A declaration on someone’s Facebook wall, a few days before I started writing this paper: “Forgiveness is a bitch!” – And I knew instantly what the writer meant. We all know how forgiveness can be a healer, but if she doesn’t deliver what she has in store, it can terribly hurt. Forgiveness is a strange phenomenon, perplexing at times. Because, if you make amends, you sort of ‘deserve’ forgiveness,but you can never be sure if you will get it – it does not depend on you when – if at all – you will be forgiven. At the same time, forgiveness has this amazing promise, to help us overcome mistakes, even “cover” someone’s mistake (or, with an old, poetic phrase: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow“).
We are essentially facing of one of humanity’s deep dilemma’s here. We are also getting a glance into the very heart of Christian faith. Not that forgiveness would belong to Christianity or religion – but in religion there has been this focus on compassion and forgiveness, so Christianity has worked like a prism – and of course you had to know how to use the prism. The discoveries themselves though do not belong to religion, they belong to mankind as a whole.
Let’s be clear about the question about faith in God here. I am NOT addressing the ‘extravagant’ idea of forgiving your enemies here – that is more of a strategic thing, not really about forgiveness in personal relations. What we want to do here is thinking about forgiveness as in normal relationships with people we know, like friends, or relatives.
If mercy and forgiveness are to be gifts of God (the ‘theological’ aspects so to speak), it must also be a gift to all Gods creatures regardless any ‘theological interest’. Christianity is not theology. Christianity should be either a way of understanding true humanism (all human beings are a creation of God – as a matter of principle) or it will be an exclusive exercise. Forgiveness is, in fact, one of the core discoveries of mankind about themselves. Jesus was probably one of those people in the past who may have seen this more clearly than most others back then – although he stood in a long tradition of coping with the spiritual dimension of life.
A CONTINGENCY PLAN
I’d like to quote something from a Christian writer and friend that I’ve been reading on Myspace long ago. This was written somewhere around March, 2010:
There are some things in life that we tend to link with other things. This can be true, whether the association is warranted or not. We will correlate similar-seeming things as either degrees of the same thing, or a logical progression… one to the other.For instance, the following are not – I repeat NOT – synonymous; although there is a perceived correlation between them:- Beauty -> Prettiness
– Higher Education -> Greater Intellect
– Lack of Higher Education -> Lesser Intellect
– Good Manners and Etiquette -> True Kindness and Compassion
– Forgiveness -> Absence of residual hurt and confusion
– Presence of hurt and confusion -> Absence of forgiveness
Again, we see that beauty and prettiness are often thought of as different degrees or intensities of the same essence. To me, they are different things and may be entirely separate entities. They may be present at the same time, but there is no cause and effect.
How about this pairing: education and intellect? Many will assumed that someone with higher intellect will have a college degree. Or, someone who does not have a formal college education would possess a lesser intellect. I would say that no such conclusion may be drawn.
Okay, brace yourself for this one: forgiving and forgetting. This is an especially tricky conundrum and has perplexed people of faith and good will, for millennia. The idea that something can be forgiven does not mean that the act or words are now acceptable or bear repeating. Ultimately, I believe that everything is-forgivable.
We’ve often heard that old adage bandied about: “Of course I can forgive but I cannot forget.” Well, that is perhaps true. Honest human beings are hard-pressed to will things out of memory. But I believe that we can choose where to place our focus. The question is: is the debt really cancelled?
Allow me to explain. The idea is not to say, “This or that did not matter” — when this or that DID matter. Simply assigning a lower significance to the issue, or compartmentalizing and “rising above” the issue — is not forgiveness. So… what or where is the difference?
The difference is that when one says that the “debt” has been cancelled — it is paid in full. It may not be brought up again for re-payment or re-conciliation. That’s what forgiving means. So I, for example, would no longer be able to rehearse a perceived injustice, or nurture the sense of sadness or loss. Likewise, if the debt has not been fully cancelled — then that fact must be acknowledged, up front.
