myself, either. While I certainly have plenty of regrets in life I’m not wracked with guilt, either (and I’ve done my share of crappy things). My husband perceives this as a lack of contrition but it’s not, at all, I’m contrite, but I can just let things go more easily than he can – both things done by others, but also done by myself. So it may very well be that a difficulty forgiving others, may also come hand in hand with a harder time forgiving yourself.

      As for Jesse, I’ve thought about that scene in BB a lot and I think what the counselor is trying to express is this – if you always beat yourself up forever over what is in the past, then you have no future, and without a future you have no ability to do better IN that future. He’s talking to addicts who surely did things worse than you or I ever could, and if they sentence themselves to life without the possibility of parole for those very very bad things, and stay stuck in the Molasses Swamp of their own self hatred forever, then what motivation do they even have TO grow morally? If no matter what happens, forever and ever, they’ll be in Purgatory, then there’s no reason to fight to even BE a better person, really.

      Because the thing about Purgatory is, a lot of people get awfully comfy there and come to enjoy their own misery in a masochistic way. It can be a kind of selfishness really, like giving oneself a pass forever – why even try to earn redemption, when it’s so much easier to stay where you are and be a giant Eeyore, feeling terrible about stuff but never really going on to do anything any different. And for an addict, not doing anything any different means you’ll relapse, it’s only a matter of time.

      That is certainly, obviously, not your personality whatsoever or mine, but I do think some people who’ve really hit rock bottom with addictions, it IS their personality to be wallowers and fatalists. So it’s an important step coming out of that place for someone to give them permission to pick a point in life and say “ok here’s where I start over again, let go of the stuff that did happen, and focus on what will happen NOW”. Because only if one takes that next step can they enact all that moral growth they’ve done, if that makes any sense.

      And thanks for reading and commenting – really appreciate it.Report

  3. Avatar Blomster
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    says:

    Just to say this is a very special piece of writing, and beautifully done. Lots to think about.Report

  4. Avatar DensityDuck
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    says:

    This suggests that forgiveness is selfish.

    Because, I mean, let’s take Lissa. She gets the egoboo of Demonstrating Through Atonement That She Is A Good Person and she doesn’t have to carry the guilt of actually having done the bad things she’s atoning for!

    I mean, there’s nothing quite so satisfying as coming on to a mess that someone else made and cleaning it up, right?

    Like, maybe that’s the romantic fantasy here, the chance to be A Good Woman without needing to deal with the fallout from having been A Bad One.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck
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      says:

      Eh. When my doctor suggests that I exercise and eat healthy, it’s not because she is trying to make me waste my time or be unhappy. It’s because exercise and healthy foods are good for me.

      There are weird people out there who are weird about exercise and even weirder people who are even weirder about healthy food… but, on a basic level, it is good for you to get some exercise and eat healthy foods even if it is possible to be weird about this sort of thing.

      All that to say: forgiving people is good for you.

      This isn’t to say that you should keep toxic people in your life no matter what. This isn’t to say that you should forget what other people have proven themselves to be like after multiple opportunities to change.

      But forgiving people is good for you.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird
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        Forgiving other people is good for you. Doing things that are good for you can be seen as selfish.

        Not that you shouldn’t forgive people, because it is good for you, but keep in mind that forgiveness isn’t entirely a selfless act that comes without benefit.Report

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