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April 25, 2007

Forgiveness and Blame

Brian Hollar, a VT alum, has given us some excellent thoughts on my question from yesterday, "What is forgiveness?" I strongly encourage you to read it in its entirety over at Thinking on the Margin. Here was my favorite line:

To claim society is responsible is to claim there is no center of responsibility. It feels good to make this claim because it allows us to get away from thinking badly about Cho, but it also keeps us from placing blame where it belongs.

Brian quotes from Lewis Smedes' "The Art of Forgiveness" which says that we cannot begin to truly forgive someone until we blame them for what they did. As Brian says, "Attempts to avoid blaming Cho for what he did are not the same thing as forgiving him. In fact, they prevent true forgiveness from being able to take place." Brian also answers another question I've been pondering.

I do not think that it is necessary to wait until a person repents before forgiving them. Repentance is critical for reconciliation to take place, but not forgiveness. If repentance were necessary, no one could ever forgive Cho or anyone else who does harm without acknowledging the wrongness of what they have done.

Read the full piece--it is a wonderful combination of candor and compassion.

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Dennis Babish

I agree concerning forgiveness. Forgiveness and reconciliation are separate items. We need to forgive the person even if they don't acknowledge they harmed us. Likewise we can refuse to forgive them even if they acknowledge their wrongness.
Bitterness is the result of unforgiveness.
I believe what has been happening in this country since that event is that those who say everyone is good are scrambling to explain this and still keep Cho as good. VT is treating Cho as if he is just one of the victims. They release 33 balloons and included a stone for him, as well, with the victims he shot. Anything to not blame him and call what he did as evil.
However the down side is if they continue to view Cho as a victim then who is there to forgive? Can't forgive if there is no one responsible. How does the families and friends of those 32 move forward?


I'm not so sure we should be so quick to condemn (okay, maybe too strong a word) the actions of VT folks, or the news media for presenting it as an attempt to forgive. When another shooting occured in an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania the Amish chose, nearly immediately, to forgive (or at least work on forgiving) the gunman and show extraordinary grace and compassion to his widow and family. I don't recall any of us questionning their actions. As a matter of fact, there was a good deal of blogging, news reporting, etc. that pointed to the goodness of those acts.

Yes, they are different people in different situations reacting in different ways - but, is it possible that the intentions and motivations are similar?


Hey Beth, I certainly hope I don't have a condemning tone, but the situation spotlights crucial questions, questions worth asking. In the Amish school shooting the community did not call the killer a victim, but they also did not let bitterness and rage keep them from reaching out to the killer's family. Forgiveness opens avenues to true compassion without rationalizing or shifting away blame. It calls evil by its name and turns justice over to God. I'm sure there are many examples of real forgiveness happening at VT, but there are also, it seems examples of rationalizing and blame-shifting. I hear your word of caution though, none of us are in their shoes. Hopefully, though, we can have a discussion about such important issues without the comments being taken as somehow sitting in judgment over others. Thanks for taking the time to respond with your thoughts.

Michael Snow

Does anyone else find the Christian confusion about forgiveness to be disheartening?

Under the spirit of the times, Christians have turned forgiveness into therapy. Too many Christians never mind what Scripture teaches. They would never dream of reading an article on forgiveness in a good reference work like the ISBE.

Topics like love (even for one's enemies), bitterness, mercy, blessing, etc. are all swept aside and lazily lumped under one topic: forgiveness

Michael Snow

This comment brings up another thought:

"If repentance were necessary, no one could ever forgive Cho..."

Is this some new evangelical equivalent to the Mormon's 'Baptism for the Dead'?

jason taylor

"This comment brings up another thought:

"If repentance were necessary, no one could ever forgive Cho..."

Is this some new evangelical equivalent to the Mormon's 'Baptism for the Dead'?"

It is the logical consequense of the theological doctrine that the dead have had the last chance to repent, as well as the practical observation that the dead certainly cannot apoligize to the living.

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