Of you it is required to forgive all men, reads the scripture. That’s not an easy one. It’s a topic that has been on my mind of late, however. Forgiveness is a surprisingly complex topic. The injunction is easy to repeat, but in application, it raises a number of questions that I sometimes struggle to answer.

An initial question is, what does forgiveness entail? Does it require simply grudge-dropping? Can we check off our forgiveness boxes if we adopt a guarded cease-fire? Will grudging neutrality suffice? Or does forgiveness require me to rebuild bridges, reextend a hand, work towards reestablished trust and friendship with another person? My temporal side wants to justify some set of minimal requirements — as long as I’ve ceased any active hostilities, I have satisfied my obligations. I don’t know if I believe that, though. My sense is that Christ would do more. And this is, of course, an area where my theorizing and my application don’t always match up.

A set of related, complicated questions arise, at the intersection of forgiveness and communication. Forgiveness may require communication; yet all too often, the kinds of situations in which I find myself where forgiveness may be sought are precisely those where open communication is absent. It’s hard to seek or give forgiveness when bridges are burnt — yet it is often at precisely those times that forgiveness is most necessary.

If someone wrongs me, I’m liable to ignore him, and vice versa. This makes the forgiveness process more complicated. Even trickier is where our own bad acts are so hurtful that they drive the other person away entirely. Someone driven away by my bad acts or angry words may be understandably chary of further discussion. The severing of communication has many consequences. It may be adopted for pragmatic reasons, such as to limit future harm. Still, it also serves to limit our opportunity and ability to seek forgiveness. In such instances, where all communication may be severed, there is little we can do. We can say to the empty ether or the empty space beside us, “I’m sorry that I hurt you, and I hope that some day you can forgive me.” We can pray that people we’ve hurt will eventually find peace. And we can hope that time and space and God’s healing power will allow for eventual understanding, and that forgiveness may follow. The infinite atonement will eventually heal all; our earthly capabilities to seek forgiveness and atone for our missteps and misdeeds are much more limited.

Equally frustrating at times is the uncertainty inherent in the dialogue of forgiveness. Seeking forgiveness entails placing oneself in a position of assymetrical power; granting forgiveness entails reliquishing satisfying emotions and giving up leverage. We can’t force others to forgive us. (I can’t tell anyone else when or how to forgive – much as I’d like to sometimes!) This can create reluctance to take steps that might mend fences. As wrongdoers, we may worry that our gestures will not be accepted, and that forgiveness will not be forthcoming. Part of the process is taking those conciliatory steps anyway; making known that we are seeking forgiveness, even if this makes us vulnerable, and even if there may be no forgiveness forthcoming. That’s the duty of the wrongdoer, and only by doing so can we cleanse ourselves and move forward. The wronged party, meanwhile, has a chance to act as a Savior, by extending forgiveness to another.

Finally, there is self-forgiveness. This is sometimes the hardest of all. I sometimes wonder why I make the same mistakes over and over again, why I do things that hurt me or people I care about, why I seem to have trouble learning some lessons. In such cases, self-forgiveness is necessary as well, to move forward.

In a relatively recent talk, President Hinckley spoke of a woman whose life was altered by the thoughtless act of another. Quoting a news story, he read:

How would you feel toward a teenager who decided to toss a 20-pound frozen turkey from a speeding car headlong into the windshield of the car you were driving? How would you feel after enduring six hours of surgery using metal plates and other hardware to piece your face together, and after learning you still face years of therapy before returning to normal—and that you ought to feel lucky you didn’t die or suffer permanent brain damage? . . . .

The victim, Victoria Ruvolo, a 44-year-old former manager of a collections agency, was more interested in salvaging the life of her 19-year-old assailant, Ryan Cushing, than in exacting any sort of revenge. She pestered prosecutors for information about him, his life, how he was raised, etc. Then she insisted on offering him a plea deal. Cushing could serve six months in the county jail and be on probation for 5 years if he pleaded guilty to second-degree assault. . . .

Cushing carefully and tentatively made his way to where Ruvolo sat in the courtroom and tearfully whispered an apology. ‘I’m so sorry for what I did to you.’ Ruvolo then stood, and the victim and her assailant embraced, weeping. She stroked his head and patted his back as he sobbed, and witnesses, including a Times reporter, heard her say, ‘It’s OK. I just want you to make your life the best it can be.’

The story is one of a tremendous act of forgiveness. I don’t know if it’s one that I would be capable of. But I like to imagine and hope that I would. And I hope that forgiveness is contagious – because Heaven knows, I need it myself.

I offend and hurt others much more often than I like to admit. I wrote an early draft of this post, months ago, after a heated and hurtful argument with a friend. I’ve since thought about the topic more often than I thought I would, as I’ve repeatedly found myself in recent months seeking forgiveness from others for my thoughtless words and acts. (And every time I’ve thought of posting this, I’ve stopped, thinking “maybe I shouldn’t post this quite now — so-and-so will be sure I’m talking about him/her”).

