Forgiveness is a biblical mandate from the New Testament that many Christians engage in as a part of their faith. Various scriptures reflect forgiveness as a part of Christian teachings and theology, as is it enshrined in the Lord’s prayer – forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. These scriptures point to the power of forgiveness not only as a way to find peace between individuals and/or groups, but to ensure that the person extending forgiveness will be forgiven of their own wrongdoings. Reconciliation is the act or state of re-establishing friendship between God and a human being, when one sins, after a baptism, this sacrament is needed to restore one’s relationship with God. Christianity practices numerous public rituals of reconciliation, such as baptisms, communal meals and public confession, as well as private forms, like privately confessing to a minister/priest, and/or individual prayer. Although it is enshrined in the Christian tradition that one must provide and receive forgiveness openly and in abundance, true reconciliation and healing is difficult to reach.
First off, it is important to note that Christianity practices forgiveness in various forms of ritual. Any ritual can be described as a specific, observable mode of behaviour, that can be used to analyze the fundamental aspects of human conduct. Humans are ritualistic beings by nature, and regularly incorporate ritual in every day tasks habitually, such as brushing teeth. Christianity is expressed through rituals that provide traditions and values to future generations. Christianity focuses heavily on the relationships to one another and to God, as well as the constant need for healing and reconciliation. Rituals of reconciliation suggest that there is sin in the world and sin inside every human, part of the ritual is the acceptance of the evil committed and recognizing it as evil. Part of the ritual, too, has traditionally included an effort to show remorse for wrongdoings, and teach not only love but also humility. A sin is suggested to be a deliberate thought, word, deed or omission contrary to the eternal law of God, and Christians who commit sins are believed to be sent to an eternal damnation in hell. Violation of the law of God is understood to destroy the divine life in the soul of the sinner, constituting a turn away from God. This exemplifies the fundamental importance of following the word of God, as well as to pose a deterrent for acting immorally in society. The forbearing nature of forgiveness within Christianity is centered around many of Jesus’ disciples’ experiences of Jesus’ public ministry, and their accounts of him. The gospel narratives of Jesus’ activity during his ministry outlines the importance of reconciliation, and the proposition that it will ultimately lead people to a better way of life. Emphasis is placed on Jesus’ authority to forgive sin, and for his followers to do as he does, which is shown through Jesus’ nature to be forgiving of transgressors, even extending it to the Romans while being hung from the cross. “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’” (Luke 23:34, NLT). Despite the mockery and scepticism of Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah, he remained calm and up kept his forgiving nature. In response to a fellow criminal being crucified beside him, “Jesus replied, ‘I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:43, NLT). This represents the fundamental trust and belief in God’s kingdom, and that to believe and forgive, you are reflecting Gods power, which will provide rewards in the afterlife. The lesson of reconciliation is also evident throughout Paul’s letters, which focus on reconciliation as the core of Jesus’ saving work. Since Jesus’ sacrifice was believed to provide reconciliation for all humans, humans are expected to routinely practice reconciliation as it is the extension of Gods own spirt. The ultimate power of reconciliation is perceived to belong to God; human reconciliation is a symbol of the divine reconciliation. Christians believe that Jesus intended that we should always forgive others as God always forgives us, through constant forgiveness: forgiveness by God, forgiveness by and of the community, and forgiveness of and by ourselves.
Moreover, Christianity practices various types of public and private forms of ritualized forgiveness that seek to provide reconciliation for the transgressor, as well as any individual/group involved. Performing rituals to receive reconciliation are commonly assumed to absolve sin, or at the least, lessen the wrongdoing. Perhaps the most common form of ritualized forgiveness is best represented through communal meals. Communal meals are rituals that express and attempt to help provide reconciliation where it is needed and takes place. In sharing a meal, ‘I’ becomes ‘us’, and through faith commitment and expression, it becomes a meal shared in faith. The ritual strides to build ties among people and cease any existing negative feelings, whether it be interpersonal forgiveness or outward forgiveness for someone within the communion. In addition to communion meals, baptisms in the Christian church is another form of ritualized forgiveness. The importance and expectation of being baptized as an outward act symbolizes an inward phenomenon of coming to and accepting Jesus Christ as real, as God incarnate, as the sacrificial means by which those who believe in him can be forever reconciled to God. The purpose of baptism is to give visual testimony of a commitment to Christ as the Messiah (Acts 8:26-39, NLT). A baptism is a graceful act that seeks to forgive a Christian of a sin, but does not take away the capacity for sinning to occur again. Similar to the other forms of public ritualized forgiveness, public confessions are outward acts that request forgiveness from God directly. Public confessions are not as common as privatized ones, but are still performed in select churches. Some reformed churches have a ritual “altar call” after a powerful sermon. This allows members of the church to come forward publicly to proclaim their faith in the risen Lord (if they are unbaptized) or to reaffirm that faith (if they are already baptized). This ritual entails a a confession of past sins that the person wishes to publicly reject. A more common practice of public confession is public prayer ceremonies, where the community prays for forgiveness for sin. The confessions are not publically professed to the entire church, it is expressed through a communal ritual that often takes place in Sunday liturgy and more predominantly during Lent. The practice of public ceremonies of reconciliation seek to provide penance for the person confessing his or her sins, as well as pursues the community’s acceptance and forgiveness, which is perceived as a symbol of God’s forgiveness. If the community accepts the wrongdoing, it is believed to make self-forgiveness possible, allowing the person to forgive themselves and take full responsibility for their sins. Christians believes that Jesus came to save all sinners and it is precisely why it is deemed necessary in Christianity to participate in rituals of reconciliation, and through those rituals experience the presence and power of a forgiving and loving God. A public confession attempts to help a person let their sins go and better live out their Christian commitment.
