It’s worth warning your group that this topic might bring up some personal issues, so it’s important to encourage people to be particularly sensitive in this session.
In this session, we’ll be thinking about the nature of forgiveness. In many respects, this is not a topic unique to theology, and forgiveness narratives seem to grip popular culture. Begin by sharing the best example of forgiveness you’ve seen in a film, TV series or book.
Before getting into talking about the theology of forgiveness, it is good to acknowledge that there are times when we are all in need of forgiveness. So, let us begin by bringing to mind the things that we need to ask God for forgiveness for, with the assurance that he loves to forgive us. You might want to use the words below to confess together:
All: Most merciful God,
we confess to you,
before the whole company of heaven and one another,
that we have sinned in thought, word and deed
and in what we have failed to do.
Forgive us our sins,
heal us by your Spirit
and raise us to new life in Christ. Amen.
Leader: O God, make speed to save us.
All: O Lord, make haste to help us.
(from Daily Prayer, Night Prayer: https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/join-us-daily-prayer)
‘What is Forgiveness?’ Dr. Jonathan Rutledge [15 minutes]
What do you think of the definition of forgiveness as, ‘not counting someone’s wrongdoing against them’?
Read the passages Jonathan referred to: 1 Corinthians 5: 1-5 and 2 Corinthians 2: 5-11. What do you think of this story? Are there other examples in which the most loving thing to do is not to forgive someone?
If God doesn’t forgive everyone can he still be loving? Jonathan argues that God’s might choose not to forgive everyone and that this might sometimes be the most loving response. What do you think about this?
Jonathan spoke about how desperately God wants to forgive everyone. What are the ways that God seeks to make us aware of his forgiveness and love?
Spend some time reflecting: Bring to mind someone who you find it difficult to love or might need to forgive. How has today’s discussion impacted how you might relate to them this week? Is there a specific action you feel you should take in light of his? Make a note of this. You might like to finish by praying for one another, especially if this has brought up difficult issues.
Jonathan spoke about how encountering different ideas had impacted some of the perspectives he grew up taking for granted. Have any of your theological perspectives changed or been strengthened since coming to University?
Anthony Bash, 2015. Forgiveness: A Theology, (Cascade Books).
Simon Wiesenthal, 1998. Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness (Reprint: Schocken Books)
Jeffrie G. Murphy and Jean Hampton. 1990. Forgiveness and Mercy, (Cambridge University Press).