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You are here: Home >> Blog >> Marie Fortune's Blogs >> Forgiveness = “It’s Okay; Go Ahead and Rob Me”

Forgiveness = “It’s Okay; Go Ahead and Rob Me”

A group of teenagers, when apprehended for home burglaries, were asked why they selected these particular homes. They replied, “Because we knew that Christians lived there and that they would forgive us and not prosecute.” What is wrong with this picture?

A group of teenagers, when apprehended for home burglaries, were asked why they selected these particular homes. They replied, “Because we knew that Christians lived there and that they would forgive us and not prosecute.” What is wrong with this picture?

This snapshot reveals a great deal about how distorted the notion of “forgiveness” has become in both church and society. “Forgiveness” in the face of an offense has come to mean ignore it, forget about it, avoid it, or offer a dose of “cheap grace” to the offender. None of these speaks to the real situation of a breach in human relationship that comes when one person does harm to the other. None of these is grounded in the moral teaching of either Christianity or Judaism. None of these calls forth the possibility of healing.

These teenagers were looking for easy victims and, they thought, a way to avoid the consequences of their actions. Their assumptions about theology and the law are painfully superficial.

Forgiveness is the possibility that, at the end of justice-making, relationships might be restored. For Christians, the Gospel of Luke is clear: “Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive” (Luke 17:3). The offense is clear; the need to rebuke the offender is clear (which means naming the offense and calling the offender to account); the need for repentance for the offender is clear. But only then can we consider talking about forgiveness.

Repentance is hard work and often a long process. According to the prophet Ezekiel, it means “get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31). In other words, turn around and go a completely new direction. A test of true repentance is the desire by the offender to repair the damage that he/she did. This was the response of Zacchaeus, the dishonest tax collector, when he encountered Jesus: I will pay back four times what I took from the people. (Luke 19:8).

With genuine repentance and restitution made by the offender, the offended against can then consider forgiveness and say, “I am done with this experience and can move ahead. The wound has healed; the scar remains. But I will not live my life around the scar.” Forgiveness is never about saying that harm done by one person to another is acceptable. Nor is it about forgetting, that is, pretending nothing happened. It can be about letting go and moving on which means that some kind of healing has actually taken place.

As people of faith, we must hold an offender accountable, rebuke the offender, and look for repentance. Especially when the offenders are the youths in our communities. The lessons of living in community, of facing consequences, of making restitution are the best prescription for repentance, healing and genuine forgiveness. These are important lessons for youth and adults.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

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