I’m well aware of my own catalogue of faults — inconsiderateness, selfishness, rudeness, anger, deceit. I’m often in need of forgiveness from my fellows. But more so, I’m in need of forgiveness from God. And on that score, I’m no different from anyone else. We all need forgiveness. The Lord’s Prayer contains the line “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” That sums up the dynamic that makes forgiveness so necessary. As we forgive, we make ourselves more worthy of God’s forgiveness. And in a not unrelated way, we make ourselves more like God, who also forgives.

It’s a lesson that I work to incorporate into my own life. I’m often too slow to forgive, and too quick to hope that others will forgive me. As I work on changing that ratio, I become a better person, and closer to God. And I become more worthy of His forgiveness, which I certainly need.

It’s a hard lesson, but it’s one that helps me mature and grow as a person, and to feel closer to God. And I have to admit, that’s a pretty good reason to drop a grudge.

46 comments for “Forgiveness

  1. Kaimi Wenger
    June 13, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    This post inadvertently posted at first with comments closed. That’s a function of the fact that when we were hit with a flood of spam, we closed comments for all posts over a month old, by running a database query closing comments for posts dated prior to 5/1. When I ran that command, this post was a draft with a date prior to 5/1, so it had its comments closed.

    I just opened comments. Please, weigh in with any thoughts. And forgive the temporary technical oversight. :)

  2. Jonathan Green
    June 13, 2006 at 5:13 pm

    Kaimi, I like the example that you cite because it puts forgiveness in concrete, legal terms. Sometimes when we talk about forgiveness, it can come across as, “Of course I forgive the guy who stole my car–just as long as that criminal scum spends every second of the next fifteen years at hard labor wishing he were dead!”

  3. June 13, 2006 at 6:04 pm

    this is my thought on forgiveness.

    Forgiveness is more about ourselves than the perpetrator. The perpetrator still has to pay for his crime, whether by the laws of man or by the laws of God. Forgiveness is not about stifling justice, but about changing our own hearts to no longer have hatred for those who have committed crimes against us.

  4. June 13, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    Kaimi, thanks for a thought-provoking and well-written piece. I like it very much, with one relatively small exception.

    So let me quibble over that exception: Aren’t self-forgiveness and refusal-to-forgive-self equally acts of pride? Don’t they arrogate to oneself what is Christ’s and the wounded person’s to give, namely forgiveness? l can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “I know that God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself,” as if they could dare to have higher standards than God!

    Beside the implicit blasphemy of such a statement, I think it is conceptually confused. I haven’t seen anyone able to lay out what it means either to forgive oneself or not to do so in terms that make conceptual sense. Sorrow for sin I understand only too well, but I don’t understand self-forgiveness.

    As far as I can tell, the idea that we need to forgive ourselves is very recent–less than 50 years old–and it is an offshoot of the self-image movement (itself an offshoot of the earlier Dale Carnegie-inspired self-help movement). Since the need for a good self-image has turned out to be a crock (and sometimes a dangerous crock, at that), we ought to abandon it and its offspring.

  5. Costanza
    June 13, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    For the record, about a week after President Hinckley’s talk, the injured woman read a victim impact statement in court in which “she expressed that she had not forgiven Cushing or his friends, in particular because they never bothered to stop and help her or call for help.” Apprently “Cushing [the turkey thrower] wrote Ruvolo [the injured woman] a letter asking her for forgiveness,” but it was not forthcoming. Apparently the original story was a bit ahead of itself.

  6. Costanza
    June 13, 2006 at 6:50 pm

    Oh, here is the story containing the quotes I used: “”

  7. Seth R.
    June 13, 2006 at 7:49 pm

    You’re not exactly being cheery here Costanza.

  8. Brad Kramer
    June 13, 2006 at 8:16 pm

    Excellent post, Kaimi. Asymetry of power, self-imposed vulnerability, and the relinquishing of leverage over others are, I think, the keys to understanding and practicing forgiveness. Thus, the injunction to forgive is one of the great leavening factors in human interaction, and one of the profound tests of our humanity. This partially explains why the Truth and Reconciliation Comissions in places like South Africa and even Rwanda have proven so vital to individual and collective healing. Hugh Nibley loved to describe repentance as a process or an overall attitude rather than a corrective act. In this formulation, repentance is not a way of returning to the path of righteousness; it _is_ the path. Repentance = Righteousness. This can be extended — or perhaps balanced out — by adding the dimension of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not an isolated act designed to restore or correct damaged human relationships. Forgiveness should be the very essence of human relationships, since they are all damaged to one degree or another. Being a repentant and a forgiving person, then, does not just mean that you are willing and able to repent or forgive whenever the need arises; being a repentant, forgiving person means constantly, obsessively repenting and forgiving, making repentance the watchword for your relationship with yourself and forgiveness, for your relationship with others. You will always be more concerned with your own shortcomings than with other people’s, and you will always approach your fellow man or woman with the profound humility Kaimi has described here. This, in my opinion, is the essence of righteousness.

  9. June 13, 2006 at 8:32 pm

    what does forgiveness entail?

    Ahh, that is a great question. Does Christ mean it when he says that if someone gives offense and I don’t forgive him, in me is the greater sin?

    Over the many years that followed, I spent time rethinking all of my theology on the basis of just what does it imply if I accepted as true that the greater sin is in failing to forgive (much like a friend of mine who treats “be ye therefore perfect” as said in the voice of “you do too know that I mean it.”).

