I think I’ve “stepped in it” over at DeConversion blog. In an attempt to be honest about my life, and encourage an open discussion about the concept of forgiveness, I’ve really backed myself into a corner. A poster named “Atheist” offered the insight that perhaps I was not at peace with myself and my concept of the God of the bible. Methinks he/she is right. I’m not at peace. I want to be at peace. I want to either be this or that, but never am. I guess the definition of forgiveness should have been explored in my post first, but I always write truest and best when I am in the throes of spiritual struggle. The spiritual struggle here being my concept of forgiveness, while de-toxing from christian fundamentalism. In this case, it’s interesting that people have come at the post mostly from the emotional and spiritual angle. What other angle is there you ask? Why the legal angle, of course. The responsibility and restitution angle. In this passage, Jesus seems to be saying that forgiveness is a debt AND is an emotion:
21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone[a] who sins against me? Seven times?”
22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven![b]
23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.[c] 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
26 “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
28 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars.[d] He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.
29 “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
31 “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. 32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters[e] from your heart.”
Notice that the one who offends owes a debt. The one offended against experiences the emotion and has the responsibility to correct that emotion. Notice also the phrase, “from your heart.” What does that mean? We have to FEEL forgiveness truly before we have truly forgiven anyone? God doesn’t accept a rote forgiveness, the releasing of debt without the emotional rancor involved? Or like the judge, are we merely forgiving a debt owed to us? To make things even more complicated (in my view), I received this in my email at work this morning (from a newsletter I subscribe to) and I received it AFTER I wrote the post at DeConversion blog:
Forgiveness, The Cement of Community Life by Henri Nouwen
Community is not possible without the willingness to forgive one another “seventy-seven times” (see Matthew 18:22). Forgiveness is the cement of community life. Forgiveness holds us together through good and bad times, and it allows us to grow in mutual love.
But what is there to forgive or to ask forgiveness for? As people who have hearts that long for perfect love, we have to forgive one another for not being able to give or receive that perfect love in our everyday lives. Our many needs constantly interfere with our desire to be there for the other unconditionally. Our love is always limited by spoken or unspoken conditions. What needs to be forgiven? We need to forgive one another for not being God!
Now here, Nouwen is discussing the community of church and Christians gathering together. That kind of forgiveness is easy (for me anyway) and the sins are not as grievous. But what do you do about forgiving someone who never asks for forgiveness, has no remorse, and is not a Christian? Who has hurt you body and soul; who has torn out your innocence and stomped on it? Am I obligated to forgive emotionally or as far as the debt owed is concerned? What do you do if there’s no possibility of someone asking your forgiveness because of death or another permanent barrier? I understand the benefits of being relieved of hate, rage, vengeful feelings, and other such things that accompany being offended against, but changing your emotions psychologically is not the same as forgiving a debt. I see forgiveness as debt cancellation. Is that wrong? What is forgiveness exactly? Must it always be couched in religious and spiritual terms?
Here, notice that Jesus adds “if he repents…” in the Luke passage:
Luke 17:3-4, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, `I repent,’ forgive him.”
Right now, I’m free of hate toward those who’ve grievously offended me, but I think they still owe me a debt and they have never repented nor asked forgiveness. It’s taken a very long time to no longer feel the anger and betrayal and sometimes I still have those feelings, but I don’t seek revenge. Therefore, does the burden of forgiveness ALWAYS rest on the person offended against and why should that be so? Does anyone understand what I’m trying to say here or have I come up with some solution for me alone and a generally incomprehensible idea or can we indeed separate emotion from the responsibility of forgiveness and restitution?
I guess all this is predicated on your definition of God and forgiveness and justice. I’m still struggling with all that too. Remember, I believe the bible is a guide, not the last word. I’m coming at this from the viewpoint that we cannot know anything for sure and from an honest struggle to live spiritually in an extremist world, that’s all.