April 7, 2008
Rod Dreher again, this time on forgiveness, the Mennonites, death, friendship, a wonderful story in its way.
Too late to cancel a too-long comment (sorry, Crunchy Con), it's posted here anyway because it's what I think needs to be said. So:
I'm always a little queasy about public Forgiveness Discussions, on several fronts.
Nowhere did Jesus say we should evaluate forgiveness-by-others, and discuss it, say what a good thing forgiveness is, and recommend it. He simply said "Forgive." Or "Father, forgive them [which is to say, 'I, the one harmed, want them forgiven']." Or taught us to say "forgive us as we forgive our debtors." That is, it is an issue lit from the inside, not about bystanders repeating his words. Doing what Jesus said with the life issue at hand is different from, and may be impeded by, admiring the idea -- as I think Rod implies in his last sentence.
Advocating forgiveness, or even praising it, to or before anyone else is often an act of violence to the already wounded who struggle. In such cases it may force the damaged into silence and dishonesty, rather than encourage actual forgiveness. In addition, forgiveness is often challenged not to inflate itself into an ideological grandiosity, going to war with the rest of the community in the name of "my special insight on 'mercy.' "
In the criminal justice system, I have observed a complaint among, say, parolees, that those accused of crimes pity themselves as victims by complaining that their victims, and others affected by the crimes, haven't forgiven them. A serious misuse of the concept.
Personally, and from coaching a wide range of people, I believe reaching forgiveness is an act of love for life and oneself, and the "first step" or "half forgiveness" is an excellent beginning. Many people are rightly concerned that "forgiveness" means showing up again and being a patsy for mis-treatment, cozying up to porcupines. More productively, it might well be thought of as neutralizing resentment by giving the event over to God or Life, and taking a step back, or forward, to find the wisdom and strength to improve one's own heart and life in the present moment. An act of affirming valor, best discerned from the inside.
Forgiveness is prudent and Life-affirming damage control in the wake of a difficult situation, and Jesus' words declare we can find it over and over without limit, rather than be hypnotized by awe when we behold its beauty.