The fourth theme we are exploring for #MoreThanSunday is Forgiveness.
Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you,
so you also must forgive.
St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 3:13
Podcast episode four: Forgiveness
I wonder if you’ve ever been hurt by another person. I suspect you have. Indeed, I’d be amazed if you haven’t. We are, after all, mere flesh and blood. Much as some people might love ‘Superheroes’, to live well in this world requires a kind of radical vulnerability. Because we are flesh and bone, we are so readily hurt and wounded. Indeed, the very word ‘vulnerability’ derives from the Latin for wound. While some of us might struggle with vulnerability, perhaps even seek to avoid it, it is part of the character of a life fully lived. It is out of vulnerability that so many wonderful things are revealed: compassion, community, love.
This vulnerability matters when we come to talk about the question of forgiveness. Forgiveness and reconciliation draw us very close to heart of the Christian faith. Indeed, such has been the focus on forgiveness as a key Christian virtue, that Christianity gets parodied as a religion for ‘pushovers’ and the naïve. For example, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that church members should forgive each other “seventy times seven times” (18:22). This number arguably represents no limit to forgiveness. This can be sent-up as suggesting that Christians are irresponsible when it comes to forgiving people. The parody runs thus: should someone hurt another or damage the community or wider society, a ‘good’ Christian must just say, ‘Oh well, I forgive you. Let’s start over’, even when the hurt is catastrophic, demeaning and vile.
Being a Christian and being called to forgiveness is not about being a pushover and it is not about giving an easy ‘bye’ to those who exploit our vulnerability. There are situations which are toxic and there are people who are toxic for us. God is not calling any of us to be exploited by them; he does not say to us, ‘Because you’re Christian you have to forgive whatever is done to you without reference to consequences or the wider situation.’ The most commonly used Greek word translated as “forgive” in the New Testament, aphiēmi, carries a wide range of meanings, including to remit (a debt), to leave (something or someone) alone, to allow (an action), to leave, to send away, to desert or abandon, and even to divorce. This is the word used specifically in The Lord’s Prayer.
There is another word used for forgiveness: charizomai. This is the word used in the Colossians passage above. It has implications of bearing with one another – of lavishing grace. This is challenging to say the least. We are all vulnerable human beings who can be so readily damaged and broken, used and abused by others, and this passage invites us to operate out of an abundance of grace and love. I don’t need to point out that there are many times, especially when we’ve been hurt, when we can feel very far from ‘abundant grace’. Indeed, I have known what it is to be hurt profoundly and there have been very real situations where I’ve struggled to find lavish grace to meet the wounds inflicted on me or on the communities I’ve served.
However, the challenge remains:‘Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.’
In the midst of the challenge, I want to issue a warning or reminder:I would not dare say to anyone who has been hurt profoundly that they must forgive the perpetrator right here, right now. Because we are creatures limited in time and space we have to work through our hurts across time and space. Sometimes, the deep and honest repentance of those who have hurt us needs to happen, as well as be received and be heard. Equally, it may be that the pain which has been inflicted is so profound that works of community healing are required. St Paul’s letter is addressed to a community called to be the Body of Christ. Sometimes that community, that body is so wounded, that works of restitution may be required before St Paul’s words can be heeded.
Nonetheless, the challenge remains: ‘Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.’
Within the community of God we are called to be a community of forgiveness. Our bearing with each other is an embodied matter. We are called to be the Body of Christ. When one part of the body is wounded, the whole body is; in the issuing forth of forgiving grace the body begins to heal. This work of healing may not take away the scarring, but the wounds can be transformed.
Indeed, on Easter Day, in the Garden of Resurrection, we see transformation revealed in Jesus Christ’s crucified and risen body. For on Christ’s body the wounds of crucifixion remain, but mysteriously they become a place for healing and forgiveness. The Jesus who greets us in the Easter Garden does not meet us as one seeking revenge on those who crucified him, but as one inviting us to reconciliation and new life.
What would it be like for any of us to act like Jesus? It is so easy to want revenge for the hurts inflicted on us. I sense God’s justice requires something more: an issuing forth of abundant grace, that comes ultimately from the wellsprings of God. What might be like for us to live on such grace, not wanting revenge for our hurts and wrongs, but discovering the promise of new life?
Canon Rachel Mann
- Is there someone you need to say ‘sorry’ to? Take the brave step of asking for forgiveness, from God and from someone else.
- Commit to praying regularly this month for someone who has hurt you
- Go out of your way to do something kind for someone who you find hard to get on with
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