Today’s readings, in Ephesians (4:32) and Colossians (3:13) emphasize the link between being grateful for personal forgiveness and being able to forgive others. There is surely always a connection. When I fail to acknowledge my need for forgiveness, when I try to bury the wrong I have done, when I conceal the mistake that I made, shifting blame onto someone else for a hurt caused, then everything festers. It gets in the way of me forgiving others. Indeed, it seems to encourage me to revel in the shortcomings of others, whether real or just existing in my imagination.
We cannot experience forgiveness if we don’t acknowledge our fault; whether we regard forgiveness as coming from God, which is the Christian position or, as described by the phrase “forgiving myself”. We have to confess. William Tyndale’s flowing phrasing of 1 John 1:9 says it all for me: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”
One of the saddest human conditions is that of people who have been abused as children and who blame themselves. How can they forgive, when it was not their fault? Our hospitals receive a constant stream of, mainly girls, who have harmed themselves to punish someone inside whom they cannot forgive. Hospitals sew up cuts, remove foreign objects from the most painful places in their young bodies, and try to reach their broken souls. There is a danger that we lack sympathy for such children, but they are suffering for the sins of others.
We can enrich our society by learning to forgive ourselves, and by helping self-harming children understand that they are not guilty when harm is done to them.
Whenever we find ourselves holding a grudge, or pointing out someone else’s error, usually behind their backs, we probably lack some honest confession of wrongs we have committed. We can become unhappy as a result. When we perceive an offence to have been committed against ourselves, forgiveness is the only way of shedding the pain. Nelson Mandella put it so well: “Forgiveness liberates the soul, it removes fear. That’s why it’s such a powerful weapon”
The scope for forgiveness is huge. We can forgive all those politicians whose decisions are damaging to our interests. We can forgive our children and our parents, remembering that we have all been children in need of forgiveness by a parent and that many of us have experienced being a parent needing forgiveness by our children.
We are all in need of forgiveness from the grandchildren of our grandchildren for the irreparable harm we have inflicted on their climate, and on the biodiversity of their world, through our selfishness and inertia. We will never know whether we will receive it.
We hope that forgiveness gives us wings to soar above our selfish selves to try to create a better world for those to come. Indeed if it doesn’t, we have probably skimped on confession.
Go back two squares and miss a turn.