    It is a great topic, and one worth a lot of thought.

    As for Ruvolo, the story says:

    Oct. 18, 2005 — Victoria Ruvolo is the victim of a random act of violence, but almost a year after her attack, she is speaking out with a message of mercy, if not forgiveness.

    I’m missing Costanza’s context, but these lines caught my attention “He faced up to 25 years in prison if convicted, but Ruvolo stepped in and asked the judge to show mercy.

    “I don’t think that would have done him, myself or society any good,” Ruvolo said of a lengthy prison sentence. “That would have made him more nasty and bitter.”

    Ruvolo was at the courthouse in August when Cushing pled guilty under a deal that would send him to jail for six months.

    “He came over to me and his eyes started swelling up and he was starting to apologize,” Ruvolo said. “And then he took me in his arms and the only thing I could do was comfort him. I needed that hug from him as much as he needed it from me.”

    Ruvolo said she told Cushing to “do good things with his life.” The other teens involved in the prank pleaded guilty and received probation.

    Ruvolo was back in court on Monday at Cushing’s sentencing to read a victim impact statement. In it, she expressed that she had not forgiven Cushing or his friends, in particular because they never bothered to stop and help her or call for help.

    “That was the thing that has always haunted me,” Ruvolo told “GMA.” “That is the thing that they hurt me the most — that they didn’t stop, that no one called 911, that I could have died that night.”

    Cushing wrote Ruvolo a letter asking her for forgiveness.

    “She is the best,” Cushing said. “And I love her.””

    Let’s be fair …

  10. TMD
    June 13, 2006 at 8:46 pm

    I recently gave a talk on forgiveness, and it occurred to me that if we are to pursue the radical injunction contained in the D & C, we must also avoid false forgiveness. Two occured to me:
    The first is rationalization forgiveness: we forgive not through love of Christ, but because we can ‘understand’ why some other person might ‘reasonably’ have acted as they did. To us, it feels like forgiveness, but it is not in fact a Christian forgiveness, because there is embedded in it a conditionality alien to Christ: so long as we can understand and at least think that the doer of the act was not mal-intentioned toward us, we forgive. But it thus excludes, at least in our minds, those who act acted out of malice. As we will see in a moment, Christ does not give us this option.
    The second false forgiveness is the overt declaration of forgiveness in the absence of a request. To tell someone we forgive them, without their having sought our forgiveness is often not so much an act of love but of accusation, not an act of peace but of provocation. If we are conscious that this is what we are doing, we are only trying to falsely raise our sense of our own goodness and morality by standing others. This is not forgiveness.

  11. Mark Pickering
    June 13, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    Everyone always stops before verse 12 of section 64: “And him that repenteth not of his sins…ye shal bring before the church, and do with him as the scripture saith unto you….” And there is section 98, which commands one NOT to forgive under certain circumstances: “But if he trespass against thee the fourth time thou shalt not forvgive him…” (v. 44).

    We are, in fact, not commanded to forgive all men.

  12. June 13, 2006 at 9:49 pm

    Re #4: Let me make a plug for Jim F.’s article “Self-Image, Self-Love, and Salvation” (though it’s been a while), as well as Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ, both of which I think help clarify the conceptual confusion that Jim is referring to.

    However, I still get confused about this. If we are not supposed to “love ourselves” or “forgive ourselves” how are we to guard against self-loathing?

    Ultimately, I think the answer has to do with sufficiently humbling ourselves, being born again as new creatures of God (fully experiencing God’s love), and having true faith in the power of the atonement. But when I am already feeling bad about myself and struggling with feelings of guilt, realizing I do not have enough faith or that I have not sufficiently humbled myself only seems to make me feel worse about myself, which leads to a vicous cycle…. In theory, I believe this cycle is supposed to result in a realization that I am nothing (cf. Moses 1:10) which should lead me to dramatic change of heart and rebirth as a new creature in Christ with only righteous desires. Although I have experienced this euphoria that accompanies what I think is genuine repentance, I find this result elusive and hard to wrap my brain around….

    More often, I think I get distracted in various ways before the genuine change of heart takes place. Sometimes I think I pridefully try to sweep away my feelings of guilt on my own, without properly humbling myself before God (is this the danger Jim is referring to?). Sometimes I think I stop at the guilt and self-loathing stage and live with that rather than continuing on to the euphoric stage that follows true and complete repentance. And sometimes I think I try to hide from the guilt by crouching behind doubts, rationalizations, other endeavors, or even despair.

    For me, I think it is misguided efforts in seeking forgiveness from God more than the misguided efforts to forgive others (some of which are described in #10) that trip me up the most.

  13. greenfrog
    June 13, 2006 at 11:20 pm

    Thanks for the link to Jim F’s article. It sounds to my ear like an LDS version of a certain charioteer’s lecture to Arjuna.

