Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fascinated By Forgiveness

Forgiveness fascinates me. I consider it evidence for the existence of God. It is the divine spark that sets humans apart from the rest of creation. Forgiveness is the thing, not opposable thumbs. I believe this because I find forgiveness nowhere else in the natural world. Dogs don't forgive cats. Squirrels don't forgive dogs. Sharks never forgive sharks. On the vast plains of the Serengeti you will find not one scintilla of forgiveness. Never will the wildebeest and the lion sit down over a beer and let bygones be bygones.

Despite a thousand sermons extolling the virtues of forgiveness, we all find two things to be true . . .we do not forgive easily, and we do not find ourselves easily forgiven.

Forgiveness is not without it's problems. Maybe the great philosopher Immanuel Kant had it right when he said that a person should be forgiven only if he or she deserves to be. Some people feel insulted when victims of violence or horrific crimes forgive their tormentors in court because it cheapens their sense of justice. Maybe some sins are not ours to forgive. Besides, I can think of a hundred reasons not to forgive. He needs to be taught a lesson. If I offer easy forgiveness to her it will only encourage more irresponsible behavior. Why should I forgive them when they're not even sorry? Shakespeare said it best in the Merchant of Venice when the guilty Shylock is asked in court. . . "How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none?"

And yet, this unique human ability, if we could warm to it, could sure solve a lot of our problems. Can you imagine what the world would be like if Red Sox fans could just forgive Yankee fans for that whole Babe Ruth thing? Or how about the Jews and the Palestinians sitting down over coffee and forgiving each other for all the land stealing and terrorism? Maybe it would even be possible for Democrats and Republicans to forgive each other for all of the dirty tricks and campaign commercials that have been aired over the last fifty years. On a more personal level and of much greater importance, how different would our lives be if we were able to forgive those we love for the daily annoyances, the emotional scar tissue that builds up over slights and harsh words. If we could find it within us to forgive that stuff as it happens, a daily wiping clean of the slate...."forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us"...

Most of us prefer the Serengeti.