My friend Anand took note of this picture I had shared on facebook yesterday and asked me simply, how does this square with the Christian injunction to forgive “as Jesus forgave you.”
To properly answer this, let’s revisit ‘forgiveness’ as a Christian would know of it.
Anand, fortunately, Jesus Himself threw light on this. Now remember, this is the Jesus whose unhesitating answer to a similar question was: you must forgive seventy times seven. It was an idiom of that time, and it meant ‘endlessly’, not just 490 times. Be that as it may, I’ve often thought that it would be well-nigh impossible from every angle to keep forgiving someone who is repeatedly wounding you … 490 times.
So, in a Christian’s permanent quest to be like Jesus and emulate Him in every aspect, a gallant and tireless policy of forgiveness is a no-brainer, isn’t it?
The forgiveness Christians extend is not a mere ‘preferred behaviour pattern’. It is, actually, an extension of the forgiveness we have internally actualised into our soul. If you don’t actually live that forgiveness, forgiveness towards others becomes an uphill, if not impossible task. But to look at the enormous luxury of forgiveness is to be profoundly transformed. You free yourself of something. You move ahead. You leave the wound behind and it evaporates into thin air. Many times, your forgiveness is the epiphany that transforms the mistake-maker.
But this post is about something quite different.
But all this presupposes that we live in a world in which civility is extremely common, a world in which, when someone makes a mistake, and they realise it, they do one or more of acknowledging a mistake, apologising, and seek to make as effective amends as any.
Now you and I know this happens in the exception, not as the rule. What does the Christian do in these situations?
Let’s posit a hypothetical situation. The hero of our story is George, the offending actor is Jack. George is the best Christian he can be and forgiveness is George’s preferred response in an appropriate situation. Ideally, George graciously creates the context to communicating that forgiveness (“I forgive you”, said with a condescending tone, is NOT what I am talking about.) Maybe the resolving conversation that follows explains things, suggests plainly that George understood Jack’s quandary, and would like to treat the matter as completely forgotten and closed. Perhaps George will take the opportunity to tell Jack how much a state of peace between them means to him. Ideally, this is the beginning of a new equation between the two.
Speaking of which, you forgive, whatever the reason, first because forgiveness was granted to you before you truly understood the magnitude of the forgiveness As a Christian we MUST emulate that vast generosity of Jesus. It’s easy when we are deeply grateful for it and it has set us free from many things and opened fresh luminous doors of new living possibilities. Christians who have genuinely consider the astonishing forgiveness of sin become captivated with it, and like any person crazed with relief, joy and deliverance simple lavish it on all around them.
In my experience this is not the common experience. I have extended forgiveness with privacy, grace and without putting the person on the spot, only to discover that it meant nothing to that person. I have been called a sop, a Jesus freak, a pushover, a softie, effeminate, milquetoast and even a new age shitwit. This is an amazing turn of events. The situation can get really bizarre. I have been accused of ‘really’ being at fault, of hiding something ‘bigger’ and trying to ‘deflect’ the issue, and more accusations that I couldn’t even logically understand. Anything you say at this point is fodder for another vomit of accusations, twisted recountings, and just plain spitting in your face.
Far too often, the offender continues their behaviour. They will, with a pointed sneering perversity, do the very same thing, very deliberately, because your stance amuses them. They call you a coward, spineless, not up for a good confrontation. All the while they do the same offensive behaviour. Again. Again. Again. When this happens in a home it is particularly painful as the knife runs deep. A husband will persist in a habit, or a listlessness, or alcoholism, or infidelity, sometimes going so far as to taunt the long-suffering wife. Wives, no slouch when it comes to verbal ninjitsu, will vent a particularly acidic and gnawing verbal tsunami on a quiet man determined to be still and not react. Couples accuse, abuse, insinuate. Irrelevant matters are pulled out and flung in the partner’s face. Abuse is particularly painful. A wife abusing her husband with gutter abuse is as much pain as a husband abusing a wife. How long can this go on?
