I feel the need for a bit of confession today.
I really, truly, struggle with forgiveness.
I feel comfortable confessing that, because, I think that you all might be in the same boat as well.
It’s not entirely our fault that forgiveness is not exactly at the top of our to-do lists. Our culture doesn’t actively value it (not that many have.) However, what might make us more unusual is that many of us have come think of forgiveness itself as immoral.
Most of us won’t admit to this, of course, but it’s embedded in what we think the “right” response is to people who harm us or harm others.
What is the correct response when someone bombs us? We, of course, should bomb them, (and far more besides). To do any less would be show weakness.
What is the correct response when someone kills someone else, especially if it was heinous? We should kill them, of course. To do anything less means that they won’t “pay” for their crimes.
What is the correct response when someone wrongs us? If we have the power to do so, we should find a way to “balance the scales”, of course. If we don’t, we’ve somehow lost the battle.
What is the correct response when we don’t get our way, in politics, in relationships, in life? We should make sure that even if we “lose”, that the “winners” should still stuffer. After all, if you can’t win, you should at least take them down with you.
Notice how, embedded in each of those responses, is the assumption that forgiveness means weakness, means losing, means not being strong, means rolling over. If we want to show strength, to act like adults, to be secure, then revenge (which is what “balancing the scales”, “paying for their crimes”, etc. actually means) is the only ethical way to act.
I can’t live what that line of thinking, especially not as a follower of Jesus.
Jesus is unambiguous about this. He says, “You have heard it said, an eye, a tooth for a tooth, but I say, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute”, he teaches “do not resist those who do evil to you”, he tells people “turn the other cheek” when someone hits them. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, when he himself was being murdered unjustly.
There’s no wiggle room for me when it comes to this.
I don’t like that. You see, I, like most people, have a list in the back of my head of people who I feel have wronged me. And, when I get in a certain mood, I can chew on those wrongs as contentedly as a cow chewing their cud, until I’ve worked myself up into such a righteous lather than I’m convinced that they deserve almost anything that comes to them.
It is much harder, to let go of the wrongs that other people do to me. It is much harder to love people for who they are actually are, rather than for who I want them to be.
But, that is the hard and fast, no exceptions requirement that I’m presented, when I pray, every day, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us“. (And incidentally, it embarrasses me to think of the number of people in my own tribe who pray those words every day and then advocate violent vengeance on those who they feel have wronged them.)
I still don’t know how to do forgiveness well. I struggle how to forgive without enabling. I struggle how to forgive without playing the blame game (for myself or for anyone else). I struggle how to forgive while still asserting my own integrity as a human being. I struggle how to forgive while not practicing relational amnesia.
When I struggle with forgiveness, its puts me into contact with some parts of myself that I’d rather not acknowledge. It exposes me to the fact, that, despite the best appearances I put on, for others and for myself, that I have a place of darkness within me that prefers hurt, revenge, violence, and hatred, even when it is ultimately self destructive.
And how much harder is it to overcome that darkness, when our culture not accepts it as inevitable, but says that it’s positively moral?
It’s no wonder we struggle so much.
It’s no wonder I struggle so much.
I’m getting better, with practice, I think, but if you have any advice, I could use it.
We probably all could.