Empathy is not forgiveness. That was a real stumbling block for me, but empathy can be a bit like trying to rationalize away sin. We’re seeking a logical explanation for human behavior, some cause and effect, and trying to walk in someone else’s shoes compassionately. That all sounds very good, very charitable on the surface, but it is not the supernatural grace of forgiveness.
You will wind up extending mercy to everyone but yourself. We’ll call it “self-abuse,” because you’ll be filled with forgiveness, confusion, frustration, while attempting to rationalize away the entire world’s poor behavior.
Battered women do this all the time. He doesn’t mean it, it’s not his fault. People married to alcoholics do it, they rationalize, it’s just the addiction talking. We do it in crime, bad childhood, lousy neighborhood, poor job training. What winds up happening in the end is that you are surrounded by totally irrational people doing stupid things for what seems to be good reasons and all of this somehow becomes your fault. Also, now you’re even more bitter and unforgiving because everyone in the entire world has an excuse for treating you poorly….
Forgiveness is mercy extended without excuses.
My mother taught me that. She was a tough stumbling block because she is a narcissist, she has a disorder. Her intent, her motivation towards me is seldom hostile or meant to be abusive. In fact, I don’t even exist except as an extension of her, a hologram really. It’s not personal, because actually I’m not even really a person. I’m a character, an extra in her own script. So for years I empathized, I spun excuses, I rationalized, I jumped through hoops, I did everything but forgive. This never-ending mantra of it’s not her fault, she doesn’t mean it,she can’t help it. There is nothing to forgive.
If anyone had told me I was not forgiving of my mother, I would have thought they were nuts. I was the most empathetic, compassionate, rationalizing, defense attorney on the planet. She was practically a saint, everything she did was the fault of someone else having made her the way she is or life or some circumstance. She just doesn’t know any better.
Jesus Christ is came to set the captives free. He doesn’t say empathize, rationalize, and make excuses, He says forgive. Unmerited favor. One cannot extend unmerited favor if one is really just trying to assign merit to someone else’s bad behavior.
Forgiveness is unmerited favor.
That was really hard for me. Sever the emotional response and the sentimentality, and you’re left with a life time of wrong doing, harm done without cause, sin without excuse. There is nothing one can do with sin that has no excuse except to see it for what it is and to set it down at the foot of the cross. Why do we need redemption? Because we are without excuse. While empathy is all well and good, it simply cannot wash away the sin of the world like Christ’s blood can.
This is one reason why we need to be very careful when we’re speaking to people about forgiveness, especially victims of whatever life has dealt them. It’s actually not about empathizing with the one who has harmed you, it’s about accepting the human condition which is sin.
In my case Jesus Christ flat-out stepped in and intervened. Thou shall not empathize today. Compassion can kill. It is not love to excuse the behavior of others. To try to track back cause and effect sin, like ripples on a pond, denies other people full agency and prevents your own healing.
Forgiveness is unmerited favor. One cannot extend unmerited favor if one is really just trying to assign merit to someone else’s bad behavior.