As we turn the page of time once again, and the teens of this millennium turn to the 20s – roaring or restrained – it is a good opportunity to reflect and renew; to meditate on meaning and ponder purposes and new possibilities. Restoration and reconciliation are always a good theme, but perhaps never more so than at the dawning of a new year, when we sit and ponder how past wrongs can be bound and future hopes may be loosed in an ekklesia of promise and power. We spend all year thrashing out notions of virtue, debating conceptions of godliness and cavilling over the meaning of truth, but there is no greater psychic excitement than to transcend the limits of the rational.
If cleanliness is next to godliness, forgiveness dwells within it. It isn’t an outpouring of emotional fervency or ecstasy, but a very fleshly struggle to determine to reconcile ill thought and feelings with the divine command to wish goodness and prosperity upon those who, for one reason or another, don’t deserve it.
And there are quite a few of those.
We can pray, of course, or passively and vicariously express our good wishes. But how easily we shirk the desire for the opportunity simply to express to them one’s loving, hoping, trusting and thanking. Far easier to nurture the past hurt and nourish it with judgmental aloofness. We are holier when we are unsullied with the sins of those who are not worthy.
But this is power and pride, not service and humility. Forgiveness is never easy, and for our enemies it is unthinkable and nigh impossible. But it is the nature of God to be merciful to those who are meek and lowly: when we are humble, we are exalted.
If we are made in the image of God, our vocation is to seek and reflect that image in order that others might come to know and share in Christ’s humility. If we love our own image more, if we prefer the sound of our own voice to the words of God, then we have set up an idol of selfhood: lording it over is far preferable to serving and accepting.
Forgiveness reconciles hearts, minds and spirits. It liberates because it cleanses and heals. We can’t do it if we’re ostentatious, superior or proud: we need to be emptied of self (though not self-loathing), and prepared to serve (though not ‘lowlier than thou’). Forgiveness needs to be learned, and that requires will and discipline, time and effort. And it costs because it hurts. But once we are hurt by the cost, our quality of life is immeasurably enhanced as both givers and recipients.
When we are in conflict with others who see things differently and know things infallibly, we are not actually far from the heart of God, for in the reality and honesty of the anguish of a deeply human situation lies a yearning for healing and liberation. The critical moment is when we hang ourselves on a cross and sense a spiritual awakening. Forgiveness lies in mutual relation and reconciliation, and this frees us to move foward and to know peace.
A happy and blessed New Year to all readers and communicants.