Dr. John B. MacDonald
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Recently, someone spoke about his experience of deepening despondency and self-recrimination. He realized he was totally centered on himself and what others thought of him.

The advice he was given: “Find a homeless person, and help that person.”

In following that advice, his focus shifted from ‘me’ to ‘other’. His ‘darkness’ – whether mental, emotional, spiritual, or physical – lifted. This shift in focus was therapeutic. 

Therapuetic is from the Greek word therapeia meaning “healing.”

 

“Therapeutic forgiveness”

I’ve been asked why I put quotation marks around “therapeutic forgiveness.” The reason is two-fold.

First, it isn’t my term – it belongs to others.

Second, it describes understandings and practices that are neither “forgiveness” nor “therapeutic.” As indicated in previous posts, such practices are directed at relieving unpleasant conditions and feelings for ‘me’, and trying to forget the ‘other’ person who caused those conditions or feelings. 

Dan Allender, a prominent Christian therapist and author, describes “therapeutic forgiveness” as “forgive-and-forget mentality.” In Bold Love, Allender writes that “the only way for the ‘forgive-and-forget mentality’ to be practiced is through radical denial, deception, or pretense.”

If forgiveness has anything to do with God, then this “forgive-and-forget mentality” misrepresents God. It requires us to picture God forgiving offenders so that He can ‘feel better about Himself’ and ‘get on with the rest of His life’.

There is no real healing to be found with “therapeutic forgiveness” or the “forgive-and-forget mentality.” Not only is it a sham, it misrepresents God.

 

“Can I be healed?”

If there is any wholeness, or healing toward wholeness, in the midst of unpleasant conditions and feelings from broken relationships, what is it?

In one word, it is "love." 

In biblical language, this understanding and practice of love is signified by the Greek word agapē.

It is this love that is the way of healing toward wholeness. 

Let me introduce you to three aspects of this therapy of agapē-love.

 

1.         God is love

Love (agapē) is not simply something God does; love is something God is (1 John 4:8, 16). Love is embedded in the character of God. 

To engage this agapē-love in your life, is to engage with the character of God and His purposes in the world. This brings you into the ‘place’ where you can experience God’s healing. More on this later.

There are any number of fanciful and damaging concepts of ‘love’, so called. How do we know what ‘love’ is when we talk about “God is love”?

 

2.         Love demonstrated 

“God demonstrates his own love [agapē] for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

This statement gives us at least three qualities of agapē-love

  • Other-focused. It is focused on the ‘other’. It is not self-centered; it is other-centered. God isn’t focusing on himself, he’s focusing on others.
  • Unconditional. It doesn’t depend on the ‘other’ meeting a list of conditions to qualify for God’s love. It doesn’t even expect a positive response. God loves “while we were still sinners.”
  • Self-sacrifice. It is sacrificial and costly. God gave his own Son (John 3:16) – “Christ died” for others.

 

3.         Love recognized

Paul doesn’t define agapē-love for us, but he does point out 16 features so that we can recognize it (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a). 

Love [agapē] is patient, love is kind.

            It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking,

            it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

            It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.  

By my count, nine of these features are negative (what love is not like); seven positive.

Agapē-love is not inconsistent with these characteristics. For example, if a person is rude, that is not love; if a person keeps a record of wrongs, that is not love; if a person does not rejoice with the truth, that is not love.

 

4.         Love is pro-active, not re-active

I said I was introducing you to three aspects of the therapy of love. This is a fourth – so I’ll continue this in the next post.

 

Take-aways

This is an introduction to agapē-love as the way of healing toward wholeness.

Here are three take-aways – you may have more: 

First, if you are attracted toward the God who is love, you are being drawn into that ‘place’ where healing takes place. This ‘place’ is like an orbit that draws you closer and closer to God Himself (James 4:8). 

In that ‘place’ you begin to experience your thoughts, attitudes, emotions, and so forth being confronted by the God who is love.   

You’ll have a choice. Do you withdraw, or do you allow yourself to be drawn closer?

Second, “God is love” and agapē-love are not something that you shape or control

If agapē-love is anything at all, it has been demonstrated in the self-sacrificial, costly, unconditional giving of God for others in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Anything that is inconsistent with this event of the cross of Christ is inconsistent with agapē-love. 

Third, this agapē-love is detectable and tangible where it is present in your world. When it is present, it is recognizable in how you think, and speak, and act. Just look again at the features in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a.

 

Let’s pick up this thread in our next post.

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Photo credit: Steve Snodgrass via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

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