Easter – a time to celebrate resurrection and universal forgiveness – was a few days ago. It just so happens that forgiveness has been in the news a lot recently for other reasons. Sadly, so has retaliation.
- Members of the black churches that were burned down in Louisiana offering forgiveness to the arsonist;
- Christchurch terrorist offered forgiveness for the senseless violence;
- ISIS claiming responsibility for bombing churches in Sri Lanka in retaliation for the Christchurch attack.
I have a fuzzy relationship with forgiveness – maybe we all do. On one hand, I appreciate being forgiven for an accident or a thoughtless action that I wish would’ve had a different outcome. On the other, I don’t feel comfortable with how often forgiveness gets offered to others who I think should’ve known better. Somewhere between liberation from stupidity and license to sin is where I think most of forgiveness tends to land.
Here are a few more topics in the news that touch on forgiveness, and our response tends to expose how we prioritize our values in each situation…
- Student loan forgiveness – would that be fair to those who chose not to (over)extend themselves?
- Easter and the forgiveness of sins – is forgiveness conditional on our beliefs or requests, or was forgiveness offered unconditionally?
- Reparations and the compensation for past sins – I didn’t own any slaves, so why should I be penalized for the sins of earlier generations, particularly if my ancestors didn’t own slaves?
- Marijuana legalization – should we release prisoners convicted under earlier laws, even though they knew it was ‘wrong’ when they committed their acts?
Nobody ever said life was fair, and context definitely matters. But it seems that these and other topics are proxies that reveal our tenuous relationship with forgiveness and its perceived fairness. A strict adherence to the law and advocating for personal responsibility tend to bias our response towards offering less forgiveness, and understandably so. Going ‘by the book’ often leans away from restorative justice and more towards exacting its ‘pound of flesh’ as payment. Forgiveness, though, looks to release someone from carrying potentially debilitating burdens. This is not to suggest that real life consequences are ignored or absolved. People still died in Christchurch and churches are still in ashes. Forgiveness doesn’t change those realities. But forgiveness can liberate us from the dead weight that holds us back from moving forward and start anew. It can also liberate us from the need to retaliate and perpetuate the hurt.
I sometimes wonder how different our culture and economy and relationships would function if we seriously followed the principles found in Jubilee. Leviticus 25 details the steps that should be taken each year of Jubilee – for the land, vineyards, livestock, property, even slaves (which is not a justification to have slaves, btw). Imagine having the faith to rest the land and only eat what happens to grow on its own. Imagine having the faith to buy and sell property based on the number of years until Jubilee, not what the market value has determined it to be. Imagine having the faith to not charge interest of kin and give freedom to those who sold themselves to you because of they fell on hard times.
Imagine a system where debts are forgiven every 50 years and people are liberated to restart their lives anew. Seems unfair, doesn’t it? Multi-generational ancestral debt would cease to exist. The sins of previous generations, through poor decisions or unfortunate circumstance, are washed clean. Everyone gets a chance to start over. For everyone, there is a chance to have enough. Imagine how revolutionary this multi-dimensional reorientation of society would be. Innovation is encouraged, unbridled accumulation is not rewarded, and self-harming stupidity is not terminal. Social graces are reinforced by affirming the dignity of every single member of society, not just catering to the privileged.
Sometimes I wonder if the stresses in our society could be lessened with more frequent offers of forgiveness. I wonder if our bias towards accumulation and distancing ourselves from the sins of our ancestors are doing more harm than good. I wonder if our desire for fairness is limiting our creative imagination to construct a world where ‘enough’ also means ‘enough for all’. I wonder if there’s enough time to turn this ship around so future generations can move forward without the burdens we’ve placed on them.
I wonder what it would take for our souls to be resurrected and liberated from discomfort with forgiveness. I wonder what it would feel like to experience a Jubilee. Today is a good day to do more than just wonder.