  14. June 14, 2006 at 12:26 am

    Robert C: I think that self-suspicion is a good and necessary thing: I suspect that I have not done what I was supposed to. I suspect that my faith could be stronger. I suspect that I did not deal with my child as I should have. Self-certainty that has its origin in self is dangerous. However, I don’t think that self-suspicion need turn to self-loathing. Indeed, when it makes that turn, it seems to me that I turn from a concern with what I ought to be to a concern simply for myself. Self-loathing is, to be sure, a concern for self that is incredibly perverse, but it is nevertheless an extreme concern for self. In other words, it is in many ways like pride. So, it is, as you suggest, a way of hiding from repentance and the love of God.

    Like you, I find it difficuilt to remain in a state of true repentance, a state of rebirth in which I have the change of heart in which I no longer seek to do evil. But I have hope that at some point Christ will come and make that new life a permanent life.

  15. Blake
    June 14, 2006 at 1:48 am

    Jim: Regarding self love I would recommend the excellent paper by Harry Frankfurt’s recent book The Reasons of Love and also his excellent paper “The Dear Self.” He argues that self-love is simply remaining committed to what we most deeply care about and to ourselves as agents to carry out our projects. We cannot help but love our own sell-being in the long haul is inevitably something we care about most deeply — unless we give up on ourselves. In any event, you can find his “Dear Self” article here:

    In any event, I would like to know what you think of Frankfurt’s approach.

  16. June 14, 2006 at 11:04 am

    TMD, #10, gives two good examples of false forgiveness. I would also include:

    3. Pretending that the offense never occured.

    4. Pretending that the offense wasn’t a sin or an offense, often by saying “It’s okay.” “It”, the sin or offense, is not okay. The victim may go on to heal and become okay, but the crime/sin is never okay. Saying to the victim, or the victims saying to themselves, “It’s okay” in response to a serious hurt/offense/crime/wound is another sin, because it’s “calling evil good.” It prevents healing, and thereby perpetuates the suffering of the victim.

    Both the above are common coping mechanisms for victims of abuse and other serious offenses. False forgiveness in those forms compounds the offenses of abuse because the emotional/spiritual wounds never get healed.

    By pretending that the abuse never happened, or that it wasn’t abuse, the victim never goes to Christ for spiritual or emotional healing. And if the wounds are never healed, they fester and generate poison which has a secondary effect on both the victim and their family (usually spouse and children).

    Victims who are programmed into thinking “it’s okay” then go on to engage in behavior that affirms the “okay-ness” of the crimes against them. They often become abusers/perpetrators themselves, or they put themselves into situations to receive further abuse/victimization, often by marrying abusers.

    To forgive is to give both the crime and the wounds suffered therein to Christ. It is to acknowledge his atonement, his payment for both the crime on the part of the perpetrator, and his healing power on the part of the victim. To forgive is to “accept the check” that Christ wrote as payment for the sin.

    To forgive is not to say “It’s okay.” To forgive is to say “Jesus paid for it.”

    To say “It’s okay” is to negate or belittle the Atonement. To say “It’s okay” is for the victim to take the sin upon himself/herself.

    For one human to forgive another of things which cannot be humanly undone is not to absolve them. Absolution is something that God does.

    False forgiveness is a terrible thing that ruins lives, perpetuates suffering, and often creates new generations of perpetrators and victims through the secondary effects of transmitting not only false ideas, but also the poisons and toxins that are generated by unhealed emotional/spiritual wounds.

  17. greenfrog
    June 14, 2006 at 12:05 pm

    Bookslinger wrote: To forgive is to give both the crime and the wounds suffered therein to Christ. It is to acknowledge his atonement, his payment for both the crime on the part of the perpetrator, and his healing power on the part of the victim. To forgive is to “accept the check� that Christ wrote as payment for the sin.

    I view forgiveness differently. When I forgive another’s wrong against me, I don’t “give the crime…to Christ.” I’m not really sure what it would mean for me to try to do so. I just accept the injury caused by the other, and I continue to seek ways to engage lovingly with that person. I understand that to be, in essence, what it means to “become like Christ.”

    To forgive is not to say “It’s okay.� To forgive is to say “Jesus paid for it.�

    To say “It’s okay� is to negate or belittle the Atonement. To say “It’s okay� is for the victim to take the sin upon himself/herself.

    Precisely — but perhaps heretically, from your point of view — I can’t imagine any other way to forgive. Of course we accept the suffering associated with the sin’s wrongfulness — its wrongfulness is defined by the unjustified harm the action causes to the other person. When one of my children sins against me, I accept the pain and suffering caused by the action, and I try to teach them to understand what they have done, how it affects me, and how I would prefer them to interact with me differently in the future. I know of no mechanism for transferring my (at that point) historical experience to another person, nor do I know of a reason to want to do so. I am capable of forgiving wrongs committed against me. I am not diminished when I do so. At the core of my understanding of Christianity is a willingness to absorb harm in order to put an end to the process of harming without, in turn, inflicting that harm on another.

    For one human to forgive another of things which cannot be humanly undone is not to absolve them. Absolution is something that God does.

    I don’t think that anything can ever be undone. We cannot go back in time and change events. Sins happen. They do not have to impede how we live in this instant of time. The impact of some sins can be mitigated (stolen bikes can be returned), but the original action can never be un-acted. That said, I don’t draw such distinctions between the actions of God and the actions of God’s children. We are commanded to become like Christ. As I understand it, the defining characteristic of Christ-ness is to experience the harm of others’ sins and, nonetheless, to forgive.