Ahhh, but here’s the deal. It’s a contingency plan. If there is any hope of having my own debts forgiven, then I am mandated to do likewise. This is, at once, a huge responsibility and a tremendous freedom. That’s the way I see [these issues] in my life.
Now, … I would say that it took me a while to reconcile what happened and the motivation behind it. I tried to process the breach of trust and reach equilibrium, as far as understanding what happened. This gets better every day. It does.
So what I would like you to know … The debt has been cancelled. Let us speak of it no more.
Author: Kristie A.S., USA.
Breathtaking isn’t it?
When I turned back from unbelief to faith and Christianity somewhere around 2005/6, I had a very different approach to my childhood beliefs, much more philosophical and rational. I restated the meaning of Christian faith for myself – but I rarely run into confirmation that I was on the right road. Reading things like the words I just quoted, and talking to my Christian friends made me feel comfortable because many Christians seemed to be much more open minded than ‘theological’ in Christian matters. I could intellectualize it, and many of my friends were helpful in the process.
And yet, reading those considerations, you may feel tempted to ask how forgiveness can succeed under such conditions. Doesn’t it feel a bit rigid, when you start thinking of it? The quote says something about a “tricky conundrum”, about “debt”, and the idea that forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. If these things are so tricky, so hard to achieve, how should we ever put them into practice on a regular basis? What about the phrase “if the debt has not been fully cancelled” – this one alone could become a huge show-stopper because it could justify stretching out of someone’s debt endlessly – the way WE (the victim of someone’s mistake) think is justified. And then, this “contingency plan”… how can we ever be sure that there will be forgiveness, under conditions of a “contingency plan” if the plan is supervised by the offended person alone? After all, the (unintentional) offender can only sit there and wait. Repeating the making of amends, maybe,but that’s it. This is scary – and it really is. Maybe this is why depending on mercy seems so much easier when the said source of mercy is god. But God is not supposed to do what human beings are supposed to do. That’s where it gets really scary.
Therefore, from what I have learned, through a lot of pain and disappointment, is the weakness of human beings – including even the most liberal Christians – to execute a contingency plan worth its name. I mean: we can plan what we want, but if the conditions in our mind (or soul, heart) are not right, the plan won’t do what it’s promising. It will create false hopes.
Think of it: forgiveness essentially means: dealing with hurt, with humiliation. It is a very human thing. But when “Ultimately… everything is forgivable”, I can hear you asking: how long is the road to this “ultimately”? How exactly will we distinguish between a long deferred forgiveness and revenge? The unintentional offender cannot know this, becaue the “contingency plan” is a sealed book to him. And secrets can be hurtful if you’re not allowed to partake in it. You just hope that things will get right when the book gets disclosed. But you don’t know.
So this is why I want to add something – a new, stronger definition of the essence of forgiveness if you want – be it not entirely new: I am convinced that I’m essentially just translating what I’m learning from the story of Jesus. He accepted hurt, humiliation – and this was how he loved others.
So here is a definition:
FORGIVENESS IS THE ABILITY, AND GOODWILL, TO REVOKE THE RIGHT NOT TO BE HURT OR HUMILIATED.
We are talking about “hurt management” – and this is an essential aspect of faith (including but not limited to Christian faith).
This definition does not apply to people who are being mean with us, who have no good intent. It applies to those who make mistakes. Things that may hurt you, but they happened by mistake – or maybe they were intentional, but still invoked because of some misunderstanding. Temporary hurtful conditions, things that can be solved once we understand why they happened.
It remains a conundrum: forgiveness offers hope, but may also torment people when it is not being offered. Yet, here is the point of departure: we somehow need a way to trust that these things can work out for the better. It’s always better to hope that something may be forgiven, than to be desperate that it may never come. But this trust will need to be met with real action at some point. So it must work like a contract, in a way: you trust the commitment to the contract. The “contingency plan” must be real like a contract. GOODWILL is presupposed. When people act like things can be forgiven, and then they don’t, we have a potential disaster, we are being destructive. So forgiveness may not come cheap, but a suggestive attitude of forgiveness cannot come cheap either – it is essentially an expensive commitment, a demanding contingency plan.
