Monday, October 9, 2006

To forgive, or not to forgive… that is the question!

There's a very interesting thread over at Hot Air which deserves thoughtful consideration. I wish I could comment, but their registration is closed, so I'll have to settle for sending a trackback.

In reference to the murderer of the Amish schoolchildren, Allahpundit is asking:
My Christian friends tell me it’s perfectly okay to get righteously angry; witness Jesus’s behavior in the temple vis-a-vis the moneychangers, etc. It’s good sense, too: an evildoer worried about an angry reaction might be deterred, even if he knows he’d be forgiven later.

Of course, Jesus said “turn the other cheek,” not “hit back, then forgive.” But we needn’t rehash that.

The question is, should we (and by “we” I of course mean our religious readers) emulate the Amish or not? Do they forgive too readily?

There's quite a bit of excellent discussion in the comments, including this gem by my Dread Lord, Emperor Misha I:
I can and should strive to forgive those who have done ME wrong, because that is within my power.Thus, I can learn to forgive the murdering scumbag in PA for making me angry.

But I can NEVER, EVER forgive him for what he did.

Only G-d can do that.

Oh, and when Jesus said “turn the other cheek”, he didn’t say “thou shalt be a doormat.” He was very specific about it being YOUR cheek, not somebody elses, not to mention that a slap on the cheek really isn’t quite in the same league as rape and murder...

However, I think there's a dimension to this discussion that no one's really touched on: there is a separation between what God has called us as individuals to do, and what God had commanded governments to do.

As an individual, I am commanded to forgive. The thing is, God doesn't say "After that person apologizes, then you forgive." No. He says, "Forgive." The reason for this is quite simple: to hold on to rage and anger and bitterness harms no one butourselves. These emotions turn in upon themselves and fester, and eventually wreak more havok on top of the original harm done to us. Secondly, to hold on to anger and unforgiveness give the person who did us evil power over us. Their sinful action against us will influence us and lure us into areas we don't want to go. Someone else's actions will control what we think and how we feel, instead of us having control over our own lives.

Now. I do not want anyone to suppose that forgiveness is an easy thing: "Oh, I forgive you!" and SHAZAM!!! all is sweetness and light. That's not at all the case, except in truly unusual or particularly sanctified circumstances. Each day, each hour, each minute, we must make the choice to turn away from anger and bitterness, and trust God to rightly see the whole truth, and to apply perfect justice. As it says in Romans 12:19 -
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

Vengeance is God's business, not yours.

However, this moves us to the responsibilities of governments. One of the ways that God exercises justice is through the governmental process. The government bears the sword of justice, and it is supposed to wield it upholding the law and protecting the innocent. Romans 13: 1-4:
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. [emph. mine]

Therefore, it is the government's duty to be the instrument of God's wrath and punish evildoers. The government is not called to forgive, it is called to uphold and enforce the law. Of course, this man is dead by his own hand, and beyond the reach of earthly justice. However, he has now been before the God of all truth, the omniscient and holy God, and he has been perfectly judged and sentenced. We don't need to worry about him anymore.

I think FrankJ put it beautifully in the comments:
It seems to me the only point is forgiving a dead person is to find peace in yourself, and I guess that’s good.Inspired by the Amish’s example, I prayed for my enemies the other night. It’s nice to think there is a solution to things other than just bad things happening to people you don’t like.

One thing I'd like to add in closing, and I suppose it's rather tangental to this discussion... I've seen that the Amish have gone to this man's family, offering love and support and forgiveness. I think this is a splendidly gracious thing to do, and a beautiful example of the Christian worldview. I think this will help them in healing their shattered lives, and provide peace and comfort in the midst of this terrible tragedy.

But what has this man's family done that needs forgiving? They are victims of his actions as much as the Amish families are. I am glad that the Amish did it, because this family needs to know that they're not blamed, and that they will not be ostracized. But in the strictest sense of forgiving a wrong, it is not required, because they did no wrong.

Just to remind you that there are more victims of this atrocity than we usually keep in mind...

(Crossposted from CatHouse Chat, with profound thanks to basil for the privilege!)


  1. To forgive, or not to forgive... that is the question!...

    There's a very interesting thread over at Hot Air which deserves thoughtful consideration. I wish I could comment, but their registration is closed, so I'll have to settle for sending a trackback. In reference to the murderer of the Amish...

  2. I learned a long time ago that hated only hurts the hater, not the hated. It will eat you up and destroy you from the inside out. Forgive, give it to God, and learn from it. As for the family, the Amish are showing God's love in the purest form. Families will take on guilt and these blessed people demostrating God's love will help that family heal. Should we all learn from the last week's events from a people that walk the talk.

  3. Basil: We discuss that subject at length, here.,-and-forgiveness.html
    Main point: Forgiveness is not a favor you give someone - it's a way of cleansing one's own soul. For example, it is perfectly consistent to say "I forgive you, but you must die for what you did."


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