This is the title of a book written by some of our favourite authors, the Linn family. It is not a theological sentiment you hear being extolled very often. Jesus talks about who and how we should forgive (eg Matt 6:14-15, Matt 18:21-22, Luke 6:37). This seems to include our enemies as well as asking forgiveness for our own sins of omission and commission that are not in keeping with his Kingdom. Other passages talk about the important of forgiveness too, particularly forgiving one another (eg Eph 4:32, Col 3:13). I know how important it is to forgive and not to be bound or held back by unforgiveness but in my experience forgiveness is a process and one which does not always happen instantly.
What I think the Linns are seeking to encourage is reflective, informed, intentional forgiveness. When I first read the title of the book, I was shocked, it cut across all the principles I understood to be at the heart of the call to discipleship and holiness but I changed my mind and now agree with them.
When we have been hurt by another person, yes we do seek to apply the mandates of Jesus, but what about if we are not really ready to? What about if the pain is just so deep, and we have been harmed so deeply, sinned against in the most atrocious or offensive way, then I am not sure a trite “I forgive you / them” is all that honest, real or effective. Sometimes we need time to process what has happened to us, what we have done or not done. To really face up to the impact no matter how painful, before we seek to move on.
The virtue of intention is much more highly held in Judaism and Islam. But sometimes, wanting to want to forgive is all I have, sometimes I do not even have that. I know this is what I should want, and most of the time it is. But what I have turned my face towards is to forgive others and myself after I have reflected prayerfully, considered the consequences of my or others actions or inaction, and not to just forgive in a shallow, trite way.
D Linn, S Fabricant Linn, M Linn Don’t forgive too soon Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1997.