Fortnight – Day 10: Forgiveness
Forgiveness is the last thing I want to be reminded of with five days until the 2020 presidential election in the United States. When considering the racism, the lying, the demeaning of women, the denial of climate change, the damage to our national and international reputation done by Donald Trump and his minions, I find little room for the idea of forgiveness. It is a word I don’t want to hear, a concept I want to deny, a theological category I don’t want to consider. Still, I must. I must consider and pray toward forgiveness BUT I cannot forget.
Tragic as it is, the human dilemma remains — we can be shaped as much, or more, by what we hate as by what we love.
One of the liberators of a Nazi death camp found a note near the body of a child — written on a piece of wrapping paper, ” O Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill but also those of ill will. But do not remember the suffering they have inflicted on us. Remember the fruits we brought to this suffering, our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this. And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness. Amen. (Passion for Pilgrimage, Alan Jones, p. 134)
I am haunted by such prayers and the one I pray often: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It seems so complex and then I recall J. Ruth Gendler’s opening sentence in a reflection on Forgiveness: “Forgiveness” she writes, “is a strong woman, tender and earthy, direct.” (Gendler, The Book of Qualities, p. 54).
DIRECT — right in front of me — Forgive? Can I ever? Will I ever, forgive? I have preached so many sermons on forgiveness and counseled so many people toward that act that I should know the way. However, I don’t. Perhaps it is the shrill voices all around and the wounds to our body politic that I see that have been inflicted. I can’t muster the desire or energy to forgive the damage that has been done to our nation, to democratic institutions but mostly to people. Of course, forgiveness doesn’t mean acceptance. Forgiveness doesn’t mean I won’t continue to confront those who seek to destroy or wound. It doesn’t mean I won’t oppose evil and injustice. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.
So, it is paradoxical — I wish to forgive and I will remember not to forgive. David Augsburger spoke to this dilemma in book, published nearly forty years ago. If you have seen it, you will know it is two books in one binding. Reading in one direction there is attention to the idea of “Caring Enough to Forgive” and turning the book around is another set of ideas entitled “Caring Enough to NOT Forgive.” [Later, Augsburger wrote a companion piece entitled “Caring Enough to Confront.”]
In the Epilogue of the volume Augsburger offers these insights:
Although in "forgiving", release unfortunately may be easier to achieve than reconciliation-- Although one in error may choose to move over, away from, against the other -- Although one in weakness may attempt to live off of, without, in spite of the other -- Yet we dare not hesitate to take any step toward forgiving, no matter how faltering or fallible. Yet we must not refuse to move toward another in seeking mutual repentance and renewed trust. Yet we cannot despair of forgiveness and lose hope that reconciliation is possible. So let us forgive as gently and genuinely as is possible in any situation of conflict between us. So let us forgive as fully and as completely as we are able in the circumstances of our misunderstandings. So let us reach out for reconciliation as openly and authentically as possible for the levels of maturity we have each achieved. So let us forgive freely, fully, at times even foolishly, but with all the integrity that is within us. [David Augsburger, Caring Enough to (Not) Forgive, 1981.]
Enemies If you are not to become a monster, you must care what they think. If you care what they think, how will you not hate them, and so become a monster of the opposite kind? From where then is love to come — love for your enemy that is the way of liberty? From forgiveness. Forgiven, they go free of you, and you of them; they are to you as sunlight on a green branch. You must not think of them again, except as monsters like yourself, pitiable because unforgiving. -- Wendell Berry
“I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.” (Berry, Wendell, The Art of the Commonplace: the Agrarian Essays)