  18. Mark Butler
    June 14, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    One cannot say “it was okay for you to do that”, but one can certainly say “it is okay now” – i.e. I no longer hold any claim against you. Forgiveness is the release of all claims against the offender, not a justification of the offense in the first place.

  19. June 14, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    Blake (#15): I found the article you linked to very unsatisfactory (except for the joke at the end!). Actually, I think his joke at the very end of the article displays a serious weakness in his argument, a weakness which is addressed in Kierkegaard’s “Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing”, but which Frankfurt seems to miss. The whole point of of K’s book is that willing anything other than the good (i.e. God’s will) results in vascillation which makes wholeheartedness impossible.

    To refrain from further thread-jacking, I’ll elaborate on LDS-PHIL.

  20. Mark Butler
    June 14, 2006 at 12:51 pm

    By the way, the principle of forgiveness is not properly based on the idea that Christ *has* paid for the offense (i.e. made restitution to the injured in the past), but rather that he will pay for it in the future, comfort, healing, and ultimately in the resurrection.

    Forgiveness is an act of faith in things to come, not a faith in events that have already transpired. There is no virtue in punishment, only in restitution. The virtue of Christ is that he heals all wounds – penal substitution is pointless, restitution to life and health is what really matters.

    Lex talionis fails as a principle of morality because two wrongs do not make a right. Only rights can right wrongs.

  21. Costanza
    June 14, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    Stephen M.,
    Your “context” doesn’t alter the point of my post. You will have to enlighten me as to how the portions I quoted are unfair. It was widely (mis)reported that the woman forgave her attacker. Better reporting yeilded more information. Yes, she urged the judge not to sentence him to 25 years in prison and said that she wasnted a hug. But she still explicitly says she hasn’t forgiven him. That is a material point. Let’s be fair indeed.

  22. June 14, 2006 at 2:41 pm

    Greefrog (#17): Christianity is a willingness to absorb harm in order to put an end to the process of harming without, in turn, inflicting that harm on another.


  23. June 14, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    Greenfrog (#17): I don’t think that anything can ever be undone. We cannot go back in time and change events

    With this, however, I do not agree. I think that the present does change the past. (See Only because the past can be changed is true repentance rather than mere regret possible.

  24. June 14, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    Rather than hi-jack this thread, as per Robert C’s suggestion I’ve responded to Blake (#15) on LDS-Phil. If you aren’t a subscriber to LDS-Phil, you can become one by contacting T&S’s own Ben Huff. If you don’t want to become one, let me know and I’ll send you a copy of my response. It is about two pages long.

  25. greenfrog
    June 14, 2006 at 5:57 pm

    With this, however, I do not agree. I think that the present does change the past. (See Only because the past can be changed is true repentance rather than mere regret possible.

    Interesting (though I couldn’t connect through the article link in the linked post, which linked post I could get to). Without the benefit of the referenced thinkings, I suppose I can agree that we can change our present view of history, which may be all that we can experience of the past. But I’m not sure I understand your view of repentance, which I understand to be a decision to proceed in the present moment differently than I recall doing in the past. It’s not perfectly clear to me that I experience regret with respect to every occurrence of (my version of ) repentance, but perhaps you define repentance to include it?

  26. June 14, 2006 at 6:07 pm

    Greenfrog: Neither could I upload it. Here’s another try: Notes on space, time, repentance

    Perhaps I should have used “sorrow” rather than “regret,” but I do think that repentance requires sorrow for my sins. Change is not enough for repentance.

  27. Mark Butler
    June 14, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    The semantics of the past can surely be changed, but that is because semantics are in our heads, by and large. The idea that the past itself (rather than the way we view it) can be changed seems utterly lacking in evidence, and also an apparent contradiction of the D&C 93 definition of truth as the way things *really* are.

    The truth of the past is not a mutable thing. Truth without the law of non contradiction is meaningless – to introduce the mutability of the past is at a minimum to introduce alternative realities, the sort of meta-time that populates science fiction, or at worst the most wild subjectivism imaginable.

  28. greenfrog
    June 14, 2006 at 7:00 pm

    Thanks for the link. When I conceive of the past as only what I experience now (composed of memories of events and stories that link them to current conditions to explain my present situation), then I can “see” your point about changing the past, as once I am different than I was, the stories I tell myself to explain my memories and present conditions will presumably be different, as well.

    Is that a reasonable approximation of your idea? I ask in part because I’m not sure I see why the difference involved must, in such a model, be an emotional one, as your post suggests.

    Only the feeling can repent? I tend to think of the emotional aspects of the process (which I feel sometimes, but sometimes I don’t) as side shows to the change, which is the main event.

    When you say, “sorrow,” are you referring to some disappointment in the Self that committed the sin? (For me, Self-hood is a pretty slippery thing.) Or is “sorrow” a form of empathy for the sufferer(s) of the harm from my sins? I tend to think of those two as slightly different, but (again) I’m not sure I’ve attended to my experience closely enough to be certain.

