The 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)