Forgiveness: A Reflection on Two Words from the Cross
“Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing!”
“Today you shall be with me in paradise”
Forgiveness can be very confusing. It’s straightforward when you’re being forgiven for something you’ve done, when you knew what you were doing. But how can you be forgiven for something when you’ve not known what you were doing?
Most of the time forgiveness is not straightforward, because mostly we are not straightforward. The forgiveness or the guilt that bothers us most is not the one where we are clearly guilty, but the one where it’s confused. It’s hard to get a handle on it. We’re in there, and so are others. We knew what we were doing, but we also had no idea. We were partly wrong and partly right.
Then forgiveness has to be very big – bigger than just dealing with guilt. It’s wrapped up with compassion and truth. The truth is that we are human beings – sometimes doing wrong, but sometimes just being immature, or living from a lack of knowledge and sensitivity. We’re limited.
Forgiveness gives us something. It gives us space in which to see ourselves, in which to accept ourselves – not just in our guilt, but in the grey confusion between guilt and not knowing, or in just being confronted with our human frailty. Big forgiveness like that makes sense, especially where our guilt is confused and we can’t do the arithmetic or explain ourselves. Big forgiveness embraces us with love if we’re willing not to push it away with fear or explanations - or the panic which shuts up shop and builds concrete walls.
Forgiveness is the opposite of murder or the will to murder and to hate. Forgiveness is the opposite of tarring criminals as always killers, as always burglars, as always molesters, and never giving them a second chance. Forgiveness is the opposite of writing people off. Forgiveness is not pretending guilt does not exist, nor is it telling lies about the truth to be kind.
Forgiveness is a fearful and awesome gift, because to look it in the eye we need to own our own truth, our own guilt, our own confusion, and not run away. People can hate the love which sees the truth and offers forgiveness, because it exposes the lie, unmasks the disguise, and dismantles the structures by which people deceive themselves and others. Drive it away, deny it, crucify it! The greatest love can evoke the greatest hate – Good Friday is its symbol.
On the other side is paradise – or at least a new beginning. Hope is born of love, when we stop panicking about being human, when we stop grabbing for the fruit of the tree of knowledge so that we can defend ourselves by explanations, and avoid our vulnerability. But love keeps visiting the garden, your garden, my garden. There is a tree there where love met its death, but also an open space for new life to emerge. If we don’t hide in the leaves, he will meet us and we will know the story – the story as our story. When they "crucified my Lord" – we were there.
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