What, to the Christian, is Forgiveness? or The Place of Forgiveness in Freedom
“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” (Luke 23:24)
This July, the United State of America, along with 23 other nation states, celebrate their country’s independence. The symbolic observances and commemorations serve as an humbling reminder of more difficult times, while embracing the achievements made since the historical dates. However, many of our nations live in hypocritical times where freedom is limited to, once again or perhaps never moved from, those in power. Black and brown bodies are unceremoniously discriminated against while trying to be everyday citizens. Young girls are sold into forced marriages because of their desire to be educated. Church members attending Bible Study are no longer safe when strangers, who are extended radical hospitality, sacrifice the very hands that said, “Come, pray with us.” Indeed for every place celebrating the reduction of mother to child HIV transmission is another place where a person lynched for their ancestral lineage. So many people feel beyond W. E. B. DuBois’ defined double consciousness, experiencing instead multiconsiousnesses, for the ways to be discriminated against, whether by race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, religion and more, are increasing by the hour, not quite protected with every newly established legislation.
We, as Christians come to ask, what are we preparing for? How can we possibly continue ministry when we struggle with the ability to follow Jesus’ great commandment to “Love your neighbor” (Mark 12:31) not from unwillingness to comply, but because the neighbor refuses to hold your best interest? To what end, again, are we fighting? Or, even worse, are we ourselves becoming the unruly neighbor? We say we are willing to drink the cup of sorrow and joy, as Henri Nouwen describes, however the taste begs to be spit out – are there some new and improved bitter ingredients? We signed up to develop a relationship with Jesus, to follow this path to be closer to God, so we attend to the teachings and they are thrown back to us, a meal long toiled over, rejected.
When we think of Jesus’ first words on the cross, we believe that He was asking God to forgive those willing participants. But what if this plea of, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” is an intercessory prayer? Not on the behalf of those administrating his crucifixion, as we tend to interpret this scripture, an intercession on our own humanity, our own mortal, vengeful, broken natures that respond in kind to offenses. This demand for forgiveness so soon when the worst of the trauma has yet to come upon Jesus is unrealistic to our human minds while others believing in divine callings consider this pedestal behavior – a state to which we can aspire. The request to forgive does not, as Emilie Townes discusses, “eradicate the evil” – the trauma – of solitary or systemic events, but speaks over their current situations into a time and space where healing can begin. And the healing must commence while we are yet even experiencing the pain.
What this seems to say is that our true freedom comes not from the willingness to utter God into our lives through forgiveness or ignoring that a trauma has occurred. True freedom comes when there is an acknowledgement of the rage in our true emotion coupled with an intentional choice to respond in peace. This is not as simple as taking the moral high ground or operating in non-violence which oversimplifies the experiences and overlooks the fact that an inner war still rages. We will always be trauma survivors on some level, much like addicts always in recovery many years past the last intoxication. It is instead a call for us to be witnesses to the accounts, to be active participants in change (once defined for our situation) and chroniclers of the events. It is the test of the ability to utter, “…Great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:23b) when all around us things fall apart.
Be encouraged that even in times when we request God’s intercession to forgive where our humanity still struggles, freedom becomes closer. When it is time for commemoration, the stories can be delivered in truth and the ritual established as a measurement of the place from which we have come.
Rev. Amina S. McIntyre
CME Church (USA)
CME Church (USA)