Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Forgive? Are you kidding me?"

Jesus tells a vexing little parable about a farmer who sows good seed in his field... then, at night, an enemy comes and sows weeds. Upon realizing what has happened--wheat and weeds now growing together, side by side!--the farmer's servants ask, "You want us to go pull up the weeds, right?" Puzzlingly, the farmer replies, "No, because you'll uproot the wheat along with the weeds. Let both grow until the harvest..." (Matthew 13)

The Greek word for "let" (allow, permit, or "suffer" as in the King James' "suffer the children to come unto me") has the same root as "forgive"; it's the same Greek word in the Lord's Prayer, "forgive us... as we have forgiven." Can Jesus possibly be saying that our response to the presence of evil (weeds) in the world is to "simply forgive" it? Isn't that a stupid approach for a farmer with weeds in his field and for all of us who live in a world dogged by evil? Do we skip into situations of bloody conflict and say, "Hey, everybody--you're forgiven! You can put down your guns--it's all OK!" After all, in every garden we know, the weeds always win, unless the farmer takes "strong measures" to combat them!

There may be connections with an earlier post about hope...


Amanda said...

I do think it is very interesting that the root of "forgive" and "suffer" are the same. Quite often we do "suffer" in some sense as we forgive people for their trespasses/whatnot but watch them continue to do those same things to yourself and others around them. In those cases, it is our hope that also suffers--the hope that people will learn their lessons and take a cue to become nicer, gentler, more understanding etc; the hope that we ourselves might find redemption and peace in our forgiveness.

I do find in forgiveness both suffering and contentment. I know this is an issue that has been brought up in Tuesday night discussions, but I would like to gauge the opinion of this group on the following question:

Is there ever a time when we shouldn't forgive? Or is there ever a time when we are (possibly) justified in withholding (full) forgiveness?

太可怕 said...

回應是我能為您做的最大的支持 ........................................

Brian Emmet said...

Great question, Amanda. Not sure what Man from Thailand (??) wanted to say; anyone care to run it through a translator?

Before tackling A's question, could we talk just a bit about what forgiveness is? What are we doing, or not doing, when we forgive someone who has wronged us?

Brian Emmet said...

Well, OK then. Amanada, if you're still checking back, here are my thoughts about your questions.

To answer "Is there ever a time when we shouldn't forgive?" I think we need to be clear on what forgiveness entails. It begins with judgment, with condemnation: what the wrongdoer did to me was wrong. It's not "no big deal"--if it weren't in fact a big deal, forgiveness wouldn't really come into play.

Forgiveness is the choice to separate the person from her evil deed. I relinquish my perceived "right" to cause a commensurate amount of pain to my wrongdoer. God is judge, not me; God has called me to be a witness to Jesus' death and resurrection, and what they mean in situations of conflict and enmity, not to be judge and enforcer-of-sentences.

Ideally, my wrongdor will acknowledge his evildoing, will confess it and repent of it. He will ask my forgiveness, will seek it, and will demonstrate willingness to reconfigure our whole relationship on different terms. But that does not always happen.

But refusal to forgive, difficult as forgiving is, keeps both perpetrator and victim locked into an endless cycle of suspicion, mistrust, hatred and violence.

Forgiveness does not entail an immediate restoration of full relationship. The rape victim needs to forgive her attacker, but she does not need to trust him or spend time with him, just because she is forgiving him. If you borrow my car and total it, Jesus calls me to forgive you (and calls you to make some sort of financial restitution!)... but I don't need to lend you my car again right away.

This is pretty incomplete, but maybe it provides some aditional things for us to discuss together.

Amanda said...

I agree with your last point. It actually took me a while to learn the lesson that though we're taught that we're supposed to "forgive AND forget," forgetting doesn't necessarily entail reinstating trust in the trespasser. Always forgiving the same sin in a person repeatedly, teaches nothing to either person involved.

There is a time when forgiving, I think, needs to involve breaking away in hopes that losing stability (the "punching bag" if you will, in some cases) is the only way some people can come to understand the forgiveness they had taken for granted. And, sometimes, I believe that removal from a situation can be the only way to find your way to forgiving the transgressor--someone else or yourself in some cases.

As another thought, someone once told me that "saying 'I'm sorry' is just selfish. You just want to feel better and say you apologized." While I completely disagree with this person's statements, I wonder, does forgiveness have to be offered directly to the offending party? Or is the simple act of forgiving them in your heart enough? (I tend to believe the latter, but wonder if that course really offers/brings full forgiveness?)