We may wonder why some mistakes have hardly any impact, while other seem to be fatal in one way or another.
This is because our ability to forgive (or to manage hurt) is not simply a faith thing of some kind. It also depends on very arbitrary conditions, personal matters, and let’s not forget that those can be mistakes too. Not forgiving may often be caused by other, new mistakes – such as indifference, lack of understanding and empathy – and the consequences and hurt caused by that may largely exceed the hurt caused by the original mistake. And the problem (at least for the original unintentional offender) is that those mistakes can easily be covered up by his “original mistake”. In other words, when this happens, the one who made the original mistake is almost doomed to be the loser whatever way things turn out. He can’t get it right – even while his mistake may have been just something quite simple, nothing complex to begin with. Again: this is the scary part of the whole undertaking of forgiveness.
Moreover, there is the psychology. If, for instance, person Y can’t deal well with being hurt or humiliated, he or she will probably not be quick to forgive mistakes that hurt or humiliate. So you better don’t make mistakes with such people, including friends. You better know your friends. Again,forgiveness is an ointment with two sides: inside or outside the bottle. It’s great to know there is this bottle with ointment – however: someone else owns the bottle. You may quickly find yourself “at the mercy of the court”.
We cannot, of course, argue that the victim of someone’s mistake becomes an “offender” just because forgiveness doesn’t come instantly. In such an approach all notions of forgiveness would get lost. We always need to keep an eye on both sides of the problem. You can only ask for forgiveness, and the victim of your mistake will need to be given some room for dealing with what happened.
Nevertheless, the time aspect is very important, very significant. It is not like in the ancient world of ownership – where the principles of forgiveness have been derived from: the Code of Hammurabi offered a maximum of 3 years for lost property to turn back to the original owner. Much less than the Hebrews, who figured it might take 49 years before return. Forgiveness is turning back someone’s dignity – and it can’t take 3 years in most cases (unless we are talking about real damage, huge lies being told, and things like that).
So here is a contrast: you can’t just say one “MUST” forgive – because that seems to contradict the contingency plan. But there is also the timing issue. Forgiveness is neither automatic nor dismissible. It can’t be claimed by the unintentional offender but it can’t be rejected by the victim either. The contingency plan has to be put in place, it needs to come into effect – the victim of someone’s error has a huge responsibility too. If the contingency plan turns out to have a lot of “contingency” but no “plan”, no moving forward, just endless extension of a vague hope, then there is no contingency plan.
Non-forgiveness is a tricky thing. After a certain time – depending on how serious the mistake was – non-forgiveness will inevitably start to feel like a punishment. The withdrawal of love often causes intense mental pain, and pain does strange things to people’s minds.
RATIONALITY OF FORGIVENESS
It may perhaps seem ‘unnatural’ to people to forgive. It seems rational to protect yourself. So it can’t be easy. But no one said humanism would be easy. The point is: it’s worth the effort anyway. And with what we know today about how much and how easily we hurt others deeply with these things, it is also a requirement to take these things really serious.
I believe it is more rational not to protect ourselves too much, and train ourselves to see the two cases where forgiveness most clearly does an appeal to our humanity, our empathy: (a) when an offender did not offend us intentionally, and shows remorse about what happened, or (b) when the offender shows remorse about what he did, even while his mistake may have been ‘intended’ at the moment it happened – but clearly being replaced by remorse later on, when he or she realized it was a mistake.
Why would forgiving be more rational? Well, most mistakes just happen – this is true for the (unintentional) offender and it is true for the offended person. Both may attempt to restore what can possibly be restored afterwards. But in terms of trust, the unintentional offender has only one option: making amends. And in cases of unintentional error, especially in the context of friendship for instance, the offender always feels sorry about the mistake.
The offended person however has not one, but two choices: he or she can offer forgiveness, or not offer it. And why would the offended person not offer it? Because he has been hurt, or he may feel humiliated by the mistake. This somehow creates a space, some time which we consider necessary in order to give the hurt or humiliation a place, and deal with it, process it internally. That’s where the whole idea of a “contingency plan” comes in – it’s part of the “design” of this thing we call forgiveness.
