Reacting to being wronged.To forgive involves wrestling with our own reactions to being wronged. As we've seen in previous posts, being wronged involves more than simply having something bad happen to us but a moral agency -another being with understanding and choice- either deliberately inflicting some kind of detriment on us or hurting us through a negligence which could be regarded as a failure to take proper forethought or care in carrying something out. Perhaps the phrase 'sinned against' captures much of that.
So, someone hurts us, whether with malice aforethought or negligently, our reaction is of personal affront: someone has hurt us, it is not accidental and we have no reason to dismiss the person as outside (perhaps 'beneath') our concern about what they might think of us. That hurts emotionally and produces an emotional reaction in us usually one to push away the cause of the hurt: it is to defend us by securing our personal boundaries and/or by removing the source of the hurt in some way. In turn this often becomes anger. This anger may be at the perceived injustice of the detriment to us: we haven't deserved it, or it is out of all proportion if we have in some way deserved something of it; we have been disrespected; we have been misunderstood or misrepresented explicitly or by implication (and therefore have not deserved the treatment we have received).
Having started to push away the hurt by focussing on its undeservedness (and so we don't have to take it to heart in the way we would if it were thought to be deserved), we may focus on the agent/s of the hurt. Their blameworthiness enables us to push away the hurt to some degree: if they are unfair, negligent or misinformed, then we are 'okay'. The implication is that if they are 'okay' in this matter, then we are not; we have entered into a zero-sum game. Our anger tends either towards changing the person who hurt us or even towards eliminating them. Either of these ends might be served by punishment which could be redemptive or restorative or on the other hand simply retributive.
It is worth noting that perceptions of degrees of malice or negligence play an important role in the reaction. So also perceptions of the relative 'value' of the hurt in our lives; whether it is serious for us or relatively minor. This may be related also to our valuing of the perpetrator of the hurt: if they are important to us the hurt is likely to be greater or to matter more.
Does this relate to love?In what has just been set down, there is little mention of love. We noted in earlier posts that anger is related to love. So how does that fit here? I would suggest that there are a handful of connections: one to do with proper self-love; another to do with the perceived lack of loving by the perpetrator/s; and still another to do with the love of the perpetrator.
Anger and proper self-loveLoving our neighbours as ourselves implies that loving ourselves is at least taken as read and further that it is possible to love ourselves in such a way that doesn't prevent loving God and neighbour appropriately. this is proper self love and I would suggest that it a non-competitive desire to look after ourselves and acting to take care of ourselves is not of itself a bad thing, we would expect that in certain matters and in ways that acknowledge that others and God have legitimate claims upon us we would do so. in fact such self-care is part of caring for others: not being a burden on others. As is making sure that we are fit to play our part in caring for others and taking our part in the Missio Dei is proper self love. It is also legitimate for us to regard ourselves as capable of being sinned against and that those who might disrespect us or harm us as sinning. Such sinning against us is something we might in some circumstances even challenge for the sake of not setting a precedent which would harm others or even for the sake of challenging, in effect, the perpetrator to repent.
I would see the act of turning the other cheek to be an instance of the latter. If Walter Wink is right (and I think he was), then the presentation of the left check (having been backhanded on the right cheek) would represent an invitation to the perpetrator to repent of a semiotic of superiority and to give the blow representing an equality between perpetrator and 'victim'.
Thus is it possible that we might be rightly angry out of a proper self-love when we are disrespected, treated unjustly or derogated. Of course, given our fallenness, it is quite possible and likely that such anger may actually flow from improper self love rooted in pride, disinformation or confirmation bias against certain people or classes of people. But evil is never original and always twists good and is rooted in more fundamental goodnesses.
We might recall by contrast that self-loathing is also not right: it is regard ourselves in a way radically differently to the way that God regards us, it is to become a burden on others and it means not finding in ourselves analogues by which to understand how to love others.
Here the matter we looked at in earlier posts should be recalled: if we are not angry about the mistreatment of one who is loved, then we probably don't really love; we are in fact indifferent to them.
The failure to love by perpetratorsIn this case anger is a reaction to negligence: the failure to give proper regard to the consequences of actions or inactions so that people are harmed or disrespected collaterally. This is a failure to love neighbour who is 'owed' the respect of being considered. When we love others we consider how our actions (or inactions) might have impact on them. Not to do so is to declare, in effect, that we do not regard them as worthy of our attention or respect. The reaction to this is rightly that other human beings (including ourselves) are worthy of consideration. As a Christian I would frame this worthiness of consideration as being grounded in human beings being made in God's image and objects of God's love (which has a further implication we shall look at later).
The disrespect of insufficient regard likewise should generate a degree of anger because we care. And in caring we desire the good of the one loved and the righting of the wrong.
Love of the 'enemy''Enemy' is in inverted commas because it's a way of naming 'perpetrator' in a way that connects our relationship with perpetrators of wrong with Jesus' teaching about loving enemies. It is recognising that we can be angry with a perpetrator for the sake of their own greater good: in doing wrong, the perpetrator is marring God's image, acting as less than they are called to be and harming themselves in more ultimate terms. it is right for us us be angry at such things, even where self-inflicted.
The hurts of others?Some forgiving involves how we respond to the hurt of others. Usually these others are those with whom we identify and that is mostly 'our loved ones', though it's worth noticing that loved ones can include those admired from afar like artists, performers, sport-players and others. When these others are harmed, we become angry. Our identification with them generates in us analogous senses of outrage and protectiveness to when we our directly threatened ourselves. Such anger can be assuaged by things being put right with the 'victim' which further demonstrates the reality of the identification and of the love.
Prior post in this series. Next post in series.
Posts in the series:
Posting 9 Analogy: human to divine and back again
Posting 8 Eikonic forgiveness explored further
posting 7 The Eikon of forgiveness
posting 6 The cost of forgiving
posting 5 Counter mimesis
posting 4 Reacting to being wronged
posting 3 To know all is to forgive all?
posting 2 Forgiveness in human life
posting 1 Love and Anger