This is an essay I wrote that was published in my church’s newsletter more than a year, maybe two years ago. This change between anger and hatred through forgiveness to real love and reconciliation altered my perception in a radical way. It opened my eyes to a world of magic. If the Divine could change my heart in such a magical fashion, I thought, “magic must be everywhere”. And it is! The magic of the Divine, call it God, the Holy Trinity, Spiritual Energy, Goddess, Buddha, Jesus, whatever you want, it makes no difference to the truth of what it is, and what it is, is pure love. It is everything lovely that love encompasses….forgiveness, gratitude, charity, joy, contentment, peace…etc. etc. Bathe in it, this was my moment that made all the difference, my fulcrum.
As I grow older, I am more and more convinced that our brain is limited. That is, we, as humans, have a limited capacity for comprehension and understanding, especially of things spiritual or esoteric. We can only process things omnipotent and infinite through our very limited, and very finite lumps of essential fatty acids we call brains. We try to see and perceive something beautiful and radiant and ALL love, through a lens that, at best is smudged, and at worst is the screen to a totally different movie. None of us are immune. Trying to understand God and his motivations with our limited pea brains is like an ant trying to reason whether or not our death giving footfall has intentionality. He doesn’t have the brain power to ask the question. In the same way, we approach an all knowing, all powerful, all loving God.
Last week I received a lesson from God on how this whole thing works. It was just the way God likes to give me those lessons: I read something on a subject that seems to defy my “knowledge” and through coincidence and serendipity I got to feel the real life impact of this enlightenment in my life. Mind you, enlightenment is fleeting. Our book club is reading, The Shack, by William P. Young. I have thought about reading it many times, I heard controversial reviews, but I don’t think I would have ever read it, if it were not forced, in some way, upon me. Love or hate the book, there are parts of it that seemed to be magically reflective in my life.
Let me preface this by situating myself at the onset of the book. I had a really good friend who hurt me deeply. We all have that person who, no matter how hard we try to get over it, the memories of the pain flood back whenever we have some visceral response to a certain song or a certain smell. I was months….well to be honest….years into this muck. I wanted to forgive her. I prayed to have a heart to forgive her. I just was tormented over and over by an overwhelming emotional response. It wasn’t going away and I gave it to God, already. To make matters worse, this friend, knew what she did and never thought we or I was worth even a simple, “I am sorry.” It was a festering wound with no closure.
So, that is where I was when I read The Shack. Without giving anything away, the story is about a man who loses his daughter and comes to understand who God is and what He is all about in a shack. Whatever, doctrinal difficulty people have with the portrayal of God, set that argument aside, I am not talking about that, It will have to be fodder for another conversation. The amazing message I found, is the one about Justice and forgiveness and repentance. In the end, Justice was not about payment or penalty or punishment. Justice is about love. Not only about love to the one harmed but love of the one who harms. It is the turning of the cheek. Justice is about communion and love. It became plain that the reason why we are told that we will be forgiven to the extent we forgive others is because justice and love and repentance are unshakably intertwined.
Father Kraft tells us that forgiveness requires two people. It is more than just an exercise of pardoning. I didn’t ever understand this, really. I debated it in my head and was unconvinced. Maybe I could forgive another and the deed would be done. Maybe I didn’t need another to ask for forgiveness. Maybe Father Kraft was just mistaken. However, he is 100% correct when you put forgiveness in this context alongside justice.
When somebody wrongs us terribly, like steals from us or, worse, hurts our loved ones, we want “JUSTICE!” We want the wrongdoer to hurt like we hurt. We want, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Even if we leave it to God, we secretly believe that God is going to carry out our version of justice. (Which, by the way, is not justice, but vengeance.) So…let’s take a step back. Suppose we had a child who was a rebellious child, a child who defied our wishes and got into trouble and even hurt others. What might we feel? Do we love that child any less? Do we want justice meted out to this child in a humanistic fashion? Or does another, Godly emotion win the day? Love.
Because we love our rebellious child we don’t want to hurt them like they have hurt us or others. We want that child to come to an understanding of that hurt. We want that child to feel remorse and to become humble and penitent. We want our child to grow and learn. We want to be in communion with that child. We want repentance. Justice, in love IS repentance in action. God’s justice is meted out, perfectly when the wronged and the wrongdoer embrace. Justice is meted out when the memory of the hurt is erased and only love remains. God, the loving Father, wants his prodigal son to return to full communion, his sins erased from memory.
This is all well and good, and may be intellectually stimulating, but in the real world this touchy feely love justice is bogus. When somebody hurts us, there is not going to be any such thing. Even under the best of circumstances, apologies and forgiveness between humans can be awkward.
Now, let’s return to the beginning of this story, the part where I started out hurt and unable to erase these horrible feelings. The story in the Shack was a nice one. It made me think. It was fiction and but really good fiction. At one point Mack, the main character, is told, by God, to speak his forgiveness, that there is power in your voice. Mack needed to say, “I forgive you,” out loud to the person who he was never going to receive an, “I’m sorry from.” In his tears, Mack, sobbed that he forgave that person. So, too, I, out loud, began saying (and sometimes sobbing), “I forgive you,” out loud, every time a hurt feeling raised its head.
I love God. He winks at us so often, and all we have to do is see it. Two days after I began saying “I am sorry” out loud, I pinged this girl on Facebook. I got a Facebook message back, after years of silence, telling me that not a day goes by that she is not repentant. She is so sorry for hurting me and my family. Her message was short but humble and filled with genuine emotion. Like magic, like a wand being waved over my head, it was gone. Every bit of hurt and sadness was gone. I just wanted to hug her. I felt immediate and profound love. After all these years of wanting “justice” (read vengeance) and feeling terrible feelings towards her, it lifted, like a cloud. All of a sudden, if God were to say, “I want to mete out the justice to her like you wanted last week,” I would intervene and say, “Please, God, don’t. I love her so much.” What a blessing and so immediate.
I can’t promise that you will receive such miraculous results in the same way. However, if you have a soft, love-filled heart, your outcome will be no less miraculous. God’s ways always bring that feeling of awe that things worked out so amazing. Let Him, let you forgive. For me, I just am eternally amazed at is God’s little counter intuitive way. Justice is meted out. How funny that God’s perfect justice of love is found in repentance and reconciliation.