Monday, July 14, 2008
Be *ready* to forgive 70 times 7
I mean, my stake is in the ground just left of center, and I wear a common-sense choke-chain. It lets me go way out to the left in my thinking, and it lets me go way over into conservative territory, too, but not to the wide-eyed ignorant right-wing extreme.
That's the way I see it, anyway.
Yesterday, I was in a group with some people, one of whom held up a book and gushed that it explained that there is never, never, ever, EVER a just war. Not ever. And I thought, there's one of those brick walls! And, CHOKE!
The Allies in World War II were just. It was just for this country to go after the Taliban for 9/11.
What's happened there, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq, since is a travesty. Others we should have gone after, and did not -- that's another question.
But the first cause in Afghanistan was, in fact, just.
Then, I heard a preacher, a recovering chicken-fried Southern Baptist like myself, explain something about forgiveness that now seems so obvious that I wonder how I could live to be 44 and not think of it, or hear it said so plainly, before.
When somebody wrongs you, you cannot forgive them unless they want to be forgiven, the preacher said.
Forgiveness, he said, is a relationship that fosters healing -- not ignoring harm someone has done to you, not laughing it off, not "getting over it."
I struggle from time to time with what to do about the harm others have done me. Some of it, I've just laughed off, some I've ignored, and some I've just gotten over with time.
Now, though, I think I can just let go of some pain and anger I've borne at the hands of others -- rather than continue to occasionally agonize over the fact that while Jesus said we are to forgive people "70 times 7" (that is, as many times as we are harmed), I haven't been able to forgive some people even once.
Well, the ones I'm required to forgive have never sought my forgiveness. Myself, I've systematically "made amends" using the "12 Steps" (way back when I was living with a recovering, then not recovering, addict-alcoholic. I know it's hard).
In the meantime, all I have to do is be ready to forgive. And that, with God's grace, I think I can muster. And those who've hurt me who are long gone -- either dead or now far removed from my life -- I think I can let go. We'll see.
Just war. Peace. Personal harm at the hands of others. Forgiveness. They're related.
"When somebody wrongs you, you cannot forgive them unless they want to be forgiven."
Forgiving has absolutely nothing to do with the person who "wronged" us. It has everything to do with setting aside the need to avenge or hold a grudge about the wrong. Forgiveness is for the benefit of the person who is carrying around a vessel filled with acid that has been produced in reaction to a "wrong" -- however great or small. It's the acid stomach from a stupid co-worker's mistake, or the heartache from a lover gone astray, or the national wound of an attack from outsiders.
Forgiveness is a gift from God that allows us to pour that acid from our vessels so we no longer continue to allow it to harm us. It neutralizes the acid and says "I no longer allow you to have this ongoing effect in my life. I lay it down. This is over."
It does not mean you run back and embrace the offender and the offense. It's not a pollyanna look at the situation to say "oh, I guess it wasn't that bad." It was bad. Otherwise we wouldn't be wounded.
Forgiveness means I stop being wounded and start healing and becoming stronger. Doesn't matter if the other party even remembers or knows that they caused the wound or if they give a rat's tail about your forgiveness. It's not about them.
But, I think this, while it is always a product of forgiveness, sometimes can come withOUT forgiveness:
... "setting aside the need to avenge or hold a grudge about the wrong ..."
You can "let go" of a wrong, or "get over" it, and even the accompanying resentment, and still be unwilling to love, or help, the one who do you wrong. *That* takes forgiveness, I think.
You ask if one needs to seek pardon. In what sense? From God? Do you think that those who lived their entire existence without ever hearing the Gospel are somehow outside the bounds of God's grace? Do you think those who reject Christianity in this day and age are? Is Josef Stalin? Ted Bundy? The latter name is important to consider; as a sociopath, Bundy was incapable of understanding or appreciating that others have feelings in need of respect. The pain and suffering he caused not just his victims but their families was outside the bounds of his reason. "Remorse" was something that was as alien to him as it would be to a lion killing a zebra. Is he, therefore, automatically exempt from the grace of God?
Do you think God forgives us for our sakes? I don't know about you, but even in my asking for forgiveness, I am still being a selfish prick, assuming that God "should" hear my petition and answer it.
God loves us, and forgives us, not for our sakes, but for God's sake. The relationship was broken by us, but God never gave up on us. Adam and Even ate of the tree, but rather than die, they were exiled. Cain killed his brother, but asked for divine protection and received a mark showing that he had God's protection. Jonah sailed to the other end of the earth rather than deliver God's judgment to Nineveh, but rather than die, the whale spit him up on the beach so that he could be about the work God sent him on.
Paul participated in the murder of St. Steven, yet was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles anyway.
Closer to home, those who have hurt me, even the most grievous wounds, would in all likelihood neither understand nor care about my forgiveness. Yet, I do so because not to forgive is to believe and act in such a way that says that I know better than God how such persons are to be treated.
Forgiveness doesn't mean I need to be buddy-buddy with those who have hurt me. It just means that, even as I seem to proclaim a certain powerlessness (you don't have to ask for my forgiveness to receive it) I am exerting a certain power over them by declaring they are powerless to control me, to hurt me, or otherwise have any influence over me and my life at all.
I still like the idea that forgiveness is a relationship that fosters healing -- and a relationship requires more than one person. With that as a premise, how can I forive an other without correcting the relationship with that other.
The God-human nexus of forgiveness raises the same questions.
Forgiveness does not require that a relationship return to its former state. Sometimes, it can coincide with the ending of a relationship - that also requires two people. I see no necessity to pretend that nothing untoward has happened. Only be honest enough to say that, "I forgive you," means that the other's actions are not determinate for my own life.
It is an odd position to stake out, I think. I am arguing that a certain display of powerlessness is, in fact, a direct statement of one's own power vis-a-vis another who has done me harm.
When I think of this particular subject, I think of the scene in Good Will Hunting (please don't beat me up for bringing up that particular movie) when Matt Damon is in Robin Williams' office, and Williams just keeps repeating, over and over again, "It's not your fault," even as Damon's character gets angrier and angrier. He doesn't want the kind of healing being offered here, because his identity is so wrapped up in being the victim of so much crap, personal and social. Sometimes, accepting forgiveness means surrendering a part of our identity. Yet, Williams persists, until he breaks through Damon's facade of rage. While there is something phony about all this happening in the space of thirty or sixty seconds (my memory of the exact length is hazy), thinking it would take months, or perhaps even years, for such a message to penetrate, this is what is possible when forgiveness enters the picture. Whether we forgive ourselves, or are forgiven by others, or forgive them - it can be a shattering experience, but it can also be a liberating one.
I once had a very wise man, a kind of mentor to me, say that we never know what the results of our actions in life will be. In a time before I had ever heard of "chaos theory", he told me of the possibility that something we do one day could possibly travel all the way around the world, and years later revisit me in a way that is unexpected, and could either be good or bad. What we do causes ripples in the emotional ocean of the world. Forgiveness, no less than monstrous moral evil, is a potential tidal wave, yet one that restores even as it upsets the status quo. We should never forget that.
I agree this is a mystery, perhaps the most profound mystery the Christian Church has bequeathed to the world - the possibility of setting aside the evil done to us. This more than anything else is why I believe that a truly "Christianized" politics is impossible; this is why I believe that Nietzsche was, in essence, correct when he called Christianity "slave morality". Yet, what choice is offered to us? Harboring our anger, letting it fester like a boil until the emotional pus explodes in our lives, leaving us incapable of relating to others outside the noxiousness of that particular infection?
Forgiveness does not mean letting go of our anger. It means letting go of the desire to be ruled by anger. Forgiveness does not mean we ignore injustice. It means we are not ruled by our own grievance at being treated unjustly.
Finally, it is important to remember that "turn the other cheek" is not a reference to turning our heads and forgetting that we have been slapped. Jesus calls us to turn and offer our other cheek to be struck as well. This is how we are called to live. No one said it was easy; if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
Yes. I'd say it's especially hard to do *right* -- since done wrong it can give birth to resentment, mild martyrdom and other bad stuff.
Complicated stuff, this stuff is.
I'm going to keep thinking about forgiveness as relationship. Do I still have a relationship, good or bad, with someone who is dead? Or for all intents and purposes otherwise no longer a part of my life?
When I go back to my hometown, I visit the grave of my best friend, dead at his own hand over twenty-one years ago now. In fact, he has been dead now as long as he lived, a fact that hit home with me last week when I was talking about him with someone at work. In any event, when I'm there, I have a conversation with him. I suppose people think I'm nuts, but I speak out loud as I stand and look at his headstone. Am I oblivious to the fact that he is dead? Of course not. Yet, I cannot help but do this, because there is still this connection between us that even death cannot break.
It's called love.
Similarly, with exes, I may no longer relate to them on a day to day basis. We may have been out of contact for years, or (in one case) close to two decades. This does not mean that I "have no relationship" with them. The relationship has changed. Was I hurt by a breakup, even one I instigated? Of course, because I am a human being with feelings. Yet, if love is real, it never disappears. This is why being dumped feels like our insides are being ripped out; that space that we have created in our lives for another has been rudely stripped away, against our will. We grieve and move on, certainly, yet if the love was real, that space will never be filled; we will just create a new space for another at some point.
Only those who know us best, and who have infiltrated our lives so deep can truly hurt us. Only we can deal with this by doing the one thing that would seem to defy not just logic but our sense of what is right - forgiving them.
This side of time, I will never see Chip again. He is gone. This side of time, I will in all likelihood not have "a relationship" with any of my exes, even if in at least one case I might want to. Yet, we still have a bond between us because what we had was real, and it transcended the limits of time and space. That is the mystery of love.
And this mystery is at the heart of forgiveness. To deny forgiveness is to deny the power of love to overcome death, "even death on a cross" to quote St. Paul. To refuse to forgive is to live in the past, to making the breaking of the relationship the sole standard by which it is measured.
When St. Peter approached the empty tomb, the angel asked, "Why do you seek for the living among the dead?" Are we to dwell among the tombs, like the demoniac in St. Luke's Gospel? Are we to harbor our anger and resentment, wearing them not so much as a badge of honor but more an anchor tied to our necks, a rock that will weigh us down?
In regard to the following sentence - "I'd say it's especially hard to do *right* -- since done wrong it can give birth to resentment, mild martyrdom and other bad stuff." - I will say this. There is no "wrong" way to do this. One just does it. If one is willing to live this out, to offer to one who has wronged us another opportunity to do so, without hesitation, without forethought, where is there room for resentment?
This is deep, challenging stuff here, and I wish to emphasize that I am not so much "arguing" with you here, as offering my own thoughts. I do not want you to think like I do (God forbid!). I only want to make my position clear. At the heart of my position is the belief that we are at the very center of what it means to call oneself a follower of Jesus.
Realize -- and I may not have been clear -- that what I started out trying to talk about was not ways to keep from forgiving someone, but how in the hell TO forgive someone when one, in all honesty, admits to being at the place where one wants to -- but can't.
Doesn't know how to. Can't shake one's humanity. Doesn't want to yet does want to. ...
It's, maybe, the cosmic opposite of the dilemma surrounding "how" to "get" grace -- whether it comes at the provision or at the acceptance.
The nexus of letting go and deliverance.
What an unexpectedly difficult, and emptional, thing for me to think about today.
"Forgive and Remember"
If they slap you on the cheek, forgive them, and remember to dodge next time.
The magic word is not forgive, my friend,
the magic word is grace.
As for the concept of a Just War, it is an Oxymoron.
War can not provide "Justice" or "Equity".
War may be Necessary, but never Just. War may be right, but never Just. War is never anything more that politics by force. There is no righteousness there.
Read your Lincoln, he knew.
Greetings from Ogden.
Maybe forgiveness should just be called "giveness."
God became ready to forgive us at the Cross. And God offered forgiveness. At a point in time, for I cannot help buit live in time, I accepted that forgiveness.
The Prodigal Son's father, the story suggests, became ready to forgive the boy long before he came home -- maybe was ready the moment he first left. The father offered forgiveness. But the son did not accept it for a long time.
In both cases, forgiveness offered is not forgiveness accepted. It takes two -- or more, I guess -- to restore broken relationships.
I keep thinking about the Amish school shooting. Forgiveness was extended -- and received. And that makes reconciliation.
On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, "We must not think evil of this man." Another Amish father noted, "He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he's standing before a just God."
Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, explained: "I don't think there's anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts."
A Roberts family spokesman said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts' widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts' sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him. The Amish have also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts' funeral, and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims. Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, "Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you've given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you."
As for struggling to forgive, all I can say is that whether any of us let go as completely as we should, I try to remember that I'm not God and this is a good thing.
The hardest person to forgive, for me at any rate, is me. I remember bad things I did when I was eight years old. Seriously. They linger in my head, reminding me that I have little room to criticize anyone about anything. It's a nice trick. I don't think that conscience. I don't know what it is. Some kind of neurosis, maybe.
Anyway, this was a good discussion.
Learning that and choosing to live in relationship with God is a different act, one that rests with us. It's accepting that covenant. God did His part. There are no strings attached to that.
Reconciliation, is, I think, what you are wrestling with rather than forgiveness. Reconciliation is not necessary for forgiveness, but forgiveness may be necessary for reconciliation (I'm trying to think in terms of a divorced couple as a practical example on this...) I can forgive the ex without needing to reconcile. Someone who wants to reconcile with an ex would need to forgive, I do think. Many try without really having done so, but not successfully.
Oh who knows... my mind is kind of in neutral at the moment. It's about time to go home and I'm ready!
How about something cheap and meaningfull from Clatsop instead?
How about some real hardtack, or a strike-a-light? Got a jute, jew, or jaw Harp?
Greetings from the Oregon Trail and Baker City Oregon.
Want anything from the BLM Oregon Trail Center here?
Say Mr. Historian ER, we went by Shoshone Falls today.
Also stopped at the Hungry Redneck Cafe, alas my wife said no frickin way we are eating here. So it was off to Taco Time.
Finally, Churchill was far from a just ally. He wasted bombs and planes and lives on civilian targets for revenge and politics while letting more pressing military targets go by. Dresden was but an example.