Friday, 9 March 2007

As we forgive those who trespass against us

To err is human; to forgive, divine.

On the cross, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:33).

We are called to forgive as God forgives - to "imitate the divine model".

The Christian theologian Lewis Smedes said, "When we forgive evil we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. We look the evil full in the face, call it what it is, let its horror shock and stun and enrage us, and only then do we forgive it."

So we are not called to condone evil. We recognise that it is wrong, and we reject it utterly. But our rejection is of the sin itself, and not of the sinner. As St Augustine put it in City of God:

“It is clear, then, that the man who does not live according to man but according to God must be a lover of the good and therefore a hater of evil; since no man is wicked by nature but is wicked only by some defect, a man who lives according to God owes it to the wicked men that his hatred be perfect, so that, neither hating the man because of his corruption nor loving the corruption because of the man, he should hate the sin but love the sinner. For, once the corruption has been cured, then all that is left should be loved and nothing remains to be hated.”

But how does this rejection of the sinful act square with Jesus' exhortation in the Sermon on the Mount to "turn the other cheek"? Well, let's look at what he said in full:

"You have heard how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer no resistance to the wicked. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if someone wishes to go to law with you to get your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone requires you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks you, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.." (Matthew 5.38-41)

Does this passage actually require us to love both the sin and the sinner? Should we just be accepting all the evil in the world, forgiving those who do hurtful things and making no attempt to persuade them to stop?

Many theologians believe that this passage does not require us to stand by and accept evil deeds. They point to the fact that Jesus referred specifically to being struck on the right cheek. For a right-handed person to hit the right cheek of a person facing them, they would have to strike with the back of their hand. This was considered in the Jewish society of the time to be a supreme insult.

Thus, Jesus' message is not necessarily that we should accept all the evil in the world, but simply that we should not retaliate when insulted or slandered. This passage follows the words:

"Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness: the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you." (Matthew 5:10-12)

So, we should not retaliate when insulted - in modern language, we should not stoop to the level of the other person. To do so is to invite anger and bitterness into our hearts. Nevertheless, this doesn't mean that we should simply lie down and accept all the evil that is being done in the world. Nor should we remain silent.

But the person who has sinned is made in God's image, is one of the people Jesus lived and died for, and is someone we are called upon to forgive. As God forgives us, so we must forgive others.

2 comments:

Simon-Peter said...

"The Christian theologian Lewis Smedes said, "When we forgive evil we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. We look the evil full in the face, call it what it is, let its horror shock and stun and enrage us, and only then do we forgive it."

This is not quite right: was this man a Catholic? It is not possible to forgive evil, only the person who did the evil which is defined as the good wrongly ordered or a negation of good. Stictly speaking, "evil" is nothing, it has no substance, it is an absence. Neither are we called to look evil in the face as a blanket rule and just stand there, we are called to avoid occasions of sin, and for many, scripture counsels to run from evil immediately lest you fall through presumption. In anycase, another issue is the temptations that present themselves to us in the interior forum. I swear, this mans counsel, if applied to this issue is again the height of presumption and tempting God. One does not wait for a temptation to present iself fully to the mind, to be fully comprehended! As soon as the hint of a sniff of a whiff beings to present itself one moves to dismiss it, to do just what he counsels against, "smother" it, make war on it immediately. One should not permit the temptation (if possible) to solidify in the mind, lest the next step, the consent of the will to the evil presented happens and we sin thereby. Think of it like this:

Your intellect is to know God, and you cannot love what you do not know (and as I say above in your other post, protestants do not know God very well). Your will is to love God. Your memory is to remember, or be recollected of God.

That is, as soon as your intellect becomes aware that a temptation is about to be, or has been instantly presented to your mind, you must NOT PANIC but holding the temptation before you a. rememeber God, and b. WILL to dismiss it and reject it, quickly, confidently by making immediate supplications to Jesus and Mary. Fight it! Fight. Fight! The war is in the WILL.

