By Sara Mannen
As I started to grapple with my anger and reflect on what it was pointing to in my soul, I found myself increasingly irritated with the group of individuals who deeply hurt my family. At times they were not entirely living up to my expectations. To my annoyance, there was an occasional display of compassion and thoughtfulness. At one point, I thought, this would be much easier if they were just outright jerks.
I realized my prayers for a redemptive end to our situation were self-deceptive. Did I honestly want reconciliation or would I feel more vindicated if my “enemy” behaved like a cartoon villain? In my struggle to forgive and understand what was happening to us, I created a narrative. My narrative resembled a toddler’s cartoon in which there are clear-cut villains and heroes. In this cartoon world, I was deified as the valiant warrior for justice, while my enemies were the obvious villains out to destroy all goodness. Cartoons of this nature can be incredibly entertaining and comforting because they provide a black and white framework for understanding our world. The hero always wins, and the bad guys lose. However, children’s cartoons, like my world, fail to correspond with reality.
My cartoon construct of reality had flattened myself and those I needed to forgive out into two-dimensional characters. My world lacked depth, complexity, and accuracy. The process of flattening myself and others into cartoon characters is dehumanization or commodification. Instead of viewing the other in my life as a fellow human, I created a role for them based on their usefulness to me. My pain formed the necessity for a villain, a scapegoat. When I became angry because someone did not fit into the script I created, they had only become a useful “thing” in my narrative. I was guilty of commodification.
My cartoon world was a complete tragedy. By establishing two-dimensional characters, I defined myself and others by separation, not relatedness. By desiring to be an individual, rather than a person, I commodified my fellow humans. The theologian John Zizioulas states, “This individualized and individualizing Adam in us is our original sin, and because of it the ‘other,’ i.e. beings existing outside ourselves, in the end becomes our enemy and ‘our original sin’ (Satre).”
By creating boundaries through separation, villains and heroes, I sought to define myself as a unique individual. As an individual, I was utterly lonely because relationships threatened my flattened-out cartoon world. To forgive and heal, I needed to view life accurately with three-dimensional characters. Through humanizing myself and others, I would then be fulfilling my role as someone made in the imago Dei. I would be a person.
A person made in the image of God is defined by their relationships with others. Colin Gunton states, “To be in the image of God therefore means to be conformed to the person of Christ….The human person is one who is created to find his or her being in relation.” The irony of my view of those I needed to forgive is that because of it I became less human, I was an individual, and failing to conform to Christ. As I falsely deified myself and villainized others, I was incapable of forgiveness because my world was not relational. In order to see life three-dimensionally, it required humanizing myself and those who had hurt me.
I prayed with David in Psalm 139: 23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” I can assure you that if you ask God to reveal sin and search your heart, He will answer your prayer. God quickly revealed my sin and took away my valiant hero status. Additionally, I asked for the Lord’s eyes for those I needed to forgive, to help me see their perspective and their humanity. I needed to recognize that they were precious persons made in God’s image.
I assumed I knew why people had hurt us so deeply. I placed myself as judge over them. Jesus’s word in Matthew 7 stung with truth, “Judge not, that you be not judged … Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” The Lord lovingly disciplined me through the process of showing me my sin and revealing the humanity of those I needed to forgive. My world was starting to become full of dimension, color, and beauty again, it was no longer flat. It was only as I moved from seeking individualization and separation to being a person in relationship that I could make the choice to forgive.
Once my “enemy” became a person to love and forgive, and not a thing in my cartoon world, I recognized the necessity of giving up my anger and desire for vindication.
As I started to make the choice to forgive, my next step required me to wrestle with the residual pain from the wounds inflicted. How did I manage deep emotional pain while choosing forgiveness?
Sara Mannen spends her time caring for her two precocious daughters and husband while attending seminary and working. Professionally, she has worked in banking for 17 years. Sara’s passion is for discipling and teaching the youth in her church where her love for teaching the Bible and theology are utilized. She graduated from Multnomah University where she majored in Bible and Theology and Youth Ministry.
 John Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985), 107.
 Colin Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, 2nd Edition (London: T&T Clark, 1997), 113.
 All Scripture is from the ESV.