instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, September 12, 2011

To forgive divinely

I heard a perfectly good homily on forgiveness yesterday. Mention was made of the necessity of forgiveness, and much was made of the benefits to the one forgiving.

All very well and true.

And yet...

As Christians, we forgive because God forgives. We forgive in imitation of Jesus, Who forgave because He was God's Son and Image. God forgives because He is love.

God gets no benefit from forgiving us. It doesn't lower His blood pressure; it doesn't free His mind to think on other things. I think you could even say God really doesn't have a reason for forgiving us, in the sense of a reasoned discourse that concludes, "So I'll forgive them." Forgiveness is just what He does.

Now it's certainly true that we do benefit from forgiving each other. We have temporal benefits, of the sort the International Forgiveness Institute (mentioned in the homily I heard) studies. And we have eternal benefits, of the sort Jesus indicates in the Parable of the Wicked Servant.

And it's also true that, forgiveness so often being so difficult, the thought of these benefits can cause us to will to forgive when the thought of being like Jesus and His Father doesn't quite close the sale.

But I'm a little concerned that talk of the benefits of forgiveness can become, de facto, talk of forgiveness as therapy, rather than as Christian discipleship. And once we start valuing something for its natural benefits, we are largely free to set our own value on it. So yes, forgiving your neighbor might lower your anxiety, but hey, if you value your grudge enough, then it's not worth it to forgive your neighbor.

Even if we don't lose track of the commandment to forgive before we ourselves seek forgiveness, I'm not sure that we (by which I mean "I") understand God's forgiveness well enough to pass it so lightly by on the way to discussions of the mechanics and effects of the human act of forgiving.

All of which may only mean I wish I'd heard a somewhat different homily yesterday.