“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” — Luke 23.34 —
Forgive me. I know there have been plenty of pastoral articles written already about forgiveness. Forgive me; but please, keep reading.
Can we start with this? Forgiving is not something you either do or don’t do. It’s not something that you keep track of on a chalkboard. Write a mark when someone sins against you. Then forgive with the eraser. Then repeat? Neither sin nor forgiveness works like that – with every fifth line a diagonal.
Forgiving is something you practice (and for most of us, most of the time, not very well). As Martin Luther King said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.” Perhaps life is less about choosing between good and evil, and more about choosing between things that lead to forgiveness and things that lead to revenge and resentment.
If resentment really is the opposite of forgiveness, then listen to Nelson Mandela’s take on it: “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” If that’s resentment, perhaps practicing forgiveness begins when you finally despair of your foolishness and dump the poison down the drain. Step two is offering your enemy a glass of water. It might help to offer to take a sip first, to prove it’s not poison.
Then again, you forgiving an enemy might be easier to practice than you forgiving you. If it’s true that you are your own worst enemy, then it’s even more tempting to think that a drink of that resentment-poison just might ‘do in’ your worst enemy. But that’s just it. In the case of you forgiving you, it will. Once again, step one is despairing of your foolishness and dumping the poison down the drain. Then take a long drink of water.
But hardest of all might be forgiving God. It’s told that the Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel spent most of his life asking God, “Where were you, God of Kindness, in Auschwitz?” In a moment of practicing forgiveness, Wiesel finally realizes, “Watching your children suffer at the hands of your other children, haven’t you also suffered?” And so, Wiesel says, “Let us make up, Master of the Universe…”
But in the end, if you want to practice forgiveness, God is not a bad place to start. The God revealed to us in the scriptures (Old & New) and the God revealed to us in Christ Jesus is not a cosmic-chalkboard God who keeps track of every sin and stands ready with eraser, if only you pray the right prayer or say the right words or suffer enough. God has suffered too. God drinks your resentment-poison and dies until death can do no more. Then God comes back from the dead and offers you a new way of living. The way of forgiveness-living. Thanks be to God.
Forgive me if you’ve heard all this before. But please, keep forgiving.