The UK Telegraph has a nice cynical article about memorial services one year after the subway (tube) attacks in London...that turns to be not so cynical after all...God, she was brave. Marie Fatayi-Williams, mother of Anthony, one of the 7/7 victims, got up at the end of the memorial service for her son yesterday at Westminster Cathedral and addressed the congregation: "I don't have anything to say… But I want to thank all of you who are here, who throughout this hard year have been with us, for your love and steadfastness. All this has increased my faith and helped me on this hard road."
Not a word of bitterness, then, and this was the woman who yesterday demanded to see, face to face, the mother of the bomber who blew up Anthony, so that she could finally forgive the killer. I couldn't have done it, but she did. I've never been so conscious as I was yesterday of the lightness with which we bandy around the word forgiveness. Hardly any of us know what we're talking about. She does. After the bombing, she had said: "My son, Anthony, is my first son, my only son… He's the love of my life.
The problem of forgiveness is big...and often misunderstood.
Feel good therapists insist we "forgive" so that we can be healed...to them the feeling good inside is the goal of forgiveness.
Sweet hearted liberal activists forgive all and sundry...ignoring that often they don't have the right to forgive people who hurt other
Forgiveness is often made to be a "get out or jail free" card.
The one who did the harm apologizes, and if you don't forgive, then you are at fault..
And, of course, there are the types that think forgiveness means that criminals should never be punished...this is the most perverse type.
A person spouts forgiveness of criminals, so criminals are let lose to harm again. A variation is the self proclaimed pacifist who opposes war. This makes him or her feel good and superior, while ignoring that the result of their action may be to allow murderers or tyrants to kill unopposed.
It may give one pause to think that although 40 million people have been killed by wars in the 20th century, 100 million have been killed by governments...and that too many "pacifist" groups have had their message distorted by groups that supported the worst sort of killing under the guise of "brotherhood" (communism) or religion (Islamofascism) or justice (Nazi Germany)...
On a personal level, there is a danger of false ideas of forgiveness. Heck, as a doctor I've seen many people whose main problem was unforgiveness or one of it's variations.
Forgiveness is not being maschositic, being a doormat.
It is not being passive aggressive, smiling and saying you forgive while inside you hold in a terrible anger.
Repressing anger leads to severe depression--many of my patients who suffered physical, psychological or sexual abuse were depressed, but because the abuser was a parent or authority figure, they were not allowed to show the anger...or maybe the abuser was a manipulator, who blamed the abuse on the victim, so when she did not forgive him for "correcting" her, she was the one in the wrong.
In these cases, forgiveness is presented as a way for the one harming to be free of blame...and alas, too often the softhearted who defend the guilty and try to stop their punishment imply that the victim is bad because they need to forgive, in this case meaning to let the evildoer go free, to escape punishment and alas to harm again. (this was how the psychological community insisted we needed to treat sexual abusers in the 1970's...most of the cases I was involved with were women sexually abused by family members ....the abuser cried he was sorry, treated, and released... the idea was that jailing the father or stepfather would only furthur harm the family.....which is why the so called "pedophile" crisis of the church was not an aberation of Catholicism, but a deliberate result of psychological fads, where weak bishops obeyed the psychologist and reassigned a repentant priest...)
But a worse passive aggressive way is the smiling one who holds in anger and then goes on to stealthily destroy one's enemies..and alas, this is often covered by the smiles of superficial piety...
There is a need to correct the abuser: this is not the same as revenge, although often the line between justice and revenge is blurred.
Cheap grace is not the same as grace. A murderer may be forgiven because of Christ's love, but unless he lives his live in reparation such forgiveness will be meaningless. Most Catholic confessions require more than confessing sins: there is a penance to do.
And giving in to hatred leads to frustration and rage and even the death of the soul. (been there, done that...and so I recognize it).
Then what is forgiveness?
After all, as Christians are supposed to forgive...forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us...
Alternate translation: Debts...or trespasses...
Interesting word...I don't know the Greek or Aramaic that was the original word...
If someone sins against us, they commit a sin that harms us.
If someone has a debt, it may be accidental, and is more easily forgiven.
But trespass? That can be accidental or deliberate. And all of us tresspass against other people. Trespassing can be done without malice and indeed without the perpetrator knowing they are hurting someone...
But again, what is forgiveness?
We doctors have patients tell us terrible things. Sometimes they did these things, other times it was done to them or a loved one.
All we can do is give our sympathy, and remember them in our prayers.
But we see not only those harmed, but those who did the harm...
Often the harm is done due to drugs or alcohol...and the reason for the drugs or alcohol is that that person had been abused and hates themself.
Of course, some are merley sociopaths who are like innocent children, who commit the most terrible sins and don't realize the harm they have done...
Ah, but maybe this is the answer to forgiveness: to see them thru the eyes of God.
God will see the weakness of those seeking him but finding a cult that murders.
God will see the hurt child who hurts another.
God will see the quiet desperation of those seeking drugs to numb their own hurt, or who take them out of moral weakness because of peer pressure.
And God will see that some people simply lack a moral sense, and see them as children too.
So the mothers will meet, and see the face of love.
There is a story on forgiveness that I would like to end this too long rambling essay.
It comes from (of all places) the Discovery channel.
There was an elderly lady who taught Sunday school. She always welcomed the local children in for snacks.
And one day, some girls came in for cookies, and turned on her and robbed her...and one stabbed her over and over until she died.
The one behind the robbery, the one who did the terrible stabbing, was only 15. They tried her as an adult, and she got the death penalty, which was changed to life in prison on appeal.
And the family of the elderly lady grieved.
Then one day, her son was at work driving a forklift. And suddenly it came to him that Jesus had forgiven his sins...and with that realization he recognized that he had to forgive the girl who killed his mother. And so he got off the forklift and sobbed.
Later, he started visiting the girl, telling her that he had forgiven her, and telling her that he was praying for her.
And after awhile, the girl's heart changed and she too repented and found the Lord.
And her comment? That if she had been shown such love when she was a child she never would have killed.
She had lived a life of rejection and abuse, and hated everyone around her....she had never know love except as a game to abuse or manipulate her, until she saw love in action in the son of the one she murdered.
“The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown. His scepter shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings. But mercy is above this sceptered sway; It is enthroned in the hearts of kings; It is an attribute of God himself; And earthly power doth then show like God’s When mercy seasons justice.”