July 22, 2018
Let us talk about forgiveness and some of the wrong-headed notions that attend the topic.
Are there some misdeeds that are so wrong that they remain a permanent impediment to any kind of future goodness? Can some things not be forgiven? Can some people not be forgiven?
Jesus (somewhere) talks about the sin of ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’ as one sin that can never be pardoned. None other is mentioned. Unless you count the item in the Lord’s Prayer that implicitly rejects an offer of mercy unless one had first offered mercy to another – forgive us our sins as we forgive others. That would make un-forgiveness an unforgivable sin! Now we have two.
And let not get into the rabbit hole (thank you, Alice!) of self-forgiving! One cannot be criminal cum judge and executioner cum forgiver at the same time about the same deed. I can accuse myself or I can excuse myself, but I cannot pardon myself any more than I can credibly punish myself.
But what about ‘forgive and forget’?
I suppose that the passage of time might bring forgetfulness. But deciding to forget is like refusing to think about ‘chocolate cake’. You have to do the one to do the other. Forgiveness is fundamentally an act of hope and a commitment to do whatever is entailed in building a future that is better than the past and without the traps that turned the past into a tragedy.
This approach turns past misdeeds into lessons in the school of hard knocks. It identifies the roots of the misdeed and resolves that those roots will not be allowed room in the future. If that resolution succeeds, the misdeed will not repeat itself.
The advantages to this process are many: it tells all brutal truths with brutal honesty; it is based in reality, not in ‘wishful thinking’; it empowers the victim to become a doer of right and it empowers the wrong-doer to discover his power to be a right-doer (freeing them from self-pity and self-recrimination, alike); it condemns the past to its past-ness but bestows a future and hope on both sinner and sinned-against. There are no disadvantages to forgiveness!
But what of repeat offenders and offenses? All that means is that the understanding of the cause of the past hurt was inadequate to head it off. Someone missed a factor or minimized it.
Or maybe the roots are just incapable of removal. In such a case, forgiveness is not appropriate; treatment, isolation or plain old flights are more appropriate. But dwelling in a hurtful past or condemning a criminal who cannot help himself achieve nothing.
Always, always, always a better future must be found for all; otherwise the bad yesterday becomes the predictor of a bad tomorrow.
A lot of things have provoked these thoughts this weekend; some personal, some institutional to Church or State, and some just the stuff that happens in a barnyard. They cause anger and doubt and shame in different measures. And sometimes they are almost too complex in causation to yield to simple understanding. But this does not change or become less true for all of that: the future is always and only secure in the hands of the one who forgives.
Really and truly and penitently and mercifully yours,