Our failing human connections are at the forefront of this question: How can one who has seen the world with you be so vehemently unforgiving towards you? How is it so easy for them to be callous, to be cruel? Do they not have the same eyes and feet, seeing and walking the same path of happiness and sadness as you? Perhaps they have the same mother, same background, or same career. The question is:
How can people be so mean?
I know a world without God cannot function in forgiveness the way Scripture encourages us to do so, nor can a worldly being understand unconditional love—not completely. I have seen some of this world, and even we who love Him will struggle with mercy to others until we die. Why?
C.S. Lewis once wrote that humanity can agree on the existence of “unfairness.” The existence of the emotion of feeling wronged or offended gives rise to the notion that there is something entirely off about this world. Referencing his previous life as an atheist, C.S. Lewis says, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” (41). These rhetorical questions construct a powerful discourse to the theologian’s journey of accepting Christianity.
Unfairness: I think even serial sociopaths will be slightly offended if the tables are turned and they are the ones being tortured or killed. Even a sadist will think it unfair if suddenly his subject no longer wants to indulge, despite their interesting indenture.
What is that phrase we like to say—ah yes: It’s not fair.
Unconscious or purposeful, we are all familiar with these thoughts: Because it is not fair, I will not forgive you. Because you did this to me, I will not tolerate your presence. Because you did this to me—to me!—you will never see my face again. You are no longer family, no longer my wife, husband, child—you are no longer human to me. You are trash—a vile thing. You are nothing. I will ignore you in public. I will condemn you in my thoughts and in my heart. I won’t wish you well, but I’ll falsely tell others I do. Don’t look for me, don’t touch me—don’t you dare talk to me.
Although taking “offense” is perceived to be psychological, and nothing truly physical occurs after a verbal offense except maybe tears, our natural reaction to offense is to protect ourselves. In this case, [un]forgiveness is a popular tool among us. We keep those who have, will, or could hurt at a distance. The response of [un]forgiveness falls under the “survival instincts” imbedded in our “id.”
The id is a term coined by Sigmund Freud, a man endlessly referenced in academic and professional circles—Christians may or may not roll their eyes when he is. The man was brilliant, but is probably habitually celebrated for the wrong reasons (especially by male intellectuals) . For practical purposes, let’s say the “id” is our cavemen mentality. This is not necessarily a bad thing—in this world we must survive. Survival of the fittest—that sort of thing: I hungry, I eat. I angry, I scream. I happy, I smile. I hurt, I hurt back. You have, I want. You don’t have, you useless to me. Our id is eerily similar to our flesh, isn’t it? That’s probably because it is. Thanks, Freud, for repeating to us—but somehow getting credit for—what theologians have been telling us for centuries. Basic instincts; is what [un]forgiveness comes down to.
I will not forgive you because you are a threat to my life.
We fight to live, even in the postmodern parts of Earth where living starts with a cup of coffee. [Un]forgiveness is perceived to be natural to a world focused on science and evolution—but mostly on a world focused on itself. The famous “Me Mentality.” Humanitarianism gone wrong.
But we are not meant to be base creatures of this world. Oh no, our purpose transcends the world in our head and around us. This is not our home. This is not my New Jerusalem, nor my Father’s Kingdom. This earthly setting is but a sliver in the endless whirl of eternity: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” This life is only “a little while” long. A little while of pain. A little while of endurance. The [un]forgiveness in us and in others is only for a little while—what will we do with it? What will we do with all this unfairness? Will it determine our eternities?
A little while—this tiny snippet of time. It is so short but we know it intimately.
Our intellectuals know the act of forgiveness helps patients through post-traumatic stress disorders and can be a therapeutic action for them. During my early years of college, I took up a Multimedia Holocaust course. I learned about Nazi Germany’s Angel of Death, Dr. Josef Mengele. This is a man responsible for the torture and death of countless lives. Most notably, we learned about the human experiments he would do to the residents of Auschwitz, an infamous concentration camp in Poland. His favorite subjects? Twins and pregnant women. More than anything, I remember the story of two surviving twins. One sister came to forgive Dr. Mengele and his inhuman experimentation on her person—other survivors could not/do not understand how she did it. I never forgot that story. I think of it still.
Whether those we love or adhere to never forgive us, nor establish kindness between us, nor humility, nor understanding, nor fairness, nor even love, know that we can. As believers, as a church, as a daughter or son of Christ, know that we can. We are not base creatures who rely on the world’s version of survival. Our “id” will not determine our eternities. This “little while” will be victorious. Instead, we have died to the world and have been made into a new creation. The Word emphasizes revival relentlessly. It reminds us although our flesh is fallen; our spirits are cleansed and are more than capable to walk in forgiveness in an unforgiving world.
Lewis, C. S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007. Print.
ESV I Peter 5:10
II Corinthians 5: 17