What does the Christian do, as a thumb rule, when an oppressor seems to be making full use of “490?”
God knows there must be the rare instance when the plan of God at that moment is for a Christian to weather this travesty. I’ve heard and read about situations when someone stood silently while the storm raged. I’d venture that God strengthened them at that moment. (Jesus in Pilate’s palace comes to mind for one).
What forgiveness does NOT mean is a Christian offering anyone blanket permission to make a mockery of that forgiveness, no matter what ‘humble’ guise it is manifested in. Forgiveness does NOT mean placing your neck on the beheading block. No Christian is required to be a glutton for punishment. Indeed, a Christian that swallows any sludge thrown at them, all the time, in a ‘spirit of forgiveness’ may be in dire need of quality psychiatric intervention.
There was no forgiveness for Jesus when the entire sin of all humanity was heaped on him on the Cross. It was an intransigent, unyielding heaping and He paid for ALL sins of ALL of us past, present and future. We know He endured for the joy set before Him, so did he go skipping in a joyous fashion to the Cross? We know he panicked. We know he asked his Father to ‘take this cup away’. We know his terror became so intense He sweated blood. All through this frightening time He knew the glory that awaited him, yet He panicked and tried to back out. And once it all began, there was not a murmur. He obeyed and paid. He won and what He won is an an eternal forgiveness that you and I can wash ourselves in.
How eternal, exactly?
Well, the one who turns this forgiveness down faces an eternity WITHOUT Jesus.
The free gift of salvation places on us a clear choice: accept and be saved, deny and face the consequences. AND THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES.
In all the Christian reams of poetry on forgiveness, never forget: forgiveness DOES have a final reckoning point and post that, you MUST sleep in the bed you made.
So the first thing is the forgiveness in full measure must be offered. The next thing is that there must be a compassionate understanding: the forgiveness you extend may simply not be understood, or misunderstood, or misused. Patience is the key. A dignified explanation of your position must be attempted and may help.
And if misused?
Does sin abound so that grace may abound?
Jesus did not die on the Cross and won what He won so that would would stagger around this planet being the punching back of someone. You are supposed to have a walk with God, not a crawl. He made you stand and stand you will.
Are you getting the drift? There is most certainly a limit to extending the forgiveness. You must be clear: carry that Cross that Jesus wants you to carry. When carrying, remember His yoke is easy and His burden is light. You are not to carry false Crosses. You are not to be trampled on, abused, ridiculed, and slapped all over the ballpark FOR NO GOOD REASON AT ALL.
Consider this chilling passage from Jn 15: (6) If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
You would think that this applies ONY to the Chrisitan who won’t forgive 70 times 7? What if (and it does) apply to someone who will not accept the forgiveness extended to them by Jesus, or the forgiveness extended to them by someone extending the forgiveness extended by Jesus?
Jesus is no marshmallow. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. Consider this too : it was Jesus who said: NEVER CAST PEARLS BEFORE SWINE.
I would unhesitatingly say: if you are repeatedly forgiving someone and they openly, unhesitatingly, and they repeatedly spurn it and continue pursing a conduct that is offensive, painful and harmful to you, walk away.
If their policy to you is criminal, invoke the fullest protection and recourse of the legal system.
Never let anyone, Christian or otherwise, mistake your kindness for weakness. At some point of time, giving someone who is being a terminal dirtbag the benefit of Christian largess is utterly counterproductive and amounts to throwing pearls before swine. Remember there is a point at which Christ’s forgivness turns into a judgment at the Great White Throne and after that, there is only Hell.If their policy to you is criminal, invoke the fullest protection and recourse of the legal system.
Never let anyone, Christian or otherwise, mistake your kindness for weakness. At some point of time, giving someone who is being a terminally abusive the benefit of Christian largess is utterly counterproductive and amounts to throwing pearls before swine. Remember there is a point at which Christ’s forgiveness turns into an eternal and burning judgment at the Great White Throne.
