The challenge of forgiveness
The really tricky bit in Christianity is forgiveness. Not the kind of forgiveness that looks past a forgotten anniversary or an unintentional slight, but forgiveness that is not overcome by genuine hurt and pain.
‘I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.’ (Jeremiah 31: 34c)
When rioters trash a city centre, as happened last summer, how do we respond? What do we do with the young person who insists on carrying a knife, or the runaway child who repeatedly rejects offers of help? What do we do with the neighbourhood gang that makes us feel unsafe when we walk the streets?
This is the real challenge of forgiveness, because it seems to undermine a prior demand for justice. But maybe the two don’t have to be in competition. Forgiveness without justice, is a free hand for offenders for whom repentance is no longer necessary. But justice without forgiveness, can never rebuild the broken bonds of fractured relationships or heal a scarred society. Without forgiveness, there can be no redemption.
In the end, that is why a legalistic response to young people who riot or carry knives or intimidate us in the street is inadequate, because it fails to get past justice to forgiveness and redemption. The challenge for us all is not justice, but echoing the divine grace by forgiving again and again a young person who continually lets us down. Only then we can hope to restore broken relationships and rebuild community.
I promise this will never be easy, but it is essential.
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