Ed said...

My friend, Michael O'Shields, has the clearest and best message on forgiveness I've heard. Essentially, it is this: to forgive is to "remit," to pay. So, one who forgives literally chooses to "pay the debt."

Example: When Stephen was stoned, he forgave his killers by telling the Lord, "Do not charge this to their account. I will pay it."

My own favorite line on forgiveness is from Lily Tomlin: "To forgive is to give up all hope for a better past."

John M. said...

You can't usually forget, you can always forgive.

Saying, "I'm sorry," is a good start. Even better is, "I'm sorry. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?" That gives the other person the opportunity to make a clear response.

You can only control yourself, you cannot control or determine the other person's response. But you can put the ball in their court.

Once you've asked forgivness or forgiven, you're free to move on.

Peter felt really good about himself when he asked Jesus, "Lord, if my brother sins against me seven times, should I forgive him?" Jesus' response probably shocked him, "No Peter, 70 times 7." It seems that Jesus' point was, "Don't keep score. Keep forgiving as often as necessary."

The more often we have to forgive the same person for the same offense, the more our trust decreases. Forgiveness is unconditional; trust is conditional. We can always forgive, we can't always trust. It is important to separate the two. We may have to remove ourselves from someone and refuse to have contact with them because we can no longer trust them, but we can still forgive them.

Finally, forgiveness is not an emotion. It is a decision. We may be hurt, angry, disappointed, etc., but we can still decide to forgive.

Joseph Holbrook said...

hi Amanda, Brian, John and Thailand spamming guy!

Ed, I love your cool Lily Tomlin quote. I don’t know where you find these gems.

Sorry I have not been participating. Deb and I are in Gainesville, and I am spending about 12 hours a day working in the microfilm area of Smathers library. As my old daddy used to say, “ya gotta make hay while the sun shines”, in my case, use the Brazilian newspapers while I have access to them. We will be here until Saturday morning. I was able to write up eight pages of notes just from 1959 this morning!

I read the passage that Brian is referring to from the parable of the seeds and the weeds just last week (along with Farrar Capon's excellent commentary on it) and spent some time last Friday night reflecting on it with Deb, Dr. Sam and his wife Jane. It is an awesome passage—full of revolutionary implications for the way we ought to live.

Regarding forgiveness, this is possibly one of the hardest areas to learn in a life of discipleship to the Logos, along with serving. Perhaps this is why Jesus included it in the Lord’s Prayer (Padre Nuestro). Many people of faith use the Lord’s prayer as a template for daily prayer, including Debbie and me. It contains all the essentials; 1) the awesome infinitude of an utterly Holy and otherly God, 2) the fact that in the incarnation of the Logos, this same infinite divinity become our Father; 3) a prayer for his rule and reign to prevail on the earth as it is in heaven; 4) a simple request for daily bread (I dwell on this point A LOT!); 5) a prayer for forgiveness for trespasses, in proportion to my own willingness to forgive the trespasses of others; and 5) a prayer to be delivered from temptation and from the Evil One (another prayer I make use of daily in our morning house cleaning).

There is forgiveness, right smack dab in the middle of the awesome holiness and fatherhood of God and the cry for deliverance from evil. A daily reminder is absolutely necessary.

John M. said...

Sorry I couldn't get a live link, but this is worth watching. Cut and paste: "Amish Forgiveness"

John M. said...

Forgiveness doesn't seem to be a very hot commodity... maybe we need to work "sex" into it somehow.

Maybe until you've had to be forgiven much or forgive much it is just an abstract idea?

Joseph Holbrook said...

hey John, how far have you gotten in The Parables of the Kingdom by Capon? Brian drew this discussion out of his study of the parable of the weeds. It is a fascinating chapter with loads of implications for theodicy.

According to Capon, the Greek word for forgiveness = suffer = leave alone = to give permission.

In other words, we should not focus on evil or wrong doing at all... just forgive it, suffer it and leave it along and concentrate on sowing good seeds of the Logos.

Joseph Holbrook said...

by the way, the Thai spammer guy is actually Chinese. He said: "Response is that I can do for you the greatest support" ... at least according to google translate. Maybe he meant to say "the best response I can give you is my support." don't know ...

John M. said...

