The Creativity of Forgiveness
I wonder if Dinah forgave prince Shechem for raping her (Gen. 34). Could Tamar of Genesis have forgiven her brother-in-law Onan for sexually taking advantage of her (Gen. 38) or Tamar of 2 Samuel have forgiven her half-brother Amnon for raping her (2 Sam 13)? Did Bathsheba forgive King David at some point in their marriage after he abused his power and forced her to have sex with him (2 Sam 11)? There are few things I can imagine that may be more offensive than sexual assault, a trespass that painfully takes something very personal and physical from someone, which cannot be given back. Against such crimes, forgiveness must be extremely hard. And yet I also wonder how could Jesus forgive his enemies as he hung on the cross, his body shamed and tormented, saying, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
The art of forgiveness requires a surrendering – a letting go, a relinquishing and a forfeiting of the rights to retribution, to claiming compensation for damages incurred, and to harboring anger against the offender. It is not a denial of the offense having taken place or a glossing over the severity of the harm done, whether physical, mental, emotional, or relational. The surrender is not of the acknowledgement of the wrong committed. It is a surrendering of one’s right to be angry and a seeking for retribution. On Easter Weekend, we celebrate the greatest act of forgiveness enacted on Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Because of the undeserving forgiveness of Jesus, who the sacrifice to satisfy the justice of God against sinners, new, lasting life was made real and possible. Forgiveness is creative, because it furthers human flourishing in others and in self. It builds up, edifies, and nourishes. An unforgiving spirit is the contrast; it is self-destructive and inevitably will harm others. Easter is a story of creativity, of building up life and flourishing through the power of forgiveness.
Forgiveness, still a largely foreign concept in terms of understanding and practice in real, everyday life, is held with high regard in stories. The story of Jesus is a story of ultimate forgiveness from God. In contemporary culture, many stories, like Academy Award nominated film, Warrior (2011), recognize that forgiveness is not only necessary but extremely complex. And there are real life stories of forgiveness, like “Dear Matthew,” by Kate Walker, a poetic expression of the real messiness of one’s path to forgiveness. That path to forgiveness is often hard and painful, but not impossible when God is the foundation and the end goal. Check out her spoken word video piece here.
Let the individual stories of forgiveness archetypally point us to the story of Jesus, and let the story of Jesus inform our own developing stories of forgiveness toward others. But the story of Jesus directs us to begin with ourselves to first be recipients of forgiveness, to receive the life-giving, love-abounding, and grace-filling gift of forgiveness from God that was bought for us by the sacrifice of his Son. Then in turn, we can promote flourishing by forgiving as the forgiven.