In addition to public rituals of reconciliation, biblical scripture highlights the importance of private confession countless times in the New Testament, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy father which is in secret, and thy father which seeth secret shall reward thee openly.”( Matthew 6:6, NLT). This verse reveals the importance of private, individual prayer and confession. Perhaps suggesting that regular and honest communication with God personally is intrinsic to being pardoned for your sins. Similarly, the practice of private confession and reconciliation in front of a church representive was introduced after moving away from public confession in the twelfth century. In this ritual, the person to privately confesses their sins to to priest or minister. Once they have confessed their sins, they are then pardoned by the representative, and receives a penance. Both Luther and Calvin objected to any idea that the priest or minister could forgive sin. Only God could forgive sin and justify human beings before God. Therefore, they were both careful to point out that private confession did not absolve sin and that penance did not gain people any merit in the sight of God. Today the ritual of private confession is limited mostly to the Roman Catholic Christians.
The various forms of ritualized forgiveness in Christianity does not always provide reconciliation for offenders, as giving and receiving forgiveness is much more complex. The recipients of transgressions may outwardly forgive, as they are expected to, but considerable evidence has shown that reconciliation is highly interpersonal. The ability to extend forgiveness is based on individual perception, and interpersonal forgiveness can be applicable for experiencing a disconnect between objective forgiveness and feelings of pardon. Interpersonal transgressions are a class of interpersonal stressors in which people perceive that another person has harmed them in a way that they consider both painful and morally wrong. Acceptance of those who did something immoral is difficult to give because admission of guilt and confession can be done numerous times. Public and private forms of ritualized forgiveness is perceived to provide reconciliation but to simply perform the ritual, does not require any genuine admission of feelings of remorse. Individuals with that suffer with dealing with interpersonal transgressions may suffer from negative effects on their mental health, and leave them feeling unforgiving. Transgressions frequently elicit a desire to avoid the transgressor, a desire to seek revenge against the transgressor, and a decline in goodwill for the transgressor. Such motivational reactions themselves can have negative interpersonal, psychological, and health effects. Just as feelings of guilt may not correspond with the objective reality of the guilt, so too is it possible for feelings of forgiveness not to correspond with the supposed extension of forgiveness.
Although Christianity aims to provide complete reconciliation for transgressors through rituals of sin confession and pardoning, reconsolidation exists between the poles of fault and forgiveness, and it often hard to give and receive openly, contrary to Christian beliefs. Public and private forms of ritualized forgiveness such as the ones previously explained, use specific modes of speech and action to grant people a perceived feeling of forgiveness. This concept is known as performativity, which enacts “speech” through performative contradictions in spaces and times, that allow one to question who they are, and their position in the world. Performativity has three uses: 1) it “seeks to counter a certain kind of positivism,” which might be with regard to gender or the state, 2) it may “counter a certain metaphysical presumption about culturally constructed categories and to draw our attention to the diverse mechanisms of that construction” and 3) it is also useful in beginning to articulate the processes that produce ontological effects, or the naturalized assumptions of what constitutes reality. In the performative act of speaking, it incorporates a reality by enacting it with our bodies, but that ‘reality’ nonetheless remains a social construction. In the act of performing the conventions of reality, by embodying those fictions in our actions, we make those artificial conventions appear to be natural and necessary. By enacting conventions, we do make them ‘real’ to some extent but that does not make them any less artificial. This notion explains how Christianity’s ritualized forms of forgiveness may have more to do with a conceptualized expectation of how the ritual is to be carried out, based on years of inherited theological beliefs and church jurisdiction. Therefore, signifying that the rituals to which require admission and confession of fault, might not be as effective in receiving reconciliation as they are perceived to be. This theory can be exemplified through the common practice of Baptisms in Christian churches because it shows that through action, speech and performance the reality of the individual is decided for them through faith in God. Baptisms are performances that give visual testimony of a commitment to Christ, as well as the community’s through a perceived reality of its special effects. Although the transgressor might perform outward acts and utter the words that are supposed to uphold significant meaning, genuine reconciliation from the receipt might not occur.
Forgiveness adheres to an exchange of reciprocity, those who commit the wrongdoing and those who must choose to forgive or not. This exchange is centered around the perception of fault, whereby its consequences have caused harm to an individual and/or group. It is a source of asymmetry between the author of the action and its recipient, the recipient must deem the wrongdoing as one of a harmful nature or as one that can be justified, and therefore opens up the possibility for forgiveness. Fault is understood through methods of analysis, whereby the recipient must evaluate the effects of the action, normalized criminal justice practices, past faults, and the inherent moral judgments existing within their own values and belief systems. Forgiveness can be explained by three major components, gaining a more balanced view of the offender and the event, decreasing negative feelings towards the offender and potentially increasing compassion, and giving up the right to punish the offender further or to demand restitution. Recipients of wrongdoings may repress unresolved feelings of resentfulness and crave vengeance on the offender, which is extremely detrimental to physical and emotional well-being. Psychologically, when people reported higher levels of forgiveness, they also tended to report better health habits and decreased depression, anxiety, and anger levels.
In conclusion, Christianity’s reconciliation rituals were responses to theological assumptions about the free will of humans, human nature and sin, the love of God, and the authority of the church as the body of Christ. The Christian church uses various forms of ritualized forgiveness both private and public, whereby a transgressor may confess through performative speech and/or prayer that promises reconciliation among those affected, as well as reconciliation with God. Although this is a common and well-known practice for giving and receiving forgiveness, genuine interpersonal forgiveness is not always provided.