Joseph, I'm in the middle of the "Weeds" chapter. I recognized the ideas that Brian were presenting were based on Capon's writing. I really like what I've read so far of his book.

Joseph Holbrook said...

I think it relates to the idea of a negative focus. Gothard talked about having a 'negative focus' through bitterness or unforgiveness ... whatever one tends to focus on, imagine, picture, or think about it, tends to be reproduced.

so when good people focus negatively on evil ... such as fighting terrorism with war and torture techniques ... the result is more of the same--more terrorism.

When well-meaning people tried to get mother teresa to go to an "anti-war" rally, she refused. She said, "if you have a pro-peace rally, I will go."

There are Christians who think of nothing other than trying to stop abortion. They think about abortion more than they think about worshing Jesus. Their efforts to pull up that weed, end up doing more harm than good.

Ditto the current health care debate. People have turned it into a life and death struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil, rather than just simply a debate over sounds public policy. One cannot even engage the conversation without getting flooded with all the angnst and anger involved in the struggle.

Therefore, Jesus said "suffer", "leave alone" and "forgive" the weeds. Just ignore them and focus on the good seeds.

John M. said...

Good word Joseph. Hard to do, but good!

Jeremiah said...

Hey guys,

I have been off the internet for lent. I find that when I forgive once. I have forgiven for all of about one minute. One minute later I think of it again and have to forgive again. The cycle just keeps repeating. I find that it does help if I pray for the person. Sooner or later, after a bunch of cycles it seems to fade out. Occaisionally, sometimes years later, something happens that triggers the memory and then I've got to go through the process all over again.

Leah Long said...

Perhaps the memory is an indication that we have not really forgiven at all but only gone through the motions. I have had the same conflict. Jeremiah, you have described to perfection the difficulties of forgiveness. Father has the luxury of forgetting; He forgives and forgets. He has not given us the same capacity-we forgive but remember. History is full of such remembrances. We do not have same powers. I don't know why- Perhaps memory is a reminder of what we got ourselves into and what His grace has had to rescue us from. These are hard lessons but ones that must be learned.
Thank you for your honesty. We do not respect a response until after Easter.

Laurel Long said...

Well, it happened again. The previous post is not from my daughter Leah, but from me Laurel. she forgot to log-off and forgot to notice that she had not.

Brian Emmet said...

Sorry to be quiet--out of town for the weekend, and delayed getting home (no big deal)... just catching up with stuff... more later.

Joseph Holbrook said...

ditto that! I just got back from a week in a library in Gainesville and I am running 12 hours a day with work on my dissertation and end-of-the-semester stuff.

Hi Leah/Laurel and Jeremiah! good comments.

Brian Emmet said...

I'm finding myself being influenced on this topic as much by Miroslav Volf as Capon. Volf's book "Exclusion and Embrace" is amazing: I read it through, then immediately went back through, with highlighter in hand. It can be pretty heavy going in spots, but I'm finding it well worth the investment. Not that you need another book to read...!

Volf's talks about developing "double vision," the ability to see things from my opponent's perspective, through his eyes, as well as through my own. He also stresses that the will to embrace my enemy must proceed actually working through the issues: as he puts in, on the cross, God said to his enemies (us!), "I will not be God without you." (Not that God is incomplete without us, or somehow needs us). The Cross is God "making room" in himself for his enemies. Volf is a Croat, and comes out of the terrible war in the Balkans (Serbs, Croats, Yugoslavia, Sarajevo...)

Laurel Long said...

I really appreciate the agony of your reading and the truths presented within. May I offer some additional perspective on the subject. I have studied the American Peace Movement ad-nauseum. Actually, it was quite refreshing to read their documents.
It sounds as if you have been reading one of its advocates and modern disciples. You live not far from the Elihu Burritt library in Worchester, Mass. If you have time I would recommend visiting it.
My point is, that you may benefit from reading the writings of the David Lowe Dodge, Allen Ladd, and there is one more man who's name I cannot recall at this time but who influenced Americans toward a Peaceful coexistence with the Powers of the Times. Of course, there voices were heard but unheeded (the time period is from 1815-1845). There is more, much more of course, but that can consume another blog entry. I will try to remember the other significant voice and post his name so you can look him up.

Joseph Holbrook said...

Hi friends,

My friend Billy Long just posted some hilarious “Billy Longisms” on his blog:




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