Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Colossians 3: 13
Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times? ’Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
Matthew 18: 21-22
So much of the social and cultural life in our consumer society is transactional in nature. We give something to get something. People get what they earn and deserve what they get and we are often schooled in the art of holding a grudge, or at the very least, holding out for whatever it is we think we should get from someone who has hurt us. We do not easily find ourselves bending toward forgiveness, as individuals, or as communities. It is easy enough to see in our collective lives, the degree to which forgiveness has been abandoned as public policy. Our juridical system has clearly embraced punishment rather than forgiveness, even in the form of rehabilitation, as its central tenet. Al too often, those who never expect to need it themselves portray forgiveness as a form of social weakness.
Yet it is a concept deeply embedded in the Christian consciousness as an article of faith. Repeatedly it is suggested in scripture, both New Testament and Hebrew Bible, that God’s people are expected to be a forgiving people. It was certainly a mark of the early church, that they could not live together successfully (as a faith community), if they could not forgive each other. Somewhere along the line we picked up the aphorism about forgiveness being tied to forgetfulness, and since we do not highly prize our forgetfulness, we gave up on our forgiveness as well. But as Jesus seems to suggest to Peter (in the above passage) forgiveness isn’t dependent on being able to forget, quite the contrary, it is a practice we engage over and over again, whenever the memory of an event is sparked in our mind. Jesus isn’t suggesting that we simply comport ourselves as doormats for the serial abuser who repeats the abuse to the tune of 70 times 7, he is acknowledging the difficulty of forgiving in a non-forgetting world.
Forgiveness is a practice, not a singular event. Forgiveness is about letting go of the emotional hold that the past has on our heart. Too often we cannot fully be present to what the world has in store for us, because our hearts are clogged with the plaque of un-relinquished burdens. We carry our inability to move on around with us like Jacob Marley’s chains. Forgiveness is not about exacting just the right apology from just the right offender, it is about snipping the cord that binds us to the hurt, and the immobilizing pain of past events. Forgiveness is a core Christian value because it is another mechanism for setting us free.
“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
“How does one know if she has forgiven? You tend to feel sorrow over the circumstance instead of rage, you tend to feel sorry for the person rather than angry with him. You tend to have nothing left to say about it all.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estes