I had a conversation not too long ago with a small group about forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of those things many of us are taught to practice early in life. I remember those school-yard tussles that were stopped by a teacher, who tried to cap the battle by having the tiny titans shake hands. Evidently, this action signified some outward sign of forgiveness that was supposed to result in the two kids being civil towards each other ever after. It didn’t always work.
As I harken back to my formative years, I can recall the mixed messages I would receive about this whole thing of forgiveness. On the one hand, I was bathed with images from media where revenge seemed to be the way to go when you’re done an injustice. Somehow it was all okay if the avenger wore a white hat and spouted some platitude about serving the greater need of society. There just wasn’t a great deal of focus on this idea of forgiveness; how its practice would purge one of unhealthy emotions and allow healing of both sides of a dispute.
For those of us who were exposed to Sunday school coming up, forgiveness was espoused. That horrible image of Jesus dying on two rough pieces of wood, fastened together to make a cross, projected the most profound example of forgiveness I saw at an early age. I can remember thinking, though not with enough understanding, how sacrificial this act of selflessness was. Of course, this was God. He could do it. The image of Jesus voluntarily dying for the transgressions (sins) of others was lost on the young me. Little did I know His act was for the benefit of us all.
The symbolism, the metaphorical representation Jesus’ death demonstrated came to me later in life. He forgave, showed us what “loving to death” really means, and moved on back to heaven, fully restored to the status previously occupied thirty-three years before. His sacrifice was example enough for how we are to achieve the goal of a civil society.
I’m of the opinion that the reason it’s so hard for us to forgive is because forgiveness requires a symbolic dying of our selves. When we are done an injustice by another, we’re hurt, we’re ashamed, we often suffer a host of emotions that might cause physical and emotional imbalance. Shouldn’t I have access to my pound of flesh? Shouldn’t I relish in the witness of some suffering on the part the one who did me wrong before forgiveness is even entertained? As we scroll down through the list of emotions that are available for use in reacting to the retched soul who did us wrong, we’re blind to the fact that we’re ill of soul. To relieve the misery, the best solution is to allow our need for revenge to die. That death denies us something we think we need; however, that death begins a healing process. Two sides, making peace, is an example of the most civil of behaviors society can witness. Extend that behavior from a family, to a neighborhood, and the larger world community and we might see what civility can look like in its rarest of forms.
Is forgiveness and the sacrifice it’s built on easy? No. But the best things in this life aren’t always easy to come by.
I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.