Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Despite What God Says, We Still Want Payback Before We Can Begin to Forgive

Architect Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson), left, goes on a killing spree in the “Death Wish” films when family members are murdered. Archive images.

ALLAH/God/Jehovah, aka The Great I Am, famously makes it clear to Moses in the bible book of Deuteronomy that “vengeance” is mine. “I will repay.”

That is, that the Israelites then and all so-called believers for all time should leave the exacting of revenge to him, not to undertake it ourselves.

Yet throughout the age, so many so-called believers have not been content to leave vengeance to God. Whether through war, whether it is an individual exacting revenge or knowing that those who have wronged him/her are getting some sort of comeuppance, we are not able to let bygones be bygones. Of course, anecdotally, we know this. We know that humankind is not so forgiving. But science seems to have more evidence that humans are more apt to forgive if there is involved some sort of retribution and/or restitution.

"Justice and forgiveness are often considered to be opposites, but we've found that victims who punish their offender are more able to forgive and move on," says Peter Strelan, professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Adelaide (Australia). The good doctor and colleagues have been studying forgiveness to better understand how people can resolve personal conflicts.

Of course, God asks us to forgive and be done with it – no strings attached.

In a range of different scenarios involving someone who has done wrong – a negligent friend, a criminal offender, a troubled personal relationship – PS&Co. discovered that people were more willing to forgive if those who had given offense had been punished in some way.

Not by God, though. But who's ever to say whether it is he or other forces, anyway? Yet a believer –even a nonbeliever – knows that God is probably not the instrument behind the four flat tires on the new car of his/her ex or the obscene message scrawled on the door of her nosy, annoying neighbor.

"Punishment could take many different forms,” PS asserts. “It could be giving someone the 'silent treatment', which in itself is a very powerful psychological punishment. Or in the case of a criminal offender, knowing that a court of law has imposed a reasonable sentence and that justice is being done – that may be enough for some people to forgive. That sense of justice, or getting 'just deserts', is important."

PS strongly cautions, however, that in interpersonal relationships, the vigilantism portrayed in the “Death Wish” films, for instance, should be avoided because it won't help and will likely make things worse.

"For forgiveness to really work, there must be a sense that negative responses towards a transgressor are being replaced with positive ones. It's not about retaliation, it's about responding constructively and doing something about people's poor behavior toward you, in a way that works for both parties involved in the conflict," he says.

Yet, our creator asks us to go far beyond our human boundaries. The bold, audacious and self-satisfied Simon Peter asks Jesus Christ in Matthew, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Admonishes Jesus, widely inferred to mean that forgiveness has no end. “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

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