The ancients thought it should be framed this way – remember how it goes with lost property. It requires time, a planning. But of course we should check these things again, if they work fine for our time. Times change. I won’t work this out in this context (maybe in another paper) but we now hurt much more easily than the ancients (for one thing because we are psychologically more ‘sophisticated’ and therefore more vulnerable emotionally in a number or ways). We also are more familiar with concepts such as empathy (a quite recent finding, not so well understood in ancient times), and we are much more used to forgiveness as a concept too, and how it plays out in human relations, social life. So I would posit that even in ancient times, the only REAL option that corresponds with amends, was forgiveness. The other part is a provisional option.
Jesus lived 2000 years ago and yet it seems like he had a profound understanding of these things. He did revoke the right not to be hurt or humiliated. And today, 2000 years later, we can ask ourselves what we made of it.
The reason why it is more rational to forgive is because this is the rule by the grace of which this thing WORKS. If you do not come to apply forgiveness to someone’s mistake because you feel humiliated, then you are breaking the very rules by which error and restoration can be kept in balance, and hurt stops spreading forever. You may not realize it – but you will, if you are the one who makes that kind of mistake, knowing you never wanted to do that to your friend – and then your friend waiting for “some time”… which seems like forever. You WILL realize it. When you find yourself “at the mercy of the court” and the court is going to plead guilty “with malice aforethought” when you know it is not true. And if they really plead guilty, you will know why the rules are there and why they need to be respected. Because it hurts the hell out of you and you know this is not how it’s supposed to be.
The problem, so we could perhaps state, is like this:
WE TEND TO PROTECT OURSELVES AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHERS.
And this is not how it works. Protection can always be someone’s perfect excuse not to forgive someone else. If this is how you think about it, then I would almost hope you will find yourself at the receiving end of someone else’s “self-protection” as soon as possible. So you learn how much you need that hand reaching out for you and bringing you back to the place where you don’t feel like hating yourself.
Rationality in these things is: DARING TO ASK WHAT KIND OF WORLD IT IS WE WANT TO LIVE IN. If an asshole world is what we want, then we must not give a shit about forgiveness. If a love world is what we want, then we MUST learn to forgive, again and again – unless the same mistake happens so often by the same person that you can’t believe in unintentional hurt anymore – but then it’s more obvious to be tougher in our dealings with such a person. How many times does this really happen with a friend? Friends don’t just turn into villains overnight.
It is rational to forgive – more rational than not doing so. And this, of course, is not “exact science” – it’s more like the science of being human.
We don’t want to dive too deeply into the problem ‘on the other side’ of our subject now (the problem of not being forgiven). Our focus is on the fact that forgiveness is necessary, we need to do it, need to work on it actively. But it is useful to emphasize the fact that not doing it will cause damage. If you do not forgive, things may get complex very quickly, to begin with. This often happens when good things are NOT being done. Not doing the right thing has consequences.
For instance, if you do not forgive, you will somehow try to find some excuse for not doing it. Such an excuse may come in the shape of a charge. I mean, an additional charge, on top of the original mistake. Such charges may come easily and they are often “psychological” – anything that may ‘justify’ your lack of motivation to forgive may feel right and necessary to you. You will find errors in the one who humiliated you, errors that weren’t there before – because when you were not yet humiliated, you did not suspect. Now that you feel hurt or humiliated, you suspect much more easily. In fact you “need” to suspect – because you “need” an argument to do something against the one who hurt you. This is in fact very human – but forgiving was designed to cope with exactly those human things. And what happens now is, that the original offender will be pretty much defenseless against all new charges you come up with. If he would offer defense, perhaps by saying something like: “there is no rational argument for these additional charges” – it will sound like his amends (for the “original mistake”) were not honest. Which could then become the next psychological charge. And this situation may spin out of control very quickly.