    In either event, I’m not sure I get why an emotional difference is required for a change in my present construction of the past. It seems to me that any difference yields a change. So do you define repentance as including a particular emotion as a necessary component? Is there a way to know whether one has experienced the right emotion?

  29. June 14, 2006 at 7:12 pm

    Jim #26: Thanks for posting those very interesting notes. Your rhythm-view of time and repentance reminds me of an episode in The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis where one person who ends up in heaven looks back on his life and sees how all the hardships and mistakes were stepping stones for his progression to heaven, and another person who ends up in hell looks back on his life and sees how all his hardships and mistakes were stumbling blocks for his degression to hell.

    I strongly prefer the word “sorrow” to “regret” b/c I think regret has a connotation of lingering bitterness that I think disappears after one fully repents (you will still feel sorrow for the suffering caused to others by the sin, but if you repent and learn from the experience, and recognize that those who suffered can also repent and learn from the experience, the bitterness can go away).

    Anyone: Regarding forgiveness, I’ve often wondered about the phrase in Philippians 3:13 about “forgetting those things which are behind.” I think my problem with this phrase is that it seems to contradict my understanding of learning from your mistakes (in which case it seems important to remember the mistakes of your past so that you don’t repeat them—isn’t that why we should study history?). Thoughts on this would be appreciated.

  30. June 14, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    Mark (#27): Your view that the past cannot be changed seems to presuppose an understanding of the past that is only physical (space), devoid of intertemporal meaning. But if I publish a paper, deciding whether it is seminal or not seems to depend on the future. If many papers ensue, it changes the meaning of the past (though I agree it does not change the physical reality of the past). Your disagreement seemst to be semantic, whether “the past” refers to the meaning of the past (the ancient Hebrew view Jim is proposing) or the physical reality of the past (the scientific, Greek view you are using).

  31. June 14, 2006 at 7:34 pm

    Greenfrog (#28): If there is no emotional change (by which I take you to mean what the scriptures refer to as a change of heart), then how do you explain the sin in the first place?

    If I do something that I think is smart and then later realize that this was a stupid act and therefore change my future behavior, I am intellectually learning. But I don’t think this is what the repentance means in a theological sense.

    If I do something wrong that I know is wrong, and then later feel sorrow for my action and have a change of heart that results in my not doing what I know (and knew) was wrong again in the future, then I have done more than simply learned something intellectually&mdeash;I have repented.

  32. Mark Butler
    June 14, 2006 at 7:40 pm

    The reality of the past is not physical alone. It only requires that past per se be independent of our perception of it. That includes the spiritual reality of the past as well as the physical reality.

    By definition, something is not real, it is not even a thing, if it does not have an objective existence independent of what we think about it. We might reify our conception of the past, but the past itself cannot be changed and still be the past. If we change the past it becomes the future, a real future or a meta-future of some sort. Otherwise the past does not exist, it is purely subjective, and I doubt that is what anyone here has in mind.

    Now the problem with the reification of semantics per se, is that semantics are a function of expression and will. We can choose what we want to believe about the past whenever we lack perfect information about it. But our choices cannot change the reality of the past, both physical and spiritual, or the past is not real. Reality is not subject to majority vote.

  33. Mark Butler
    June 14, 2006 at 8:00 pm

    RobertC, It seems to me that the number one problem of philosophy is the metaphysical fallacy or the anti-metaphysical fallacy. The metaphysical fallacy is that all nouns refers to something purely outside the mind. Aristotelianism, basically. The anti-metaphysical fallacy is the converse – that nothing is real because the way we think about it is dependent on our conception of it. Subjective idealism, basically.

    Now a realistic, temporally local conception of the seminality of an idea as a past event is a practical oxymoron, because the conception entails both non-precedence (the idea was truly novel), and determinism (the idea had necessary consequences).

    I would say rather, that in a world of free agents, the seminality of an idea is not a property of its expressive event, but rather the non-determined assent of free agents to adopt it as such, to let it influence their work, rather than rejecting it. Indeed one might further argue that the aspects of an idea that have a *necessary* influence on others who hear of it, are not seminal at all, but rather necessary truths, and that the idea was just an expression thereof.

    So either necessity or free will, and neither is compatible with a conception of seminality as singularity. More rather with a conception of seminality as a creative expression or rendition of necessary truths, whose influence is a function of future contingent acts of free will, not a property of the original event at all.

  34. Mark Butler
    June 14, 2006 at 8:08 pm

    In other words, an expression is an atemporal abstraction that becomes seminal through the assent of others, it was not seminal to begin with. The expressive event does not change, but the semantics of how we regard it may be reified by making it a function of time, seminality that starts near zero, and grows with assent, however imperfect, even assent to outright contradictions.

  35. June 14, 2006 at 8:10 pm

    Mark (#32): By definition, something is not real, it is not even a thing, if it does not have an objective existence independent of what we think about it. We might reify our conception of the past, but the past itself cannot be changed and still be the past. If we change the past it becomes the future, a real future or a meta-future of some sort. Otherwise the past does not exist, it is purely subjective, and I doubt that is what anyone here has in mind.

    Actually I think this is what we have in mind (very roughly). Indeed, I think you are describing the heart of phenomenological approach (see esp. Ricoeur’s Time and Narrative).

