Thursday, 7 July 2011

Forgiving is a Gift for Giving

Forgiveness is one of those gifts we often are most reluctant to offer to others.  It is the sort of gift that may only be given in response to something being taken.  Most gifts we offer are given because we wish to celebrate a time honoured custom, to underscore personal affections, and because we wish to compliment the support and offerings of others.  Forgiving is the gift offered in response to a deficit, to a sense of loss, and a loss too often, associated with a deep, and lasting hurt.
When a person's behaviour is insensitive, insulting, and intentionally malicious, the innate response is one of defence, and of counter attack; there is a sudden urge to strike back.  When the scripture writer recounted God's commands in chapter 21 of Exodus informing us about an eye for an eye, those words not only reflected the faith of the Israelites, but the custom of the time.  Again, a time honoured tradition (for lack of a better term) is to return life threatening blows with life threatening blows.  So for-giving is a counter cultural practice.
It is with such an awareness that it is worth considering the passage from the Gospel of Saint Matthew, 5:38-42 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Underlying this biblical teaching is a deeper truth, when one person wilfully takes from another, or is provoked to harm another, then that person is claiming a control over life that, in reality, belongs to none of us.  From a Biblical point of view, life always rightly and truly belongs to God, and God alone.  The more we allow ourselves to inflict harm on others, even in the name of righteousness, the more we risk plaguing ourselves with the very injustice that we stand against.  Exchanging one misdeed for another misdeed, we unwittingly subject our lives and the lives of others to our own tyrannical whim.
When we chose to reminisce over past injustices, we fortify those weighty emotional and self-serving memories, which sap our ability to be who we are created to be; we voluntarily blind ourselves to the gift of life that God is giving us in this moment.  We, willingly, paralyze the authority God grants us in life to create life among and with others, and seek instead to telescope thoughts toward that which has since past.  In such a case, we pervert our lives by trying to correct them; we become the very iniquity we wish to ban from our lives.
Humanity participates in life to the degree that God, the source of all creation, offers it to us.  Following the teaching of Jesus, we are to give back to our perpetrators what God has entrusted to all of us, viz. life itself, because, we can only properly give what God has given to us.  Jesus’ instruction stands in stark contrast to contemporary customs and legal principles.
In chapter six of Saint Matthew, Jesus tells his followers, to ask God to, “forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.”  Then again in the Gospel of Saint Luke, Jesus says, “if [a person] sins against you seven times in the day, and seven times returns, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”  At first glance, these two passages are difficult to digest and even more difficult to put into practice; they ask us to strip ourselves of justice founded in self-righteousness and replace that with a justice that offers life at every cost.
These passages invite us to a holiness and wholeness, which are liberating.  When we ask God to forgive us, we are recognizing that life is a divine gift, entrusted to us, and not an entitlement.  As such, that gift will, now and always, rightly belong to God in his providence, and not to us.  When we forgive others, we give back to them an opportunity to live life anew and simultaneously we shed from ourselves past resentments that will hinder us in living our lives as a divine gift.
When we choose to forgive, we release ourselves from a spell we have cast over ourselves; it is as if we had taken a secret potion which frees our interior vision to see life beyond the wrongs perpetrated against us.  We allow a balance to return to life, not simply one of human creation, but one of divine imperative; we, through forgiving, give back to God what really belongs to Him, life itself.  By placing our focus on God’s authority and power, we bring into balance the authority and power we feign to possess.
Forgiving the UnforgivableDaily Affirmations for Forgiving and Moving OnThe Art of Forgiving