The ‘forgiver’ (the one in charge of forgiving) may lash out with some very arbitrary charges. Under these conditions, strictly speaking, the offender is being deadlocked. Once the “original mistake” has been made, the offender depends on the other to either bind him upon the altar of his mistake, or bring him to the altar of mercy. The offender is now in a place without exit, as long as no understanding is being offered, and ultimately, no forgiveness, and no restoration for the soul.
Ultimately, the one who is supposed to forgive, may become our hangman, who ‘approves’ our guilt rather than approving our remorse. In actual practice, our own guilt may become our hangman, if we don’t do anything about it.
Moreover, in cases where the withdrawal of trust (friendship) was immediate, it’s like our throat has been slit with one single gesture – or like a kid who is being thrown out the house because it broke a window. There is no mental defense against that – except if you are either a very strong and courageous person OR an apathetic asshole who does not care whatsoever (which may seem like a big advantage in a world where forgiveness is not being practiced).
In any case, you may feel bruised and feel like you can’t handle this. The line has been cut off. “You have no access to updates”, as a friend of mine said when I wrote her for her opinion, when I was in this situation. I had no access to relief.
JUSTICE VS. FORGIVENESS
Judgment is in fact what makes all these things ultimately fail. Not the world’s mistakes, but the world’s judgments is the ultimate problem that we need to come to terms with.
The lesson that mankind has been learning (with the help of many wise men of the past) is like this:
MISTAKES DO NOT PUT ANYONE OUTSIDE THE LOOP OF MERCY;
BUT JUDGMENT DOES.
Judgment is, all by itself, a very poor, almost calculated form of justice. Justice is only a property of the bigger thing: mercy and forgiveness.
FORGIVENESS IS JUSTICE FOR ADULTS. Or, maybe more precisely: “justice of adults” – justice the way adults have learned to do justice: weighing pros ad cons against the overall condition of our world and the weakness of the human race. When I said this to a friend of mine (T.R.) she rephrased this idea for me as follows: “Perhaps forgiveness is a more sophisticated form of justice”. Sounds right to me.
The author Cathleen Falsani says something similar: “Justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. And grace is getting what you absolutely don’t deserve”. I think that’s right – as long as we understand that no one deserves these things. She also says: “Grace makes no sense to our human minds. We’re hardwired to seek justice, or our limited idea of what that means, and occasionally dole out mercy”. In other words, grace seems otherworldly to us. Yet, it’s invented on planet earth – or at least it has been discovered here. Maybe it’s us who are too otherworldly to really grasp this wonderful thing.
People sometimes say “I believe in justice”. I understand that – not believing that justice exists would just be just stupid, or pessimism – justice does exist. But is it the kind of thing we should necessarily “believe” in? Philosophically speaking, “believing in justice” sounds like something you want – and it sounds cruel for that reason. We should not want it (remember: forgiveness is the ability to revoke the right not to be hurt or humiliated). If belief in something is needed at this point, it is belief in grace, mercy, compassion.
On many occasions the effect of applying 100 percent justice to a situation or person would be destruction, or at least severe punishment. (In a slightly different context we would call this retributive justice, as opposed to restorative justice). There are, of course, conditions in which we really desire justice to be done. In those situations we might want to understand that what we need is catharsis, but not revenge. This is an interesting subject and very useful – but in the context of what we are considering here, we just need to understand that while justice in itself is a necessary tool to make societies viable, it is not what makes humanism and human relations thrive -and certainly not what makes friendships thrive. It is applying a fierce “contingency plan” where there is a need for a mercy plan. It does not often solve things in a humane way.
This “humane way” aims at human beings – people with an identity, that is: they don’t just do things, they happen to “be someone”. This is in fact another agreement, or ‘contract”. The agreement says, more or less, this: the offender was doing wrong, but he or she is not equivalent to his/her mistake(s). So we need to evaluate things from the perspective of knowing “who is this person who made that mistake?” And in many cases, when we turn to ourselves with such a question, we will realize that person was our friend, or maybe just someone we happen to know – but it certainly is a human being, with feelings and emotions just like us. And nobody is perfect. This requires a mindset hooked on common sense and understanding of our fellow man. It is something that mankind has figured out over a long period of time – partially if not mostly within a context of religious thought (and theology) but it is essentially a human faculty.
