Sunday, June 4, 2017


A man wrote in to a stoic advice blog that, as a teen, he had told a series of lies that had resulted in considerable damage. The offended party still refuses to forgive, and the offender continues to be racked with guilt and shame for the lies he had told many years before.

In response, the stoic advisor (SA) provided some good advice:

·       I assume from what you write that you did try to make amends, at the very least apologizing sincerely for your lie, and possibly asking the injured party what you could reasonably do to repair the damage done. (If you did not, it is never too late.) But whether the other person accepts your offer, or your apology, is up to them, not to you. So long as you are doing the right thing now, that is all you should be concerned with, because that is all that within your power. Put otherwise: attempting a reconciliation, and doing your best to achieve it, is up to you; but actually achieving it, is not up to you.

Since we cannot change the past, the SA focused upon what can be done in the present.

Nevertheless, the overwhelming feelings of guilt remained. Therefore, the SA addressed a deeper consideration:

·       You say that you can’t see a way to justify your actions as an adolescent. You may be right. But that person isn’t who you are anymore…

Well then, who is he now? This question lies at the heart of our self-identities, and these identities answer our various existential questions:

1.    Am I okay?
2.    Am I a good person?
3.    Am I worthy of love, appreciation, and respect?
4.    Should I feel ashamed of myself?
5.    Should I still feel guilty for what I have done in the past?
6.    What determines my true identity? Is it myself?

We are social creatures. We largely derive our self-identity from the surrounding culture. Therefore, if the culture values success, wealth, and influence, we will generally feel good about ourselves if we possess these commodities. However, if this is so, then the offender will understandably continue to feel guilty if the offended party continues to refuse his apologies.

Therefore, SA concluded that the offender must find his identity and worth as a person from within:

·       Forgive yourself, make amends and apologize if you have not done so already, learn from the experience in order to become a better person, and then move on with your life.

Is it enough to forgive ourselves? If so, why is our self-acquittal or self-forgiveness more valid that the non-forgiveness of the offended party? This question suggests that self-forgiveness is a subjective and arbitrary exercise. Knowing this, how are we to take comfort in self-forgiveness?

A former Nazi knew that he needed more than self-forgiveness. On his deathbed, he asked a young Jewish attendant to forgive him for his sins. The young Jewish attendant answered that he was not in the position to forgive him. Instead, the former Nazi would have to ask his many deceased victims.

This problem has remained unresolved for many. One study revealed that the children and grandchildren of Nazis have resorted to either of two extremes – either they are driven to justify the entire Nazi debacle, or, more frequently, they continue to pay the price for the past, either through self-flagellation or perpetual do-gooding (sometimes quite unwisely) to achieve a sense of worthiness. However, they never arrive. The guilt is never resolved.

Self-forgiveness is the triumph of will over reality. What if you cheat on your wife, and then she contracts a disease because of your unfaithfulness. When she tells you, “You should feel ashamed of yourself,” will you answer, “I don’t, because I have already forgiven myself?” Of course, this is absurd. More is required, even beyond an apology and restitution.

In light of this, Jesus beckoned:

·       “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

There is something in the human psyche that convinces us that if God forgives us, we need not fear the opinions and judgments of humanity. His verdict takes precedence over all others. Consequently, we forgive ourselves because forgiveness has already been granted from above. His standard is the gold standard. It defines or contradicts all others.

If we are willing to believe in the fiction that we have the authority to forgive ourselves after exterminating many, then why the resistance to trying out something else we might regard as a fiction – the forgiveness of Christ. Just try Him out! Scripture reads:

·       Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8)

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