Never hesitate to pick up the rope, and clear the Temple.
“Don’t you dare, for one minute,
believe that my kindness makes me
anything but insurmountable.
I did not unzip my chest to every kind of hurt,
and stagger back, wounded and alive,
just to hear you call me weak for trying.”
—Softness, Ashe Vernon
I don’t meant to be flippant, but it seems to me this gem of a funny email forward going around throws some wonderful light on the issue. I don’t know if it is accurate but I consider it a wonderfully illuminating piece.
P.S. Dec 21, 2014: The following letter is confirmed at snopes.com as a hoax. I’m letting it stand because it helps make a point.
A Canadian female liberal wrote a lot of letters to the Canadian government, complaining about the treatment of captive insurgents (terrorists) being held in Afghanistan National Correctional System facilities. She repeatedly demanded a response to her letters, and one day received the following reply:
National Defence Headquarters
Maj. Gen. George R. Pearkes
Bldg., 15 NT,
101 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa , ON K1A 0K2
Dear Concerned Citizen,
Thank you for your recent letter expressing your profound concern of treatment of the Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists captured by Canadian Forces, who were subsequently transferred to the Afghanistan Government and are currently being held by Afghan officials in Afghanistan National Correctional System facilities.
Our administration takes these matters seriously and your opinions were heard loud and clear here in Ottawa. You will be pleased to learn, thanks to the concerns of citizens like yourself… we are creating a new department here at the Department of National Defence, to be called ‘Liberals Accept Responsibility for Killers’ program, or “L.A.R.K.” for short.
In accordance with the guidelines of this new program, we have decided, on a trial basis, to divert several terrorists and place them in homes of concerned citizens such as yourself, around the country, under those citizen’s personal care. Your personal detainee has been selected and is scheduled for transportation under heavily armed guard to your residence in Toronto next Monday.
Ali Mohammed Ahmed bin Mahmud is your assigned detainee, and is to be cared for pursuant to the standards you personally demanded in your letter of complaint. You will be pleased to know that we will conduct weekly inspections to ensure that your standards of care for Ahmed are commensurate with your recommendations.
Although Ahmed is a sociopath and extremely violent, we hope that your sensitivity to what you described as his ‘attitudinal problem’ will help him overcome those character flaws. Perhaps you are correct in describing these problems as mere ‘cultural differences’. We understand that you plan to offer ‘counselling and home schooling’, however, we strongly recommend that you hire some assistant caretakers.
Please advise any Jewish friends, neighbours or relatives about your house guest, as he might get agitated or even violent, but we are sure you can ‘reason’ with him. He is also expert at making a wide variety of explosive devices from common household products, so you may wish to keep those items locked up, unless in your opinion, this might ‘offend him and his sensibilities’. Your adopted terrorist is extremely proficient in hand-to-hand combat and can extinguish human life with such simple items as a pencil or nail clippers. We advise that you do not ask him to demonstrate these skills either in your home or wherever you choose to take him while ‘helping him adjust to life in our country’.
Ahmed will not wish to interact with you or your daughters except sexually… since he views females as a form of property, thereby having no rights, including refusal of his sexual demands. This is a particularly sensitive subject for him.
You also should know that he has shown violent tendencies around women who fail to comply with the dress code that he will recommend as more appropriate attire. I’m sure you will come to enjoy the anonymity offered by the burka over time. Just remember that it is all part of ‘respecting his culture and religious beliefs’ as described in your letter.
You take good care of Ahmed and remember that we will try to have a counsellor available to help you over any difficulties you encounter while Ahmed is adjusting to Canadian culture.
Thanks again for your concern. We truly appreciate it when folks like you keep us informed of the “PROPER WAY TO DO OUR JOB AND CARE FOR OUR FELLOW MAN”.
Good luck and God bless you.