May 2006 Anglican Church Letter
Keith takes a look at internet Chat Rooms!
I have been following a discussion about Forgiveness on an Internet chatroom. Although I am not surprised by the insights that I have now received, they were nonetheless new ones for me - at least some of them were. I have found them helpful and would like to share them.
The trigger for the discussion was the TV programme some weeks ago, when Archbishop Tutu and others talked to people who had suffered bereavement and loss during the Troubles in Northern Ireland - a programme which I did not see, but no matter. Also in the debaters mind was the lady Vicar who recently resigned because she felt unable to forgive the 7/7 bombers who had killed her son.
A view was taken that forgiveness could not be given to those who were not sorry for what they had done - indeed that God did not forgive those who do not first repent. In one sense this was correct, but as, so often, that involves a confusion of the two ends of a transaction.
It is common to speak of a healthy relationship as being one of 'Give and Take'. This necessarily reminds us of those unhappy relationships which consist only or mostly of just 'Give' or just 'Take'. However, there is a sense in which these situations involve complete transactions, the problem is that the direction of the transaction is not reciprocated. So one gives and the other takes, but the other does no giving in return.
In the discussion about Forgiveness, I was brought to see more clearly what I had already understood vestigially, but had not analysed and fully understood - that the act of Forgiveness is the commencement of a transaction which may not be completed. Those of us who are old enough will remember the Irishman, who several years ago instantly forgave the killers of his daughter in an outrageous mass murder. He forgave without looking for or apparently being especially interested in the repentance of the perpetrators.
And this was the point - this is what I felt was such Good News for me - it is the offer of Forgiveness that relieves us of the canker of bitterness and hate that eats away at our souls and our lives, if we hug them to our breasts in black despair. It is the offer of Forgiveness by us which enables us to accept the Forgiveness which God offers to us - which he offers to us before we repent, it is an offer which is unconditional.
Being able to accept the offer, to complete the transaction of Give with a Take, is not in the gift of the Forgiver, whether that is me, the sad and lonely ex-Vicar or God himself. To accept Forgiveness, we have to own up to our mistakes and crimes, first to ourselves and then to our God and our Neighbour. The act of owning up is three-quarters of the way to repentance of them. We can then look outside our own greed and self-centredness and can accept the proffered gift of Forgiveness.
Just as in other areas of activity, there is a multiplier effect. Having accepted Forgiveness, we can offer it. Having offered it, we can accept it. Conversely, if we remain locked into our own prison of selfishness and of non-forgiveness, we reduce and emaciate our souls.
Forgiveness is an act, it is not a feeling. It requires a decision and a commitment, it does not depend on liking or feeling sorry for someone. Forgiveness is an integral aspect of Christian Love. That Love also is a matter of decision - it is not a sloppy good feeling about someone else. It is a recognition that it is the only basis for an ultimately 'neighbourly' existence, for our permission to God to bring his Heaven here sooner rather than later.
I am writing this at Easter. I am necessarily reminded of the prayer of Jesus on the Cross - 'Forgive them for they know not what they do.' It is probable that many of those to whom he offered this forgiveness will not have accepted it - will not have thought they had anything to be forgiven for. But, in his own mouth, we hear his unconditional offer of forgiveness.
We need to find it in our hearts to forgive those who have hurt us, whether in large matters or small and to continue to forgive, whether or not it is accepted.
Licensed Lay Minister