The Insanity of Forgiveness
Updated: Jul 30, 2018
True forgiveness requires something beyond ourselves.
His eyes are crazy, deep pools of hatred. I grip my scarf until my knuckles are white as I watch him beat the helpless young man before me, striking him again and again across the face with his cane. It's not the first time. I know it won't be the last time. I feel wrath, even hatred, bubbling up inside me, and I wish I could hit this bully back, beat him twice for every blow he's given Louis. But there's nothing I can do.
There's nothing I can do because I'm sitting in the cinema, and the young man, Louis, is on the big screen. I'm watching "Unbroken." The movie posters declare that it's an incredible true story of survival, resilience, and redemption, which it is, but I would like to add one more thing: it's an incredible true story of insanity. The insanity of war and man's brutality to man, and the insanity of faith and forgiveness.
Forgiveness, when you think about it, isn't very "fair"-- nor, perhaps, is it terribly satisfying. When I see Louis being tortured by the prison guard in the film -- or when I hear news stories of, for example, the Taliban massacring hundreds of innocent schoolchildren -- the anger that wells up inside me cries out for revenge. For justice to be served against the guilty. The kind of justice that takes an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life.
It's at such times that I can resonate with David's heated pleas, "Oh, that you would slay the wicked, O God!" (Ps 139:19) I can understand why God would hate sin and anything that hurts his creation. I can appreciate God's statement: "I do not excuse the guilty" (Ex 34:7). What I find harder to understand is when God says, "I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. . . I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live" (Ex 34:7, Eze 33:10). I cannot understand forgiveness.
It's one thing for God to forgive me. After all, I'm basically good, right? I haven't committed war crimes. I haven't slaughtered innocents. I deserve forgiveness. Wicked people don't. Surely, to forgive the wicked doesn't make sense.
At the end of "Unbroken," Louie -- who has devoted his life to God -- returns to Japan, influenced by his faith to seek forgiveness rather than revenge as a way forward. The movie's website quotes Louis: "The one who forgives never brings up that past; true forgiveness is complete and total." That's insane.
To give up your desire to see the other person hurt in justifiable revenge? To offer unconditional forgiveness for terrible wrongs? It goes against every natural instinct. Forgiveness is something that, when I really try to think about it, is practically impossible to wrap my head around.
War and human brutality is insane. Forgiveness is also insane. It requires something superhuman. True forgiveness must be divine, and the fact that there is a faith that not only calls for forgiveness, but somehow also enables people to truly give it and live it -- as evidenced by Louie and many, many others -- is astounding.
There is something beautiful in the madness.
First written in 2014