Thursday, February 14, 2008

Selfless Forgiveness or Selfish Forgiveness?

I’ve been doing more thinking on forgiveness. In fact, what really got me thinking were the wonderful comments on my previous post “Unconditional Forgiveness: Is it Realistic?”

I’ve been thinking about our motives behind forgiveness? That is, is our forgiveness selfless, as is the case with God’s unconditional forgiveness of our sins? Or, is our forgiveness centered on selfish reasons?

It would be great to be in a position of giving out unconditional, selfless forgiveness, but I have to believe that many of us hand out “selfish” forgiveness. What do I mean? Well, I think that we make the decision to forgive others (or ourselves), because it helps us lift that anger/resentment/hurting off our shoulders. “We” feel better when we forgive others. “We” feel the stress leave when we forgive others. We’re not really taking into account what our forgiveness does for the other party. Our motives are somewhat selfish in this case aren’t they? And, doesn’t this contrast with “selfless” forgiveness. You know, how God forgives us because he loves us and wants us to be at peace. Isn’t He really thinking about the other party here?

Maybe selfish forgiveness is okay. Maybe there is absolutely nothing wrong with the motives behind the handing out of forgiveness. Maybe I have dug down too deep on this, and it really isn’t even an issue. What do you all think? Do we need to think about why we forgive others? Is selfless forgiveness even realistic, or was it meant only for the One that can truly achieve it?

note: picture courtesy of

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Anonymous said...

Hmmmm...I think that there is again a fine line between selfless and selfish forgiveness. To some degree I believe there is a hint of selfishness to forgiveness irregardless of the intent on its nature. I believe there is a sense of pride, as well as control, to be able to forgive someone. The authenticity becomes the true colors of intent. If our forgiveness is authentic, and portrayed as so, it contains more elements of selflessness. Unauthentic attempts wreak of selfishness.

That being said, Eric if you don't mind, I am curious as to our physical delivery of forgiveness. I've noticed with my children that it is incredibly difficult for them to find the words when another apologizes to them. I am sure they are modeling their parents, because I too find myself at a loss for words. Often I say "that's ok." Is this really forgiveness? Why are the words "I forgive you" you difficult to say?

Robyn McMaster said...

Hello, Eric. I sense forgiveness is really paradoxical. We give it in many senses because we love. The other person does not deserve it and it's given as a gift. As a result the ill feelings we may have had leave us.

Somehow it just can't be put on. It has to be real or it doesn't work. If our motive is to benefit ourselves, it may not be the gut wrenching forgiveness we may finally come to when someone has genuinely done us in. I've heard many a woman, whose husband started to "run around" say she'd never forgive the skunk. And so, she lives with that the rest of her life and bitterness sets into her spirit. People can't urge her to forgive, a psychiatrist might tell her to, but when she has an aha moment that she must let go and simply do it, real forgiveness begins then and there to recreate the person. It's very deep to fathom. It takes a lifetime to plummet its depth.

Thanks for a very thoughtful post.

Eric Peterson said...

I like how you put it..."unauthentic attempts wreak of selfishness!" Authenticity really does kind of draw that line between selfless and selfish doesn't it?

It is difficult to respond to forgiveness isn't it? I hear a lot of people go with "me, too" (if they are feeling a bit guilty), or "that's okay" (like your example). Why can't we treat it like any other conversation? Well, I think it could be partly due to the "desire to move on" and not dwell on the hurt. I don't know.....Great questions Bob....maybe others will weigh in!

Eric Peterson said...

Thank you for stopping by. You add so much value to the conversation! Forgiveness is a gift isn't it? Sometimes, the other may not be deserving, but we give that gift anyway, hopefully freeing them from guilt, and us from hurt.

I think you touched on a great point, that true forgiveness is very deep, and sometimes takes a real "aha" moment to get us there. True, authentic forgiveness is what sets people free....Unfortunately, I think many of us practice the art of "superficial forgiveness."

Anonymous said...

I think that there are probably two kinds of forgiveness.
The sort we give ourselves is essentialy selfish, but only because that was the way it was meant to be. God gave us the ability to forgive so that we could move on, so that we could forget and not allow the past to make us bitter. I don't think that selfish forgiveness is a bad thing at all; in fact, I think we need it.
The other kind of forgiveness is selfless- it is when we ask God (or anybody really) to forgive someone else. I don't think that we can ever arrive at this kind of forgiveness without first having given the 'selfish' kind.
What do you think?