Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Forgiveness in My View

I suppose the first general thing to say about forgiveness from a Christian perspective is that it really isn't optional. The Gospels alone make it clear that God just takes a dim view of us, who have been forgiven so much, refusing to forgive those around us - really dim. I will not blast you with scripture, but these word searches should make the point. Just try to find a way out of forgiving:

I will hammer the point home with this key parable:
Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" 22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 "When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 "But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 "So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, `Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' 27 "And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 "But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, `Pay back what you owe.' 29 "So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, `Have patience with me and I will repay you.' 30 "But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 "So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 "Then summoning him, his lord said to him, `You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 `Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' 34 "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 "My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."
Brothers and sisters - that means your enemy.

Now, there is a reason for forgiveness other than not pissing God off - it is better for you. After all, your enemy doesn't really feel a thing because you haven't forgiven him - you do. That "root of bitterness" will rot your heart. It will be a beachhead from which evil can gain a foothold in you. C.S. Lewis on forgiveness:
I said in a previous chapter that chastity was the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. But I am not sure I was right. I believe there is one even more unpopular. It is laid down in the Christian rule, 'Thou shaft love thy neighbour as thyself.' Because in Christian morals 'thy neighbour' includes 'thy enemy,' and so we come up against this terrible duty of forgiving our enemies.

Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible. 'That sort of talk makes them sick,' they say. And half of you already want to ask me, I wonder how you'd feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?'

So do I. I wonder very much. Just as when Christianity tells me that I must not deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I wonder very much what I should do when it came to the point. I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do - I can do precious little - I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find 'Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against use' There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. What are we to do?

It is going to be hard enough, anyway, but I think there are two things we can do to make it easier. When you start mathematics you do not begin with the calculus; you begin with simple addition. In the same way, if we really want (but all depends on really wanting) to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo. One might start with forgiving one's husband or wife, or parents or children, or the nearest N.C.O., for something they have done or said in the last week. That will probably keep us busy for the moment. And secondly, we might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbour as yourself means. [the whole chapter is linked if you want point two here]
The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad ass it was made out. Is one's first feeling, `Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything - God and our friends and ourselves included - as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

Now a step further. Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? [again, the answer rests within the link above]
and finally
I imagine somebody will say, `Well, if one is allowed to condemn the enemy's acts, and punish him, and kill him, what difference is left between Christian morality and the ordinary view?' All the difference in the world. Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a hellish creature. We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one's own back, must be simply killed.
Nothing here said we have to trust, indeed there are many scriptures to the point having wisdom, discernment, being fruit inspectors, etc. We do not have to place trust in people who have proven themselves unworthy of trust.

We just cannot hate, and we must forgive. You do not have to start with the "Calculus" of your worst enemy right now. Start with whoever comes to mind when you ask this question of yourself :

Who do I feel resentment toward right now?

1 comment:

  1. I recently read Miroslav Volf's Exclusion and Embrace, which included one of the most profound discussions of forgiveness: “Every act of forgiveness enthrones justice; it draws attention to its violation precisely by forgoing its claims.”

    How do we find the strength to forgive? How do we satisfy “our thirst for justice and our passion for revenge”?

    Volf suggest that those who follow the King, must place our rage before God: “By placing unattended rage before God we place both our unjust enemy and our own vengeful self face to face with a God who loves and does justice…Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners.”

    An inm portant topic, well-set out.


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly