Saturday, September 10, 2011

Some thoughts on forgiveness for Proper 19 A

How many times must I forgive my brother? Seven times?.......

To find ourselves confronted with the issue of forgiveness on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 might seem to be an almost impossible co-incidence...or perhaps are very pointed reminder of just how hard we find this thorny business, which is an absolute non negotiable part of our Christian life.

It's there every time we say the prayer we know best
In other words – we can expect to receive forgiveness in the same measure that we offer it's in our interests to think quite hard about what that might mean.

The theory, of course, is fine...We know we should forgive – that's what Christians do...
Forgive and forget” said Sister Theresa, my form teacher when I was 8...and some of us keep on trying to do just that, in an 8 year old kind of way that has more to do with sticking a plaster over a huge septic wound than it has to do with any real healing. Glib slogans are great until we're personally involved, but once we are, though we may try to pretend that we've not been say “It's fine...The past is over. I've moved on” and actually believe it, still the words of our mouths and the thoughts of our hearts have very little in common.

I once knew a woman, a devout Catholic, whose 4 year old son was killed by a drunk driver as he played outside their home in a quiet village street.
She knew, in her head, that she had to forgive...She felt that her faith demanded it of her but though she spoke the words of forgiveness, they were accompanied by a qualifying clause
I forgive him, but I never want to see him or hear his name as long as I life. I'm going to bury all my feelings along with my son and pray God that they can rest together”

That kind of forgiveness is surely only half the story – and yes, I do truly understand that we can celebrate forgiveness as a route to health and happiness – until it's our child that has been killed, our home destroyed, our country attacked.
Then we find out for ourselves just how costly forgiveness really is.

The story goes that a peasant in a far-away land once applied to join the communist party. Not everyone’s cup of tea. Still, as a part of the process, he needed to appear before the local party secretary to answer questions as to his worthiness.
“If you have two cats, you will give one of them away?”
“Yes I will.”
“And if you have two tractors, will you give one away?”
“And if you have two houses, you will give one away?”
“And if you have two cows, will you give one of those away?”
“No, I couldn’t do that.”
“Why on earth not?” he was questioned.
“Because” the peasant said, “I actually HAVE two cows.”

In other words, it's much easier to practise an intellectual discipline than to get on with living it, day after day.
And to forgive does not, in any sense, mean to condone.
Terrible acts are perpetrated – and we need to acknowledge and name them....But having done so we have a choice...
We can cling to our wounds and allow the one who wronged us to continue the damage whenever we revisit our hurts.
We can seek vengeance – and so entrap ourselves in an endless spiral of violence and retribution
We can continue to blame those who have wounded us as we protest that without repentance there can be no true forgiveness
Or we can begin the arduous process of allowing forgiveness to move slowly from head to heart, from intellectual exercise to real transformation.
That may take 490 attempts...or 4,900...or even more....

But it's a choice to be made as often as it needs to be...for, like love, it is not a feeling but a decision – and one that needs to be made again and long as it takes.

And it's a decision God keeps making.....though it costs God dear as well.

If for us forgiveness is a journey, for God it is a constant state - the counterpoint to the love that holds us in being. 
And the forgiveness we give and receive is only possible because God bears the cost himself.
All that we need to forgive, all that we need to be forgiven, can be safely left with him.
" Look Father, look on his anointed face
And only look on us as found in him;
Look not on our misusings of your grace
Our prayer so languid and our faith so dim
For lo, between our sins and their reward
We set the Passion of thy Son our Lord."


Gaye said...

While I have learned to my sorrow the truth of much of what you say, I did not really understand that God bears the cost of my often measly forgiveness. Good heavens. How much He loves us, how much.

Your words seem spoken directly to me today. Thank you

Anonymous said...

Have been working through this, and realising that we are only forgiven as we forgive, for in the Lords prayer we say "forgive us our trespssers as WE forgive those ....YES I have much to forgive, and MUCH to be forgiven. A very difficult subject and very necessary to truly think deeply about it. How dare we say I will never forgive when we need forgiveness ourselves. Thank you for your helpful thoughts.

Still Breathing said...

To forgive is, indeed, difficult but it can be even harder to be reconciled. I understand the Catholic woman she can forgive but unless the other accepts that forgiveness and aqdmits they were wrong there is no chance of reconciliation.

Kevin Scott said...

No. I think our forgiveness of others is a response to having been forgiven.

God simply (ha!) forgives us. God's forgiveness isn't conditional on me forgiving others.

True, I might not be able to receive, appropriate, enjoy the forgiveness that God has extended to me if I don't forgive. But that does not mean that I am not forgiven.