Don’t pick up I Forgive You, But . . . if all you want is a theological discussion of the concept of forgiveness. Don’t pick I Forgive You, But . . . if you’re just looking for an intellectual treatise with definitions of forgiveness and what the latest theorists say on the topic. Don’t pick up I Forgive You, But . . . if you’re wanting to remain at a distance from the challenges of forgiveness Lourdes Morales-Gudmundsson presents in her slim 162-page book. All of these areas—the spiritual, the intellectual, and the emotional—inform and touch readers with the necessity of forgiveness for themselves and others. Anyone who picks the book up can’t give it a serious read without personally confronting the need to forgive and be forgiven.
Morales-Gudmundsson smartly chose her title for yet another book on forgiveness. The tiny conjunction “but” signals the significant contribution this book makes to Christian living, for although none of us can deny the need to forgive and be forgiven, most of us add, either openly or silently, the “but.” The author won’t let readers get away with that addition.
In the beginning, the author reveals why she chooses to present seminars on forgiveness and now has written this book. In clear, simple language Morales-Gudmundsson tells her own story of forgiveness and the impact forgiving her father and others has had on her life. She recognizes sharing these personal experiences leaves her vulnerable, yet she is so passionate about the importance of forgiveness as a central Christian doctrine she is willing to be wide-open to her readers.
Morales-Gudmundsson divides the book into four sections including how forgiveness heals hurts, what the Bible teaches about it, what the process of forgiveness is, and the vital connection between forgiveness and prayer. She centers the entire book around the thesis that “for Christians, forgiveness is a moral imperative, not merely a doctrinal question open to debate” (20). Unfortunately, this important topic has often been pushed aside by the emphasis Adventists place on the Sabbath, the beasts of Daniel and Revelation, health reform, and more recently women’s ordination. Although Morales-Gudmundsson recognizes the importance of these topics to Adventists, she challenges readers to make the connection between living the forgiven life, for without this central doctrine, she believes we miss the whole point of our religion. Thus, there is no question about whether a Christian should forgive but just how to do it.
In her book the author confronts many myths and barriers that prevent us from forgiving, the “buts” attached to the phrase “I forgive you.” Because forgiveness is essential for our physical and spiritual health, our daily lives and work, Morales-Gudmundsson discusses the inherent problems of forgiving someone who has already died, forgiving those who reject the petition of forgiveness, forgiving those who have severely harmed us (abusers), forgiving those who have created unresolved grief (killers of our children), etc. Through multiple examples she describes how forgiveness works to help those who have been wronged begin to heal and move on with their lives. These stories are powerful and thought provoking.
Most helpful is the section on practical suggestions for effecting forgiveness. The author also challenges those who have been wronged to look honestly at themselves to see what in the situation was also their responsibility which may have contributed to the “other” lashing out. Forgiveness is clearly a two-way street, but even if we can only go down it one way, it is still a worthwhile spiritual endeavor.
Because of the insider jargon and terminology that surfaces at several points, the audience for the book is clearly the Adventist population, yet the author also cites scientific studies and forgiveness work by other Christians and even non-Christians which give it a bit broader scope. Connecting to restorative justice initiatives and peace movements makes this book valuable beyond just one denomination, yet Morales-Gudmundsson’s emphasis is for Adventists who might be more focused on prophetic doctrine while not recognizing the abuse they heap on those sitting nearby in the pews.
Written in familiar language, the book appeals to a popular “man/woman on the street” audience. There is also a Spanish version of the book, very fitting since the author is the chair of the Department of World Languages and professor of Spanish at La Sierra University. In the future, perhaps Morales-Gudmundsson will revise the book for an even wider Christian audience, removing the exclusive Adventist references and terms. With the rise of violence in the world, with the frightening fracture of families, and with the increasing personal stress on people, this book on forgiveness appears at a critical time.
Susan Gardner, Ph.D., is a professor of English at Southwestern Adventist University in Keene, Texas.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/438