The Sorrow and the Sighing
Although forgiveness is more commonly linked with forgetting -
as in the saying, "forgive and forget" - I want to suggest that the
forgiveness of past wrongs is better approached as a kind of
In the parable of the Unforgiving Servant of Matthew 18.21-end, the
forgiveness under discussion relates to financial debts. It is not
sufficient just to forget about that kind of obligation. The debt has
first to be cancelled or wiped out - that is the meaning of forgiveness
in this context - before it can safely be forgotten.
In the teaching which Jesus draws out of the parable, a somewhat
different kind of forgiveness is indicated: "So my heavenly Father will
also do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother or sister
from your heart"
What are we to understand by forgiveness "from the heart"?
This cannot have to do with cancelling financial debt (at least, if
it is, that is coincidental). It is about our inward disposition towards
someone who has wronged us. But how would we set about forgiving such a
person? And how would we know when we had succeeded? Saying the words is
not enough. It must be "from the heart". What does that actually mean?
I believe it is linked to another very difficult saying of Jesus,
where he says, "Do not judge so that you may not be judged" (Matthew
The teaching on judgement and the teaching on forgiveness both
concern a reciprocal relationship between how we act and how we are to
be treated. If we forgive others, we shall be forgiven. If we don�t, we
shan�t. And if we judge and condemn others, then we shall be judged and
condemned. But if we don�t, then we shan�t. (The message is "Do as you
would be done by" - and it�s all in the Sermon on the Mount.)
The underlying theme of all this teaching appears to be a warning
against finding culprits and laying blame when things go wrong. Instead,
we should just accept that bad things do sometimes happen.
And rather than be obsessed with whose fault it is, we should do our
best to see that we ourselves are not the cause of further bad things.
From this perspective, the evidence that we have "forgiven from our
heart" might be our ability to remember past wrongs without bitterness.
And the way to achieve this might be to cultivate the ability to
remember past events in a non-judgemental way.
This does not mean forgetting bad happenings from the past. Much less
does it mean denying them. Least of all does it mean taking a totally
detached emotionless view of them.
What it does mean is seeing them from everyone�s point of view
and not just our own. It means feeling their impact with everyone�s
feelings and not just our own.
That is God�s way.
With such an approach, to remember "war, and the pity of war" - to
borrow the poignant phrase of the English poet Wilfrid Owen - will be to
hear the sorrow and sighing of all the sides.
And when we hear, to forgive.