Forgiveness – The scandal of forgiveness confronts anyone who agrees to a moral ceasefire. When I feel wronged, I can contrive a hundred reasons against forgiveness. He needs to learn a lesson. I don’t want to encourage irresponsible behavior. I’ll let her stew for a while; it will do her good. She needs to learn actions have consequences. I was the wronged party – it’s not up to me to make the first move. How can I forgive if he’s not even sorry? I marshal my arguments until something happens to wear down my resistance. When I finally soften to the point of granting forgiveness, it seems a capitulation, a leap from hard logic to mushy sentiment. Why do I make such a leap? One factor that motivates me to forgive is that as a Christian I am commanded to, as the child of a Father who forgives. And I can identify three pragmatic reasons.
First, forgiveness alone can halt the cycle of blame and pain, breaking the chain of ungrace. Without it we remain bound to people we cannot forgive, held in their vise grip. Second, forgiveness loosens the stranglehold of guilt in the perpetrator. It allows the possibility of transformation in the guilt party, even if a just punishment is still required for the wrong. And third, forgiveness creates a remarkable linkage, placing the forgiver on the same side as the party who did wrong. Through it we realize we are not as different from the wrongdoer as we would like to think. “I also am other than what I imagine myself to be. To know this is forgiveness,” said Simone Weil.
Forgiveness – undeserved, unearned – can cut the cords and let the oppressive burden of guilt roll away. The New Testament shows a resurrected Jesus leading Peter by the hand through a three-fold ritual of forgiveness. Peter need not go through life with the guilty, hangdog look of one who has betrayed the Son of God. Oh, no! On the backs of such transformed sinner Christ would build his church.