In the Christian healing arena, forgiveness has become a staple. Whether you are doing Sozo, Thoephostic, Immanuel, or HeartSync, a standard question is, “Have you forgiven….?” It’s a great question and often releases healing into deep places that have remained stuck for years. The standard thinking is that the offended or abused person can forgive, regardless of the actions of the offender and even if the offender hasn’t repented. In fact, even if he’s dead. Many people find healing through this process. In this model, forgiveness is usually defined as releasing a legal obligation or transferring the debt to God. Once the debt is released, the offended person can move on, whether the offender asks for or receives the forgiveness or not.
A Different Approach
Dr. Bryan Maier offers a different take and an interesting perspective in Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach . Maier says that forgiveness must be rooted in the forgiveness of God, and that since God requires repentance, so must we. He puts the onus on the offender to repent and outlines a lengthy process of verifying the validity of the repentance and this puts all the cards in the hands of the offended. She is not required to accept the apology, but the offender is required to bide his time and continue reaching out. And by extension, if the offender is dead and can’t repent, it seems to leave the offended in a rotten position of never being able to forgive. Maier doesn’t spend much time on this, but it does beg the question. He also suggests that forgiveness is essentially unrelated to healing.
I was intrigued with the parallel to God’s forgiveness. True, he does require repentance. And if we don’t repent, we aren’t forgiven. That makes sense. But as a person who had to forgive a dead offender, I found real problems with Maier’s model. How would I release him since I wasn’t even aware of the abuse until years after he was gone?
This is dense and thoughtful book. Maier makes and documents his points well. I would recommend it to those working in healing and ministry. You may not agree with him, but he will make you think.