    (I’m afraid this is turning into another philosophical thread-jack. Are you subscribed to LDS-PHIL? If not, I think you definitely should be—since I’m very poorly qualified to be talking about these issues . . . .)

  36. June 14, 2006 at 8:20 pm

    (Sorry for the above unclosed link—it does seem to work though.)

    Mark #34 & #35: I think Ricoeur’s project in Time and Narrative was (roughly) to try and reconcile what you are calling the metaphysical and anti-metaphysical fallacies, which he termed cosmological time and phenomenological time. But I’ll bow out now, partly in respect for Kaimi’s thread, but mainly because I’m out of knowledge (and, closely-related, time)!

  37. Mark Butler
    June 14, 2006 at 8:31 pm

    Robert C, I would like to read more of Ricouer’s work. Generally, however, I belong to the camp that thinks that philosophers often say the most outrageous things, but regards reason, pure reason as relatively impotent to deal with the rejection of certain fundamental axioms – especially rejection founded in doubt rather than argument.

    I think the knowledge of metaphysical axioms is a combination of experience, common sense, and inspiration, and that the best science and philosophy can do is reverse engineer them with inductive, not deductive arguments.

    Deductivism is impotent so far as a knowledge of fundamentals (natural law, objective morality, identity, free will) is concerned. It can only be used to transform from one common sense based schema to another or to locate inconsistencies. I do not see how any philosophical argument can end without an appeal to intuition. The trick is to express arguments in terms of the most widely accepted ones.

    I should add that I am not sufficiently well versed in the details of twentieth century philosophy to contribute effectively to many of the discussions at LDS-PHIL. I comment over at Mormon Metaphysics according to my level of understanding on a pretty regular basis though. My complaints are almost always foundational though, not based on a detailed acquaintance with many of the philosophers, mostly because I think it is pointless to pursue too far a schema founded in fundamental misconceptions, except as an exercise in historical and cultural understanding. I think it would be great if LDS-PHIL had open, linkable archives though.

  38. Mark Butler
    June 14, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    One more comment – the presentation of Ricouer’s account of time and narrative in the IEP seems eminently reasonable to me. The primary issue of narrative realism however is one of convergence and reconciliation.

    Time may be viewed in two dimensions within the context of any given mind, but when two or more minds meet, perception must yield to agreement and agreement must converge to reality for the reality of the past to have any meaning.

    In other words, the phenomenological account of the reality of the past of all competent knowers must converge to a single account, for the past to be considered real. Anything else about the past is subjective, and by definition un-real, as de-referenced.

    I read the D&C 93 definition of the truth not but the way the past *really* was – including the knowledge of what the perceptions about the past was. So perception is not truth, but there is truth both in and about perception – “in” in terms of correspondence to reality, and “about” in terms of the real existence of the perceptions themselves, independent of their fidelity.

  39. Mark Butler
    June 14, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    “not as the de-referencing of perception (the past in meta-time) but the way the past *really* was (the past in universal time)”

  40. June 14, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    I’m not sure I should continue this thread jack, but I can’t keep myself from saying at least a few things. I intend to keep it to this post.

    First, philosophical phenomenology is not about perceptions. Though one can do a phenomenology of perception, not all phenomenology is about perception. Neither is it about mental states. It is, instead, about the way that things show themselves. It is about what was classically called “appearances,” which are not logically the same as “perceptions.” Obviously the two are related. That is not in question. But the question is how do we understand the appearing of things, not how do we understand our perceptions of things.

    So my claim that the past can change is not a claim about semantics or our interpretations or perceptions. It is a claim about the past itself. But how does the past exist in the present? I think that H-G Gadamer’s argument (Truth and Method) that it exists only in its effects is correct. Those effects are not reducible to our perceptions, etc. The usual way of talking about those effects is to talk about meaning, something that is also not reducible to subjective states of affairs even though there are no meanings without subjects. (Example, there is no mathematics without subjects, but mathematics is not subjective.)

    I’m not sure why Mark refers to philosophy that is founded in doubt rather than argument. I think I don’t understand the point he is making. However, phenomenological philosophy offers arguments, not merely doubts, and—of course—it tries to begin with widely accepted intuitions. In this case, I’ve offered an argument for the changeability of time, using the my intuition about rhythm, which I don’t think can be reduced to perception. (Those wishing to see that argument can find it in the link at comment #26.) Rhythm is another phenomenon that doesn’t exist without a subject, but isn’t reducible to the subject’s perceptions. “Objective” is a very slippery word with more than one meaning, but I think that rhythm qualifies as objective in the sense that Mark is using the word. I argue that the past moment in a rhythm changes its being depending on what happens in the moments that follow in the rhythm, including the present one. If my argument works, it shows that the present can change the past.

    As for the D&C’s definition of truth: Mark refers to D&C 93:24 a couple of times—”truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come”—but that passage leaves as much to think about as it answers, if not more. For example, why does it define truth as knowledge rather than as the correspondence of a statement to a state of affairs? That is anything but a standard move in philosophy. And, of course, it leaves completely open the difficult question of what it means for something to be. We’ll know “for sure” what the D&C’s definition means when we know what it means for something to be and when we know why knowledge is truth-making rather than truth-corresponding.

