Never Forgive

We seem to be a species with short memories, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there is one standout exception. We have long memories when it comes to things that hurt us. I may not recall that my wife got me my favorite cupcakes on December 7, 2003, but I’ll sure remember that Preacher Joe said something from the pulpit that will make me never want to worship with him again. Also, I may quickly forget how I wronged someone ten years ago while their own faults pop into my mind whenever I think of them.

The same goes for events on a grander scale. Few probably know that September 11, 1940 was the first time in history a computer was operated remotely. That date in 1944 marked the first U.S. troops entering Germany. September 11, 1971 saw the signing of the first Egyptian constitution. San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit System opened September 11, 1972. The first East German refugees contained in Hungary were allowed to escape to West Germany on September 11, 1989. In fact, September 11 will be remembered in various places and by numerous people for several reasons – both good and bad – but those of us in the United States define it by one event.

In remembering the tragedy of September 11, 2001, we have borrowed the refrain used for decades in reference to the Holocaust: “Never forget.” It is a pain easily brought to mind for those of us who lived the events, but I fear we also honor the unsaid portion of the refrain. “Never forget. Never forgive.” What’s worse is that we find ways to justify our unforgiving attitudes by appealing to secular standards of justice, to patriotism, or by even misapplying scripture. We seek to have elephant-like memories about the pain in our lives, and we refuse forgiveness while holding to those hostile thoughts.

Forgiving to Be Forgiven

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus says:

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

Jesus says similar things in Mark 11:20-25, and Jesus emphasizes the importance of forgiveness for forgiveness in Matthew 18:21-35. Here, Jesus makes His famous seventy-times-seven statement, and He follows this with a story of a servant who could not pay his debts to his master. The master forgives the debt, but the servant then goes to one who owes him a debt and has that person thrown into prison for not paying the debt. The master learns of this and turns his anger toward the servant he had once forgiven. The lesson to us is simple – if we expect forgiveness from God, we must first be willing to be forgiving. This includes those who hurt us, use us, and intend harm upon us.

We all know the things taught in Luke 6, but read them and consider how we must look at the events of September 11 with a Christian mindset.

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

 If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

 Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.

– Luke 6:27-38

Forgetting for Forgiveness

We must forgive, and, if we do so, we have to be willing to put some things behind us. In a post about Jewish author/illustrator Rami Efal, Marc Sobel of The Comics Journal writes:

Returning to the graphic novel, Efal tells us on the back cover that the book’s title, “Never Forget, Never Forgive,” was a mantra he heard repeatedly by his parents, who are Holocaust survivors, while growing up in Israel. This attitude…is a viewpoint shared by many Jewish citizens in Israel, particularly those who were survivors themselves, or children raised by survivors. These men and women are, sadly, a generation poisoned by the war’s after-effects, unwilling to “forgive” the perpetrators of the atrocity, and unable to “forget” the memory of their extensive loss.

Later in the post, Rami Efal is quoted as saying:

If I perpetuate anger, violence, and confusion within me, then I perpetuate anger, violence and confusion in the universe, period. I am interested in leaping out of this cycle.

We have to ask ourselves what is more important to us: holding onto a pain that is dear to us – holding onto the anger, the animosity, the hatred – or letting go and embracing the perspective God expects from us.

Wisdom; Not Emotion

As painful events melt into the past, whether they are personal or collective, we can find opportunity to release the negative emotions that seized our minds and clouded our judgment when the events were fresh. There’s is no reason we should lament the fact that we are not as angry or impassioned about events that happened a decade or more ago. It gives us chance to allow wisdom to better inform our decisions and our feelings. If we can finally lay anger aside, if we can cease to let anger cloud our judgment, then we can fogive as God would have us forgive. In turn, we will be letting God’s forgiveness back into our own lives as well.

I can’t help but think of Jesus hanging on the cross, in excruciating pain, mocked by rulers and by His own countryman, left to die by those closest to Him, an innocent victim of an unjust and cruel system, the sacrifice to a bloodthirsty crowd. At a moment when any of us would have longed for vengeance, would have felt justified hoping for the deaths and condemnations of those inflicting such pain, Jesus calls for their forgiveness. His love overrides animosity. His wisdom drives out vindictiveness. He forgives when forgiveness seems impossible.

We have to be able to forgive, even those who we feel have hurt us the most, even those we feel would never repent of their actions, even those who set themselves at enmity with us. Returning to the words of Rami Efal, very reminiscent of that sermon by Jesus recorded in Luke 6:

Whom will one forgive if not one’s enemies?