Think of it like this: people say we are created in the image and likeness of God. As it stands, this is not a true statement, or, it is misleading. Adam and Eve were created in the image and likeness of God. Through their sin (adams really), the likeness was lost. How? Right. all humans are created in the image of God, that is, with the ability to choose. However, that doesn't cut the mustard does it? The likeness is the key, that is, sharing the Divine Nature (which is what the Incarnation is all about BTW) -- but not the Essence!!!! -- we are given the power to become sons of God by using our will to CHOOSE the GOOD and then DO IT. This is how the likeness works, how it will be brought to completion.Not by the will of the man, or the flesh, but by the Will of God through Christ Jesus (the propitiation for our sins) as the efficient cause of our salvation has gained for us all the graces necessary to be restored to the likeness in Him and with Him and through Him be divinized in nature (likeness) but NOT by Essence (of course! :-)).

Now, you see how this fits in with the post on my blog, that I mentioned in your above post on ecuminism? The post on my blog I suggested you might read called "On Hope." We are "on the way" running the Race as St. paul says, but we have not yet been confirmed in Good! God willing we shall be if we perservere to the end! The Catholic answer to the question "have you been saved" might be "I have been saved, I am being saved, I will be saved."


"since no man is wicked by nature but is wicked only by some defect, a man who lives according to God owes it to the wicked men that his hatred be perfect, so that, neither hating the man because of his corruption nor loving the corruption because of the man, he should hate the sin but love the sinner."

BINGO! Also, though, notice what Augustine says here (and St. Thomas teaches in greater depth later): "since no man is wicked by nature but is wicked only by some defect" Now, going back to your post above about ecuminsm, Augustine centuries before certain protestant heresies hits the nail on the head about why so many Catholics blunder about with this ecumenical venture! There are millions and millions of proestants who DO believe man is wicked by nature! Total Depravity! Calvinism and its influences! If Catholics forget this fundamental from the start you will end up talking right past these people. Thus, when someone says "have you been saved?" to them that is underpinned by ideas about the predestination of the damned and the elect! Filthy idea!

Again, if you read my post "On Hope" you'll see all these things come togther. I would also like to suggest a book for you, a thin book, written - funnily enough - by an Catholic English Monk in about 1930 I think - addressing the issues of exactly what IS temptation? How can I recognize it? Does it have stages? When does it become a sin? I think many Catholics are in a state of perplexed anxiety about this - lets face it - basics of the faith. I was until I read it and did some more research into the matter of what exactly temptation is and is NOT and what consenting to sin is and is NOT. Lack of understanding leads to a sort of indifferent depair (Satan likes that a lot), or, presumption or a prideful scrupulousness.

Let me see if I can find the book and I'll get back to you. It may take me a few days as all my books are in the garage (we moved house) and the new bookcases aren't being delivered until Tuesday.

In the meantime I use this method:

I conceive of my mind as a Castle, with a Keep. Inside the Keep, at the top, is a room with a throne with Jesus on it. It is my job to keep Him there, because only with my consent will He leave. Now, I have a radar set up in the castle to detect temptation and such. I do not wait to launch missiles at the temptation until it has got to the walls, or broken in to the Keep. As soon as I see a blip on the radar screen I launch. I am not interested in wating for the blip to come into visual range. It is all the same to me whether it is a Spitfire, a Tornado or a Tomcat, it is up to no good whatever it is, so have at it right away. That is to say, in my mind, when a temptation begins to present itself, I do not wait for it to coalesce into a definite form and shape before attacking it, what is the point of that? Hand to hand combat, or long-range missile strike? You choose.Of course, sometimes the enemy comes in under the radar (sleepy, hungry, been lazy, not praying, not doing GOOD CATHOLIC spiritual reading everday) then before you know it you are on the battlements as the enemy scales the walls! This is a real war with your soul the prize and the casuality. So long as you resist, right up to the point you are in front of the throne itself, with your back to Jesus swinging the sword, so long as you do not give your consent, do not say "Okay I give in", He will help you. Oh, He may for sure permit you to have to fight all the way to the throne before the enemy is put to flight, but He does that for several VERY good reasons.

Anyway, I am NOT lecturing you. I am just passing on what I have received because I am a very stupid man and turn to the Fathers and Doctors of the Church in all things. What do I know? Nothing, as befits nothing.

newhousenewjob said...

You're right, of course, about temptation - but it wasn't temptation I was talking about here. Nor was I suggesting that we should give in to temptation ourselves.

When we look evil full in the face and call it what it is, we are recognising the evil that is in the world around us, the evil in the actions of others ("those who trespass against us") - but we hate the sin and love the sinner, and while recognising the evil for what it is, we forgive the PERSON who has committed that evil. But forgiveness of the person doesn't mean that we condemn the sin itself any less.