"Practicing forgiveness can produce dramatic transformations in our
imaginations and the psychological, social and political horizons of our lives."

— L. Gregory Jones

The practice of forgiveness is not simply a one-time action or an isolated feeling or thought. Forgiveness involves us in a whole way of life that is shaped by an ever-deepening friendship with God and with other people. The central goal of this practice is to reconcile, to restore communion - with God, with one another, and with the whole creation.

L. Gregory Jones writes, "Forgiveness works through our ongoing willingness to give up certain claims against one another, to give the truth when we access our relationships with one another, and to give gifts of ourselves by making innovative gestures that offer a future not bound by the past."

A Whole Way of Life
Almost all of us yearn for resolution to unresolved conflicts. Incidences of horrifying evil make us wonder how forgiveness can make a difference. It even takes courage to forgive in smaller, day-to-day conflicts. What do you remember of situations where forgiveness did not happen? How does your experience color your notion of forgiveness in general?

Even if we understand forgiveness as the right response, what if we don't really want it? How can we pray with integrity, "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us?" What difference do you suppose it makes if the goal of forgiveness is restoring communion rather than dealing with guilt?

Facing the Obstacles to Forgiveness
Forgiveness does not merely refer backward to the absolution of guilt; it also looks forward to the restoration of community. What part might forgiveness play in breaking cycles of violence and abuse in our families and our communities? How do we explain our fascination with violence and hatred in the media?

Part of the problem of wanting to practice forgiveness is that we are often less sure of what we love than of what we hate. When have you noticed someone retaliating by choosing self-destruction over reconciliation?

Anger is a sign that something needs to change. When might bitterness and hatred seem justified? When might anger lead to appropriate resistance and insistent action for change? What is the danger even in righteous indignation?

The Shape of God's Forgiveness
Forgiveness begins with God's love. What do we learn about the shape of God's forgiveness through the parables of the lost coin, the lost sons, and the lost sheep (Luke 15)? How does Jesus' own ministry, death, and resurrection testify to the character of God's forgiveness?

It's easy to see how revenge can become a vicious circle, how it can become habitual. But what if forgiving seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22) could make forgiveness habitual? How do regular liturgical practices and prayers of confession, the kiss of peace, washing feet, baptism, and assurances of pardon till the ground for planting forgiveness and making it habitual?

Building Communities of Forgiveness
Even a forgiving community has boundaries, especially when forgiveness is abused. What boundaries are evident in the parable of the merciless servant (Matt. 18:23-35)? When might reconciliation require separation? What boundaries does your community set to guard against abuse of forgiveness?

We need to unlearn those things that divide and destroy communion, and instead learn to live as forgiven and forgiving people. How do people who have experienced forgiveness react when others make mistakes? When have you seen vengeance averted in creative ways? How can we avoid reproducing violence, and still take seriously people's responsibilities for their actions?

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Then Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven."

— Matthew 18:21-22

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. ... Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

— Ephesians 4:25-32

© 2006-2011 The Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith