Love and Imperfection
We all know plenty of instances of individuals, families, communities, parishes and so on, being locked into a pattern of enduring antagonism. A group of venerable priests, may their tribe increase, were inevitably discussing the shortcomings of one of their number when one of them averred that the man under consideration was ‘his own worst enemy’. This brought a vigorous response from one of them: “Not while I’m around, he aint!”.
Jokes aside, we human beings live in a world of conflict. Developmental conflict between parent and child, historical tensions as with teacher and student, cultural situations as in the developed and the developing, and the rivalry of various specialisations (architect and builder). There are so many perspectives, to say nothing of differing mentalities and modes of expression (artistic, economic ecological, mystical, practical, etc). But none of these inevitable conflicts makes us into enemies in knock-down opposition, when judgements on one another are terminally severe. It is better to fall into the hands of the living God than to fall under the judgment of such “enemies”. Forgiveness is clearly necessary if communication can be presumed.
But with forgiveness, impossible contradictions seem to arise. Does forgiving mean pretending that all is well? Is it a way of humouring the incompetent or the ill disposed, perhaps a way of manipulating them into accepting our ‘constructive criticism’? We can involve ourselves in endless theorising, but staying all the while within the previous frame of reference, in which nothing really changes in them or us?
The point of forgiveness however is a lot more practical. It is not a theory, nor patient negotiation: it is an urgent imperative for the Christian heart: “But I say to you… love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk 6:27). Love your enemies, real or imagined, and pray for and bless them!
That means stepping into a new world shaped by the love and the mercy of God himself. It means imitating God in not counting the negative, even sinful, things against the offender. It means deliberately choosing, by the grace of God, to act ‘otherwise ’. In effect, forgiving is an instant in the new creation, a moment in which the will of God is done, and the kingdom comes. There is no plan about this, no outcome to be calculated, no cost benefit analysis. No conversion or change of heart on the part of the enemy is required. An act of forgiveness is not, of its nature, designed for the rehabilitation of the enemy, even if that might be the hope. All that is left to God by deliberately ‘letting go’ into a universal mercy, and opening oneself and others to possibilities still hidden in the final consummation of “God, all in all”.
The insistent question is this: What is the defining factor in our existence? It can be that life becomes an endless catalogue of resentments and unforgivable things. Have we become with each passing year more mean, resentful and wary—in fact despairing of any change ever taking place, least of all in ourselves! We can in fact be beautiful religious performers in any number of gatherings, and still harbour in our hearts a ruthless exclusion of those who remain unforgiven and considered unforgivable. A pitiless judgement has deemed hem unworthy of love and beyond the scope of God’s mercy.
By forgiving the world is not defined by my personal history of hurt and resentment. Its dimensions are otherwise. We enter it, with hope and humility, and relocate ourselves in a universe where mercy is the beginning and the end, and the atmosphere in which we must live, breathe and pray for all.
Forgiveness is, therefore, an adventurous act of hope and a way of exorcising the demons of hatred. A special kind of patience is required. There is no instant remedy, only the risk of embarking, in a cloud of unknowing, on a path that can lead only to God and the loving communication of God to everyone.