The helping hand will only be there IF and only IF the victim is willing to take a share in the hurt – to bear his/her own part of it.
THIS TOO IS ESSENIAL TO FORGIVENESS: The willingness of the victim to take a share in the hurt caused by the offender’s (unintentional) mistake. Accepting half of the hurt that the other has brought upon you. This is of course just another way of saying, again: forgiveness depends on your decision not to claim for yourself the (imaginary) right not to be hurt.
Sure, none of us like the idea of being hurt. But this is not about happy feelings in the short run. It’s about what kind of society we want in the long run. It’s about being happy that our fathers found ways to enable happiness to become a common good, something that we can really share with each other, even when conditions are temporarily not looking good.
GOD AND MERCY
Religion introduces, as it were, the notion of a “third party” who is in fact “beyond” us – an objective third party who may act as an arbitrator. You may realize that this also makes perfect sense from a psychological point of view. Unless a victim is capable of actually PRODUCING the trust (in life) which is needed to be able to forgive, there will be no starting point for such forgiveness. Once suspicion comes in, propelled by fear or by lack of true love or trust – any ‘gospel’ (good news) will vanish – in fact it will ultimately come down to a willful belief that the victim does not truly repent and not truly feel remorse.
There may be all sorts of reasons for someone not to be forgiving – and they may all make sense up to some point, for a while. Again we ask: is it still part of the “contingency plan”? Your victim was hurt, or humiliated, and is watching you, perhaps hoping to get 100 percent certainty out of the play, certainty that your remorse is authentic and from the heart. But ultimately time will be making up its arrears: our (pretended) humaneness has it that there is a promise of restoration (or at least a willingness to restore), but the promise is failing on us. Without the necessary dynamics, things tend to get to a dead end.
You may reject god as the “second party” who would want you to feel guilty – but in the role of “third party”, an invisible arbitrator, even an atheist may make sense of it – he can take god to represent “common sense”. In case that a crime was committed, the third party that arbitrates is the judge. In most other cases where human mistake and hurt happened, the judge is our common sense. And from this point of view, the understanding that justice is an aspect of mercy may make life more bearable, because, with or without god, the belief in “common sense” means to trust that both the perpetrator of a mistake and the victim are subject to a higher plan: common sense. Emphasis on common. There is always an arbitrator – there is always our own human conscience.
No one should really be surprised to find the god-idea playing this interesting role for so many people on the planet. Whether you believe in a god or not is not the point – you should not even debate this, not at this point. Between a believer and a non-believer it is of course always respectful not to speak of god when the “arbitrator” remains undefined or not mutually agreed upon. We have to leave this up to discovery – out of respect for the emotions and inner turmoil that the other is going through. Yet, this is, I would dare to say, THE HUMANISM OF GOD. A God according to humanist insights cannot judge for the pleasure of judging – he’s not a fundamentalist. But, for God’s sake, it IS our darn duty to facilitate this process for everyone as much as we can.
Perhaps it comes down, to a large extent, to making a radical decision – choosing forgiveness – because it’s the only way. You need to be a rebel, to begin with – and take a risk (the risk of having some trust). I’m thinking of a phrase which may perhaps sound like it has nothing to do with forgiveness – and yet, it has everything to do with it: “TO GIVE IS TO RECEIVE”. That’s pretty radical, in a way.
I’m not a ‘new ager’ or a mystic. Phrases like “Explore the energizing power of your inner self” are usually wasted on me – not that I reject those ideas, maybe my rationalistic quirk makes it harder to feel much for this stuff. However, I do realize, from my own experience, that even if I do rarely feel like being loved (love wasn’t abundantly available in my life), I did realize that I could nevertheless give love to others. Why is that? Obviously we are created with such a potential. So I deduce it is possible to give even if you don’t receive – and to give may turn out to also be receiving. Because love works that way. That’s what I think, at least. I won’t say I have strong evidence. It’s just that I somehow experienced this.
