Recently, in a courtroom In Texas, a White woman police officer who was convicted of murder for killing an unarmed black man in his own apartment, was given a rather light sentence that might allow her to be free of prison in a few years. At the sentencing, the family of the murdered man was rather effusive in extending its forgiveness to the police officer. Moments later the presiding judge, a woman, descended from the bench to embrace the convicted woman and presented her with her own Bible. It all made the national news.
Maybe you had to be there, to appreciate all this forgiveness, but I still think I would puke.
This morning, I listened on the national news as several members of the Jewish congregation of the temple in Pittsburgh in which (I think) 11 members were gone down by an antisemite gunmen, expressed their desire that the murderer not to be given a sentence of capital punishment. “Only God can take a life,” expressed one of the forgiving survivors. On that much I can agree: and God seems to be remarkably capable at it.
Forgiveness is right at the center of the Christian message, as it is probably rather unnecessary to remind the reader, although it might be well to remind that the forgiveness deal for Christians was sealed with a particularly theatrical filicide by you know who. It’s a hell of a deal, rather a heavenly deal, that has probably led to innumerable deathbed confessions and conversions that must make Jesus the most forgiving Jew that was never roasted in a synagogue or shoved into a gas chamber. God is not only theatrical in his life taking responsibilities, he’s also damned efficient.
Okay, by now you are beginning to regard me as not the most forgiving sort of person. Well, forgive me; not to be to transactional about it, but what have you done for me lately. Anyway, I find this whole forgiveness thing a rather paradoxical. Some of the forgivers of those who have committed rapes and murders are sometimes heard to add a little codicil that is somewhat self-serving. No, I am not necessarily referring to there is assumption of a Christly attitude, although I would not rule it out, but I am referring to their desire not to be burdened with hatred and thoughts of vengeance–the forgive and forget option. (but, Jesus, do you have to hug the son-of-a-bitch that shot your kid?)
So, my problem, as you might see it, is not that I am so much an unforgiving sort of person, but that I think there are some real issues with forgiveness that probably go all the way back to that young rabbi hanging on a cross who, the night before, was snubbed when he asked his old man to give him a break (Sorry, kid, I already sold the movie rights to Mel Gibson). For example, if you were going to go by “only God can take a life” then what do you do when you are confronted with the immediacy of action when God has appointed some scumbag with Nazi tattoos and an AK-47 who is about to blow you away? Right, rabbi, chew on that dilemma a bit and you will arrive at the dead never get a chance to forgive. Perhaps it is not the survivor’s prerogative to be merciful.
Let me hasten to add that I do hold with the spokesman for the synagogue murders in his opposition to capital punishment. But I do not see my opposition as a matter of forgiveness; rather, given the imperfections and injustices of the justice system, as a means of avoiding error. Capital punishment is not worth the execution of a single innocent person (did you hear that, God?)
So where do I come down on this forgiveness business? Well, I am still a little fuzzy on it. Most evangelical Christians in America are armed, so they must figure that it is more satisfying to kill a perp than to forgive him. And, as Christians, they have fashioned a great deal for themselves if it should happen to that they cannot forgive people of color, Jews, or immigrants for just existing. If “only God can take a life,” then they are just doing the Lord’s work. It all works out. Give’em a hug.
"Knock knock." "Who’s there?" "It's me, Jesus. Let me in." "Why do you want in?" "I want to save you." "Save me from what?" "From what I'll do to you if you don't let me in.
Therein lies the paradox of Christian forgiveness as expressed in evangelical Christianity: Jesus wants you to be saved––and he will forgive you of presumably anything—if you accept his divinity. But, say the Evangelicals, let him save you, or else.