    So far I’ve ignored greenfrog’s question about sorrow. Luckily my answer is short: the scriptures consistently connect sorrow for sin with repentance, and I accept that connection, so I believe that repentance has an emotional component.

    What does the sorrow of repentance require? I think Robert C is right that it doesn’t require regret. “Regret” is the wrong word. As part of changing behavior, I must recognize that my previous behavior was sin. The fact that it was should break my heart. I don’t think that broken-heartedness requires great chest-beating. It certainly doesn’t require depression and feelings of doom. Indeed, the scriptures describe the latter as sorrow unto death rather than unto repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). So, yes, I think there is an emotional component to repentance. Perhaps the emotion that most closely corresponds to the sorrow unto repentance is humble submission.

  41. greenfrog
    June 14, 2006 at 11:26 pm

    Thanks for the further thoughts.

    So maybe if I don’t feel the wrongness in the right way, I can’t repent?

    Well, ok.

    For what it’s worth, I’m not convinced that we’re all constructed to feel things in the same ways, varied creatures that we are of chemistry and acculturation.

    But I can still change for the better. I think there’s moral value to that, even if it doesn’t fit the definitions.

  42. June 14, 2006 at 11:49 pm

    greenfrog: I don’t know what it means to feel the wrongness in the right way. I don’t think we are talking about a particular set of neural firings here. We are talking about acknowledging that one is in a state of sin. Surely that has an emotional component, but it need not have exactly the same affect for each person.

  43. Mark Butler
    June 15, 2006 at 12:53 am

    Re: Truth as knowledge – I agree that is a very unconventional definition of truth, however one that is rather consistent with the other D&C scriptures on the topic. The D&C speaks of truth as a quasi substance – something that can be *received*, like light and glory.

    Truth as correspondence cannot be received, it can only be learned, where truth as knowledge is something plausible to be received. We talk about truth in this quasi-substantial sense in the Church all the time – we speak of “great truths”, for example. In other words, the D&C 93 definition of truth is somewhat more propositional and perceptive than relational per se.

    If this definition were not a straightforward transformation of truth as correspondence (a property of propositions), rather than a set of true propositions or acquaintance with reality, then we would have something to be worried about.

    I think any conception of truth that is compatible with a robust realism (especially as to spiritual things) is reasonably compatible with this scripture. A pure subjectivism on the other hand is theologically deadly, leveling the very idea of necessary morality, and a long list of fundamental doctrines, notably the necessity of a suffering atonement.

  44. Mark Butler
    June 15, 2006 at 1:17 am

    Well, I regard phenomenology as primarily the study of appearances as well, but the IEP article implied a semantics of phenomenology as retroactive perception, so I went with it. Either way, a scheme in which something about the past changes after the fact is a two or more dimensional theory of time.

    We have standard laws and causal constraints that describe how the past relates to the future in linear time, where are the rules that describe the two dimensional equivalent?

    Case in point – Event E occuring roughly at cosmological time t1 has has aspect A with value (or meaning) a1 at (cosmological,phenomelogical) time ordered pair (t1, t1), and a series of different values at time pair (t1, t1 + delta) where delta is the difference between the phenomenological time and the cosmological time.

    So what rules govern the transformation? In other words what conditions “nearby” cosmological line of CT = t1 from the past or future of t1 govern or relate to the change in value from (CT,PT) = (t1,t1) to (CT,PT) = (t1, something else)?

    And in particular, given that this is a realistic model (i.e. A(CT,PT) is determinate), what causal effect does A(CT,PT) where CT != PT have on the future? If it has no causal effect then it appears to be superfluous, an abstraction of ideality, rather than something genuinely real, a thing whose properties/values actually have an effect of significance to the future or to the past.

    And suppose that A(t1,t1 + delta) has an effect on the cosmological future. Isn’t it the most likely constraint that t1 + delta is the earliest possible cosmological time for a change manifest at phenomenological time t1 + delta to take place? Otherwise we would have the most bizarre backward causation, voluntary events in the future causing determinate effects in the past.

    So it seems rather likely that phenomenological time is all in our heads, that an phenomenological event at cosmological time t2 has effects at exactly time t2, not forward or backward causal at all, and the past really is fixed, just its “appearance” has changed.


  45. Mark Butler
    June 15, 2006 at 1:27 am

    I believe may have I swapped the sense of cosmological and phenomenological time from convention, please take that into account. I have the viewer (mind) moving along the cosmological time line, and the appearance of the past spanning the phenomological time line, though my normal convention would be to regard cosmological and phenomenological time as one and the same, and to regard the second time dimension as retrospective time driven by the changing semantics of memory and secondary perception, not the presumably one dimensional pre-semantics of sensation.

    This concept is *big* in engineering, accounting, law, AI, and document management as well as in the internals of serious database management and transaction control systems, by the way.

  46. June 18, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    While something might have happened, its effects might be different by our state of mind.

    Consider that there are healings now done on time manipulation–the physical effects of an event on our body. By going back in time to when we were healthy, and reliving the event in a different way, or even erasing the event, so to say, there is a major difference in the effects:

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