I FIRMLY BELIEVE that there are spiritual realities that are beyond human understanding. Here, here’s an example: “…God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand…” [from Philipians 4:6 The Living Bible]
Of course that doesn’t stop us from trying to understand, to seek meaning, to boil it all down to an unequivocal absolute. The danger there is that we might strip away the beauty, the mystery and the wonder. We’re left with someone’s interpretation, and in our desire to comprehend the incomprehensible, we settle for the opinion or worldview of another; for better or worse.
Forgiveness. That’s a tough one. In my sixty-some years of Sunday school, sermons, and scripture reading; not to mention prayers for wisdom and simple answers, I still don’t understand Forgiveness. I believe it is right up there with Peace in being “far more wonderful than the human mind can understand.”
Jesus was pretty clear on the subject, at least regarding the relentlessness of Forgiveness.
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!
—Matthew 18:21-22 New Living Translation
So, what is it? Exoneration, making amends, mercy, absolution, forgetting about it? Let’s just say it’s complicated. Here’s an example:
One of my favorite singer/songwriters is Brandi Carlile. I have all her albums except for her newest which is to be released on February 16. I have heard the album and it is amazing. It’s called, “By The Way, I Forgive You”.
In learning more about the album, I’ve learned more about Brandi. As a part of the album’s release, she and a couple of her bandmates decided to talk about their forgiveness stories and encourage others to do so as well, even going so far as to use social media and the hastag #ByTheWayIForgiveYou to provide a forum of sorts for sharing.
One of the stories from the Twitter thread was in video form, a young lady granting forgiveness posthumously to her father who died of alcoholism when she was only eleven. It is all extremely moving and affirms the fact that the process of forgiving and being forgiven is deeper than our understanding.
It all caused me to think about my personal encounters with the concept. Without a doubt, if the thing is a dichotomy with Forgiving on one end and Being Forgiven on the other, by far I have been on the Need-to-be-Forgiven end than I have the Need-to-Forgive side.
Back to Brandi Carlile and her story of the gnarly, knotty, beautiful, spiritual affair of Forgiveness. Her story rang so true and relevant for me. Here, in her words:
I would like to forgive Pastor Tim.
I forgive you for deciding not to baptize me when I was a teenager for being gay.
It was not so much that you wouldn’t or couldn’t do it because of the tenets put in place by the baptist rules and traditions, but because you waited until all my family and friends were present and waiting in the pews for the ceremony.
I don’t believe you did it to humiliate me - I think you struggled with the decision and simply ran out of time... I think you probably still do struggle with it.
I’d like you to know that I still love you and that I understand we’re all on a journey together, trying our best to walk through the world with honor and dignity - but what I want you to know most of all is that you did not damage my faith. Not in god, not in humanity and not in myself.
The experience inspired me to help other gay kids and my spiritual LGBTQ brothers and sisters come to terms with the disappointments they’ve endured on the rugged road to peace and acceptance. I think you’d appreciate that process.
You’ve helped far more people than you’ve hurt and you helped me too.
I don’t know Pastor Tim, but I do know “Pastor Tim” in the sense that he could be so many other well-meaning, God-fearing humans making human messes in God’s name. I would love to visit with him to see how he feels all these years later about that day, about Brandi’s amazing grace-full statement of forgiveness. I hope he feels somewhat healed by it and that he can hear her saying that she is somehow healed by it too.
Notice that she seems to have come to terms with the understanding that he might have made the decision based on doctrine, dogma, or reductionist religion, but the thing that hurt her most was waiting until the moment she was to take a step of spiritual obedience into the waters, with her family and friends gathered to celebrate with her, before he said, No. Not now, not like this.
And then her words, baptized with grace, “I’d like you to know that I still love you and that I understand we’re all on a journey together, trying our best to walk through the world with honor and dignity…”
Maybe that’s what forgiveness is: understanding. understanding we’re all on a journey. a journey together. trying our best.
because like Jesus affirmed to his Father while on the cross, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”