“It’s an act of transformative empowerment… that allows someone to move forward.”
– Loren Toussaint
What is the Theology?
This research affirms what Christians have proclaimed since the beginning. Some of Jesus’ last words on the cross were, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NRSV). Jesus extended this to his followers, telling them, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). Yet this does not negate our feelings for vengeance (see Psalm 137!). Rather, it invites us to move beyond vengeance and follow in the footsteps of such forgivers as Esau, Joseph, David, and Jesus. Sermons can bring in the science of forgiveness to demonstrate ways forgiveness might provide healing for the ones offering forgiveness as they follow in the ways of Jesus.
What to Consider
- What is forgiveness? How does your definition of forgiveness align with the definition of forgiveness given by Jason Marsh (quoted in the key terms above)?
- Is there a time in your life when you forgave somebody when it was really difficult to forgive? What was that process like? How long did it take? Has reconciliation between you and the offender taken place?
- Is there a time in your life when you were unable to forgive somebody? What was that process like? Do you foresee ever being at a place where you can ultimately offer forgiveness to that person?
- What are times when you have victimized somebody and needed to receive forgiveness? Are there still people to whom you need to apologize and ask forgiveness?
- What is the connection between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others?
How to Go Deeper
- Read John 13:5-20 and hold a foot-washing ceremony. Emphasize the presence of Judas at the table and how Jesus even washed the feet of the one who betrayed him. Open this up as a time of reconciliation where people might give or receive forgiveness.
- Preach a series on magnanimous forgivers in the Bible. You might consider using the stories of Esau forgiving Jacob (Genesis 33:1-17), Joseph forgiving his brothers (Genesis 45:1-15), or David forgiving Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9).
- Read Psalm 137 (or another imprecatory psalm such as Psalm 5 or Psalm 140) and place yourself in the shoes of the Psalmist. Make space for parishioners to lament broken relationships and offenses committed. Invite parishioners who are ready to forgive those who have offended them or ask for forgiveness from those they have offended.
What is the Science? While the benefits of forgiveness are widely supported by two decades of research, a recent study seeks to demonstrate the positive impact of forgiveness within the specific context of [...]
What is the Science? Often the catalyst for receiving forgiveness is offering a good apology. Yet, in her article “The Three Parts of an Effective Apology,” Christine Carter suggests that all apologies are [...]
What is the Science? After victimization, many people desire vengeance. In well-publicized atrocities, such as the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing or the 2012 Colorado movie theater shooting, prosecutors, the public, and victims’ families [...]
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Which Contributes More to Forgiveness, Sympathy or Free Will?
Article by Michael McCullough (2013)
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What is the Science? Psychologist Michael McCullough suggests that when humans consider forgiving others they instinctively engage in one of two distinct systems for arriving at forgiveness: sympathy or free will. McCullough argues [...]
What is the Science? Research has long suggested that if a person carries a prolonged grievance they risk adverse health effects. Now, a new study suggests that one’s determination to hold a grudge [...]