Forgiveness as an inherently communal act

The notion that I must forgive others or be condemned by God is inherently individualistic. The kingdom is based on presence or lack of relationship, not individual culpability and guilt. That there must be an I to do the forgiving is given within the context of relationship, but to focus on ‘me’ as though it could be defined and judged apart from ‘you’ is already to miss the point of the gospel.

To say that Christ gives ‘me’ forgiveness is in the same way to strip the relational aspect of forgiveness from the process of transformation. I can’t just ‘get’ forgiveness from sin – forgiveness is a change in my relationship with God, which cannot be defined in terms of what I deserve or get. Forgiveness is only definable in terms of mending or breaking relationship.

Forgiveness, in both directions, is an act of community before it is a choice by individuals. That churches often view forgiveness in the opposite direction both harms the offended, who already bears the greater share of the burden to forgive, and the offender, who is rarely taught the gift of vulnerability.

To think of forgiveness as an individual choice is like thinking of peace as a lack of fighting. Peace is not a lack of fighting – peace is the embodiment of God’s love in community. Forgiveness is not the absence of a grudge – forgiveness is the embodiment of God’s love in relationship.

To assume forgiveness is individual choice creates the space in which it is possible to justify both staying in an abusive relationship as a requirement of God’s call to forgive and choosing to let brokenness fester beneath the surface in the rush to pretend forgiveness has already been achieved. Both outcomes create deeper brokenness in the attempt to pretend that the hard work of healing relationship has already taken place.

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