Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Pain of Genuine Forgiveness

Today’s gospel (Luke 7:36 -- 8:3) presents to all human beings, regardless of one’s faith practice, a genuine challenge that may be among the most difficult.  Recently, I encountered a genuine experience of what Jesus was trying to teach to those attending the dinner at the Pharisee’s home.  We face the reality of forgiveness in a world that has become prone to finger pointing as soon as there are failures, losses or disappointments.  Not only in governments or communities, but also in families and in individual lives to  “forgive and forget” seems to be impossible.

A very popular novel, The Shack, a parent, the father, experienced the tragic death of a daughter.  Unable to deal with the pain in his heart, the father pointed his finger in blame.  He pointed toward the heavens.  Isn’t this the reaction of so many when we cannot control a situation that is painful and beyond our direction.  It is even more difficult when we personally cannot bring about retribution, punishment, especially for an evil done that impacts one’s life.

In our experiences and in the experience in The Shack of the father who lost a daughter, we turn to God.  More often our words or actions point to God and demand that he punish the person who brought about the pain or evil.  The father wanted to know why God was wringing judgment from the life of the perpetrator of the crime that took his daughter’s life.  The author puts these powerful words on the lips of God, responding to the Father’s anger.  “I don’t need to punish people for sin.  Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside.” (Now pay attention.)  “It is not my purpose to punish; it’s my joy to cure it.”

Sin is its own punishment:  what a powerful statement that we often pass over.  In the dispute I was asked to mediate, I could not but see so clearly the hatred that had built itself a mansion in one of the arguing party's heart.  For almost ten years that person had let anger and frustration fester in the heart.  Only in the meeting which was to focus on a very practice issue, did the buried hatred for the others bubble to the surface.  Suddenly the discussion became heated argumentation without openness of heart and ears.

It was clear that the bitterness that filled the heart had been devouring the very soul of the party who carried such a heavy cross for so many years.  When I asked if forgiveness of the other's action of five years prior could be forgiven, I was told “Yes, I can forgive him.  But I will never forget.” 

Well, we might have said “case closed.”  Those few words made clear that the challenging party really did not want to forgive; did not want to forget.  The mistrust and hatred in the heart was so serious that in all reality, forgiveness was about as real my building a spaceship. 

When we fail “to forgive and to forget,” we are making clear how difficult it is to forgive, for sure.  But at the same time we are saying that we are not accepting God and his promises.  In failing to forgive, we are making ourselves better than God.

From the moment of our conception and birth, we have been entrusted with the maxim:  “love one another.”  Nowhere do we find that maxim translated as “love one another only if it is easy.”  God’s plan for us is to exercise, as he did and continues to do with all sinners regardless of the sin or crime, every effort to show our love to one another just as he has shown love and forgiveness to us.  Why can we not trust that God will do what is best for all of us?