Two Types of Forgiveness

eye.jpgThe name Ev Worthington immediately triggers “Christian forgiveness” in my mind. No one has written more on the subject than him as far as I know. His recent article in the Journal of Psychology and Theology has as many helpful nuggets in his introduction and review as in his new ideas set forth. One of those insights answers the question I posed to him several years ago (and he graciously answered in an e-mail): “If I forgave someone yesterday for some offense, how to I deal with the negative emotions that gurgle to the surface today? Does it mean I didn’t really forgive them? How long does forgiveness take?” Dr. Worthington has identified two types of experiences of individual forgiveness: decisional forgiveness and emotional forgiveness.

Decisional forgiveness is a judicial statement that closes the books on the case. It says, “Case Closed.” It means I have made a willful decision to no longer seek revenge non to extract anything from the offender (like an apology or remuneration). Biblical support of this is seen in Matthew 6:12-15.

Emotional forgiveness is a process rather than a point-in-time decision. It is a process of “replacing negative unforgiving emotions with positive other-oriented emotions like empathy, sympathy, compassion and love.” While this can take a long time, Worthington says that it can result in “a net removal of all negative unforgiving emotions.”

I think the life of Desmond Tutu exemplifies much of this attitude of complete forgiveness. Five years ago, he said,

Forgiveness, is not opposed to justice, especially if it is not punitive justice, but restorative justice, justice that does not seek primarily to punish the perpetrator, to hit out, but looks to heal a breach, to restore a social equilibrium that the atrocity or misdeed has disturbed. Ultimately there is no future without forgiveness. ~ Desmond Tutu: 9/11/2001 (click on the eye above for full text)

3 Responses to Two Types of Forgiveness

  1. leejagers says:

    Rick Reynolds has a worthwhile post about what forgiveness is NOT —

  2. patti atkinson says:

    I have made a choice to forgive someone for rape i wanted to truly in my head snd heart, but it was the emotional part that i could never get. I think because it was a time when no one talked about those things and i was told thst stronge women just go on with their lives. I hurt snd wanted him to have conseqences for 30 years there have finally been conseqences for his behavior and i do not feel so alone. I do have sympathy for him know, his wife is leaving him,his kidsthink he and his family of origin are a bunch of losers. I am knot alone now there have been two other victims that i have contavted. I have had another traumatic event and i do not want to hold onto it for 30 years. Any suggestions?

    • leejagers says:

      You give a wonderful testimony of the freedom that comes from forgiving. Working through the emotional pain of abuse/trauma runs contrary to our nature, but the results include freedom, cleansing, deliverance from isolation, etc. Today at lunch I heard of story of an African father who begged a missionary doctor to repair his son’s club foot. The doctor explained how the correction would require breaking some bones and persisting in painstaking rehabilitation exercises. The pain often presents a barrier to the process that required for true healing, but the is no better example of the value of the process than our Lord Jesus Himself.
      Dr. J.

      J. Lee Jagers, PhD, ThM
      Director of Counseling Services
      214-336-6281 (mobile)
      214-841-3795 (fax)

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