Monday, September 17, 2007

Forgiveness and Freedom

"Truth" in "the truth will set you free" must include Jesus' teaching on forgiveness. Forgiveness is freeing, both to the forgiver and the forgiven. Remember the context of this statement: "So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, 'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" John 8:31-32. Jesus 'word,' I assume, includes his teaching of forgiveness, such as "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Matthew 6:14-15.

"Volf's basic argument is this: Whether we are dealing with international relations or one-on-one personal relations, evil must be named and confronted. There must be no sliding around it, no attempt (whether for the sake of an easy life or in search of a quick fix) to pretend it wasn't so bad after all. Only when that has been done, when both evil and the evildoer have been identified as what and who they are-this is what Volf means by 'exclusion'- can there be the second move toward 'embrace': the embrace of the one who has deeply hurt and wounded us or me. Of course, even then this may not happen if the perpetrator of the evil refuses to see his or her action in that light. But I have named the evil and done my best to offer genuine forgiveness and reconciliation, I am free to love the person even if they don't want to respond." N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God.

Forgiveness is very different than excuse. I cannot remember where I first learned this distinction (I think it was C.S. Lewis or Douglis Wilson) but what an important distinction to make. Excuse is what happens when there was a misunderstanding, whether simple or complex. The excuser says, after clarification of the situation, "Okay, I understand now why you did or said this or that, you did not mean any harm, no problem." The excused did not do anything truly wrong, truly despicable. Forgiveness is when the forgiver has truly been wronged and after clarification of the situation says, "Though you did this or that intentionally, I no longer see you as guilty of the same. I am not bitter, lets get on with living together peacefully." When this kind of forgiveness happens, there is good reason to know that the Spirit is present and active causing God's kingdom, God's will, to be done on earth as it is in heaven.