One of the first things we memorize is The Lord's Prayer. I've probably said it countless times. But rarely do I ever actually think about the words that I'm actually reciting. I should probably think about such things more often.
"Forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
We want God's forgiveness to be completely free and unconditional. But The Lord's Prayer seems to imply that this isn't entirely true. It sounds like God's forgiveness of our trespasses is comparable to our forgiveness of others. Another way of saying it would be "forgive us of our sins against you as we forgive those who sin against us." Or even "forgive us for hurting you as we forgive those who hurt us."
I'm not going into legalism here, though. Don't get that idea. We should realize the spirit of the message, though. If we expect God to forgive us, then we should be expected to act in a similar fashion. Obviously, that's not so easy. But wait! It gets even harder!
As if forgiving someone once wasn't hard enough, our forgiveness should be as continuous as God's.
Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times."
- Matthew 18:21-22
Peter tried to seek out a limit to this forgiveness business. Let's be honest, getting hurt by someone sucks and having to forgive them can suck even more. Can't the cycle just end after so many times of being hurt by the same person? Peter probably thought he was suggesting a high number with seven, but Jesus blew that number away. Again, I don't believe in the possible legalism of this text. Jesus did not mean that after 77 times you can stop forgiving the person that inflicts such misery upon you. Instead he was suggesting an absurdly high number with the implication of saying, "Look, there is no limit, so don't even bother keeping count." In fact, another way to translate this passage is with Jesus saying we should forgive "seventy times seven times." That's 490 times. If you're keeping that close and accurate count you're going about this whole forgiveness thing wrong.
So what does this all have to do with Mitch? Well, if you recall from this column's last entry, I'm going through a rather difficult period in my personal life. I've been devastatingly hurt and forgiving that person is not the first thing on my mind. But for some reason it is on my mind. Jesus said we should forgive. No exceptions. We should forgive 7 times, 77 times, 490 times, and more.
That's a tall order. But what about when I don't even know how to forgive the one time?
What if I just don't know how to forgive?
You'd think growing up in the church, and with forgiveness being such a large theme in Christianity, that I would have long since learned how to forgive. But we really don't learn how to forgive others in church, do we? Think about all the Christian songs out there about God's forgiveness for us. Now try to think of any songs that are about us forgiving others.
Sometimes it feels like The Lord's Prayer goes, "forgive us our trespasses, as mumble mumble mumble, and lead us not into temptation..."
So how do I forgive someone that has hurt me so much? It goes against everything I'm feeling. My instinct is to lash out and use every expletive imaginable to describe her. Many people I've spoken with think such action would be well justified. But I hurt and I don't want to hurt alone. I want her to feel as awful as I do. If I'm in pain, I want the whole world to share in it.
So far I haven't responded in such a way. I think such restraint is due to the amount of support and prayer I've been receiving from family and friends. Frankly, the involved parties in this tumultuous situation should call up each and every one of you and thank you for sparring them from my misguided wrath.
But I will say one that weighs heavy on my heart:
And actually writing that out helps me realize that I'm way too good for you and I deserve better.I'm sorry I'm not rich enough for you to love me.
Therein ends my passive/aggressive outburst.
I've tried to restrain myself of such actions and I think, for the most part, I've done a pretty good job. I could do better, but I certainly could do worse. I don't think many people would blame me for acting in such a way.
But none of this actually answers the pressing question: how do I forgive?
I don't know. I've been told to just forgive, forget, and move on. But I don't understand how it is supposed to be that easy. Do I simply say the words "I forgive you" and then that makes it better? If I do forgive her, I want it to be real. I want it to be because I actually want to forgive her. Simply saying the words won't accomplish any of that. Or maybe it is one of those things where the actions will precede the sentiment. If I say it, then maybe I'll have to live it.
But right now it feels like forgetting will need to happen before forgiveness. And the only way to forget this is the passage of a long amount of time. But even then, I don't know. One person sympathized with me because a girl had done a similar thing to him. But nearly thirty years later talking about that girl still makes his blood run cold. With enough time, I know I'll get past this. But will I ever get truly get over this?
Will I ever get to a place where I can truly forgive?
I'm not saying this in a way to make me all high and mighty and insinuate that what she did to me is so horrible as to be completely unforgivable. Instead I'm saying that this is a failing on my part. The Bible says that I should forgive. But I don't know if I can forgive. I know I certainly don't want to forgive.
What would Spider Jerusalem say about such a "Christian" attitude?
Wait. Step back. Rewind a second. Did something from a comic book just leap to my memory and convict me of my less-than-idyllic-for-a-Christian attitude and behavior? I can understand if no one else can make that connection. But...I did. And it affects me.
Maybe I'm finally getting to the heart of Wednesday Theology. Or maybe Wednesday Theology is getting to the heart of me. The biggest question I've heard about Wednesday Theology is what point it has beyond shear academics. Well, here's an example of someone (perhaps insanely) discovering a practical application.
You guys, Spider Jerusalem is right. My inability to forgive is not a trait of the Christian faith. This is something I realize, acknowledge, and will continue to struggle with. I know I should forgive, but at this point, if I'm honest, I just can't.
Maybe you don't like this. Maybe you think I'm wrong and that I shouldn't be writing about such personal matters. Then ignore it. Ignore me. Ignore this blog. Nobody reads this anyway, so what's one less fictional reader?
I didn't write this for you. I wrote it for me.
I've spent far to long reacting to a broken heart in destructive ways. Now I'm trying to do something constructive out of the pain. Good or bad, right or wrong, I don't know. It just is. It's how I'm coping and the methodology I've chosen to process my thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Who am I? I am Mitch. I do Wednesday Theology. Rumors of my work are whispered in the halls at academic conferences on religion. How many others are out there doing what I do?
Bitter. Sarcastic. Handsome.