David Augsburger, a Professor of Pastoral Care at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, discusses forgiveness in this interesting interview at the National Association for Christian Recovery blog. This post is several years old, but I just stumbled across it, and maybe you haven’t seen it either. It gives a great new perspective on forgiveness. Here are some highlights from the interview that spoke to me.
An abuser should not ask the victim for forgiveness. “If I have injured someone, it is not appropriate for me to ask them to give me something.” The focus should be on demonstrating repentance and making amends, not on getting forgiven. The immediate asking for and the giving of forgiveness skips some critical steps that make authentic resolution of the injury almost impossible.
Mr. Augsburger talks about whether we should offer unconditional forgiveness to people who are unrepentant, and whether Christ did this. He acknowledges that this concept causes much disagreement among Christians. He says “My own view is that forgiveness in the absence of repentance is almost meaningless. It may sound gracious and loving but usually the person who forgives prematurely, preemptively or unconditionally is trying to avoid the hard work of the forgiveness process. It’s saying “I don’t want to struggle. I can’t carry this any longer. I can’t face the burden.””
Forgiveness never returns a relationship to its former state. If it does, it is just a denial that the injury happened. Boundaries have to be set, and the new relationship depends on the level of trust that can now be created between the abuser and the victim.
Mr. Augsburger talks about the nature of a true apology. Many apologies are an appeasement, where the abuser grovels and says how terrible they are, until the victim feels bad enough for them to say they will forgive them. Some apologies are an account, where the abuser is just offering reasons and excuses for what he or she did, but is not truly repentant.
When an abuser is unrepentant, unavailable, perhaps even deceased, it may not be possible to forgive, but only to go through a grieving process which Mr. Augsburger calls for-grieving instead of for-giving.
Mr. Augsburger finished up his interview by talking about something very relevant to this blog. What if you need to forgive a whole institution, such as a church or mission? He points out that institutions live to protect themselves. Survival is one of their main motivations. He calls them the “principalities and powers”. This is SO true. It is possible for institutions to give a genuine apology, but rare, since they mostly only do it when they realize that an apology will help their survival.
There is much more in this interview, which you can read in its entirety at the National Association for Christian Recovery blog.