Luke 7:48f 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The other table guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this person that even forgives sins?” (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
Sin is the process by which we break and/or damage relationships by inflicting wounds, exposing flaws, dispensing hurts, forcing divisions and separations, and creating isolation for oneself, another, or groups of others. Sin is better defined as a matter of injustice (denying someone their dignity or integrity) than as a matter of immorality (violation of some eternal code of behavior).
Forgiveness of sins is a complicated process because we assume, like the Pharisees (Luke 7:49), that sins are offenses against the authority of an external God and, therefore that forgiveness is the prerogative of that God. Forgiveness is not about some external authority who transmutes wounds, hurts, flaws, or division. Forgiveness is the process (not a simple action) by which we overcome the wounds, hurts, flaws, divisions, and or the isolation that results from breaking relationships.
Forgiveness is the natural result of extending love, compassion, kindness, mercy, and/or justice which invites rebuilding the relationship with the one wounded, hurt, or separated and thereby overcomes the lingering effects of the brokenness and
The process of confessing sins – whether done in a confessional, in a corporate worship service, or to any other person – is simply part of the relational process of transformation. When the priest announces words of absolution in the confessional, when the minister pronounces a declaration of pardon in the worship liturgy, when another person says I forgive you,” they are not actually forgiving sins. They are acknowledging and confirming that genuine repentance and confession are aids (resources) in the process. Absolution acknowledges that forgiveness is a sacred process, entry to a thin place where the impossible possibility (healing brokenness) can happen.
The process of forgiveness begins because something has gone wrong, something is broken – a break within one’s self, a break in relationship with another, a break with the values and practices of a group. The process can begin by an inner stirring (a sense that something is not right), by an insight (an acknowledgement of the brokenness), or by a confrontation (by the one most affected by the break).
For the process to continue, there must be some kind of movement toward wholeness (such as, integrating a symbol of healing) which energizes an inner commitment toward changed behavior OR engages the offended one or a surrogate (for example, therapist, spiritual director, priest, minister, or friend). The healing process includes some concrete action that demonstrates a change in behavior or being. Compassionate (merciful) actions begin to repair damage done from transgressing a group’s norms, values, or practices. Acting justly means promoting and enhancing the dignity and worth of the offended or wounded person with whom the break occurred.
Forgiveness (healing) requires vulnerability of both the offender and the offended. The offender must be fragile in the presence of the broken one – acknowledging the sacred part of the one(s) they have offended in such a way as to yearn for and offer a oneness beyond the brokenness. Forgiveness is the natural process of engaging the brokenness; moving into it, through it, and beyond it. Forgiveness does not demand restoration or repair of the broken relationship. Instead, it offers and invites allowing the other(s) the freedom to respond and the choice of how they will respond. The vulnerability of the offended (willingness to re-engage the offended) requires an openness to the future, an openness to a new relationship.
Regardless of the response of the other(s), forgiveness (healing) is a movement toward a whole, transformed life. It will require change of behavior and/or being.