I suppose the opposite of forgiveness is holding a grudge – waiting and watching the person who wronged you till you can get your own back. If so, I must be a very forgiving type.
Why don’t I cherish resentment? Because, even if resentment could be satisfied, that doesn’t cure the underlying frustration. I really want the harm-doer to see why injuring me was a bad idea – and knocking him or her silly doesn’t achieve that.
One time, I was having lunch in one of the neighborhood cafés that double as office space for me. At a table distant from mine but within earshot, a country-clubbish woman was exchanging laughing confidences with the café owner. Aside from her and me, the café was empty of patrons. Even deep in concentration, with my papers spread out on my table, I could not help overhearing how she and the owner were hitting almost every note in the anti-Semite’s repertoire.
What to do? It’s against my sense of café propriety to call out remarks across the other tables. I tore off a page from my notebook, penned a line, walked up to her and gave her the note. She looked at me warily as she took it. It said:
“Your little exercise in classic anti-Semitism has gone quite far
toward spoiling my lunch.”
By the time I had got back to my seat, she had read it and was calling down to me that she was sorry about my lunch but she was not an anti-Semite (nobody is, it’s such an unflattering persona!) but she was against such and such and what she thought was …
I looked up at her across the café distances and replied – in a booming voice –
I KNOW what you think.
Your freedom to talk this way in a restaurant is
MENACING to me!
The quiet requisite for work having been restored, I was turning back to my papers when I sensed a presence beside me. There was the same lady, tears on her face, apologizing and asking me to forgive her!
Wide-eyed, I looked up at her, feeling very much sympathy. But I said not a word. I did not know that she wouldn’t flip again at the next opportunity. The Jewish view is that forgiveness is mandatory – but only if the fault is admitted and the wrong not repeated.
A Jewish friend to whom I told the story said, “Thank God you didn’t hug her! I would have.” What we both knew instinctively was, don’t hug her.
Recently I read an interesting book titled Mission at Nuremberg, about a Lutheran pastor who served in the U.S. military as prison chaplain to the major Nazi war criminals awaiting execution. To those who seemed really contrite and asked to be received back into the Lutheran confession, the American chaplain offered the forgiveness of Christ.
Here are two contrasting views of forgiveness. The Jewish one keeps the accounts and wants them paid – not out of sterile legalism or rancor – but from care for the miscreant, God’s child, who deserves something more difficult and accurate than cheap grace. The Christian one wants to open the connecting channel between the person whose wrongs can never be made good and his God – so that at least he doesn’t die in the dark!
Which is truer? Which is more restorative? It’s for sure I couldn’t minister to Nazi war criminals but, on the other hand, somebody had to. Then again, there is something not quite right about the killer of millions who climbs the thirteen steps to his hanging and thinks, next stop, heaven.
I can’t parse this any better, but it seems to me that
God needs Jews
and God needs Christians.