Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)



... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)

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Sermons from the margins

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 remembering.

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 7.1).

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.

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