A friend of mine used to say: “fake it until you make it”. And I will be the first to admit that I’m trying exactly that. I belong to the species which, when faced with something beautiful but (almost) unreachable, I will, in the meantime, “fake until I make” things. Eventually I will even fake it even while I highly doubt if I could ever make it – because I have this sneaking suspicion that sometimes things happen even while you thought they were not possible. This we could simply call faith – it is not hypocrisy because hypocrisy is when you fake things with false pretensions. I am talking about faking something without any pretensions. This is about trying to follow good advice. It’s okay if you won’t call it faith – I have no stomach to start a debate with anyone over the word faith. I call it hope. If you prefer to call it “desperate hope” that’s fine with me. I know what it means to me: it is what allows me to live.
It’s like in a beautiful song by the band Kutless, where they sing these words:
Forgiveness can’t take scars away
But I forgive you anyway
I love those words. If I can be a forgiver, then I’m doing something that the ancients have been delegating to us in the past – I’m accepting the task. This is how we give people a chance to live in a relative state of happiness, feeling respected and loved, even after bad mistakes. This is how it could become true, that “we are all family” – rather than choosing sides with, for instance, our own relatives, or whatever ‘natural’ connection. We can choose the best for all – not ONLY the best for just those who are ‘close’ because of family ties and all that, but the best for our fellow man.
And yes indeed, ultimately it is about love. Forgiveness is a property of love. My best friend used to say, several times: “Choose love”. And I would add: for God’s sake let it be inclusive love, not exclusive love. As long as exclusive love doesn’t lead to real exclusions it may all look fine but guard yourself for the day when you will be facing its nasty surprises and you are not really prepared for it. Inclusive love anticipates by NOT being so willing to attribute negative attitudes arbitrarily to people. That’s what the inclusive part does. Believe me, you don’t want to be at the receiving end of exclusive love when friendship or love is being put to the test.
Ultimately it is a matter of having faith in life and at the same time contributing to make it more and more credible, so more people start to have faith in it. It only works if you start doing it. A “fan base” of forgivers has to be established – if only 40 percent of us would become real forgivers, the world might perhaps slowly but finally REALLY begin to change for the better.
Last but not least: forgiveness seeks to restore.
Of course sometimes things cannot be restored – but in most cases there is always something that can be restored, and most often it is simply the friendship that needs to be restored. It may take some time, but forgiveness makes that aspect of restoration happen – and if it doesn’t happen then the forgiveness wasn’t real. Every honest person knows this, deep down inside.
Forgiveness can’t be just formal, or administrative. Think of it in a God context just for a moment: imagine a god who would tell us after a mistake: “Welcome back, you are forgiven -but get out of my hair now, I just can’t have you around anymore”. You wouldn’t buy it.
When I think of restoration, I think of the Hebrew expression Tikkun Olam: repairing the world. But it doesn’t begin with the world as a whole – it begins close to where you are: your neighbor; the guy you meet on the streets, in tears; the friend you ignored for a long time only because he/she hurt you by mistake; the member of your family who has been the black sheep for far too long.
To restore a person, there are some very basic principles, such as: (a) not making someone pay the full price for the mistake being made, and (b) undoing (rolling back) the hurtful things you have said and done in reaction to your hurt feelings caused by the offender’s mistake.
At this point we may realize how much we are often part of the problem even when the initial mistake was made by someone else. I certainly have realized this, when friends of mine made mistakes. When you think of them as friends, you realize how our initial reactions are often worse than their mistakes. And we may come to understand how important it is to really develop more faith in our own ability to look beyond our personal hurt and humiliation. We are all in the same boat, we are all the same behind the eyes. You can demand compassion and understanding, but then you need to be willing to offer it too. That’s how it works. Such are the rules. This is how we grow up to a reality where love is being practiced on a regular, stable basis.
That’s how Christianity may roll, too. And, hopefully, far beyond the borders of ‘religion’.