Sunday, September 14, 2008

On Forgiveness

There has been some discussion today on the theme of forgiveness. I have a book entitled On Forgiveness by Richard Holloway that begins by exploring a paradox named by Jacques Derrida "There is only forgiveness, if there is any, where there is the unforgiveable". Holloway explores this theme with reference to events such as 9/11 and the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commision in South Africa to illustrate both the incredible challenge and dire necessity for forgiveness.

The thought that struck me anew today was the incredible liberation that occurs for both the forgiver and the forgiven. Often the expected focus is on the relief for the person forgiven, but it is worth considering for a moment the impact upon the person doing the forgiving. Forgiveness need not always be an entirely selfless gift. It may be that only forgiveness can relieve the pain of the past - if anything at all can do so. This is perhaps a recogniseable truism that could easily be mistaken for triteness, but which at another level holds considerable power.

I've written a few things in this blog about non-violent strategy and these themes are not entirely unrelated. To eschew forgiveness and fall into the trap of violent retaliation is a human pattern so recognisable that some have come to expect nothing else. Those that follow a different path have become so noticeable that their names stand out in history: Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Jesus. The world would be a remarkably different place if forgiveness and non-violence were the rule rather than the exception.


Anonymous said...

The power of forgiveness is remarkable, and you don't have to be beholden to any faith to see or experience that.

Yet you fail to mention a somewhat disturbing aspect - the Christian eschatological boundaries to forgiveness. God has limited patience to forgive - the time it takes to live a life. Whn Christ returns again, it will be to judge the world, not as a non-violent peace maker. Jekyll and Hyde on a divine stage.

It seems strange to me that when God finally has our full attention at the last judgement the time for forgiveness has passed. When the evidence for God is at its clearest, it will be too late to "accept Jesus as your personal saviour".

Yes, forgiveness as you write about it sounds profound. But as implemented by God, it's cynically evil.

Once again, why do you worship an evil God?

JDK said...


I really think the understanding of Christianity you present here is quite narrow and certainly doesn't reflect my own viewpoint - as I'm sure you know. It's an easy task to knock down fundamentalist Christianity and many (including myself) have done so before you. The greater challenge is to actually do something.