Forgiveness and Repentence


Forgiveness and Repentence

Elsewhere I have been engaged in a discussion regarding the necessity of repentence for forgiveness. My correspondent has insisted that it is a necessary prerequisite of even human forgiveness. I wonder. I will readily acknowledge that repentence is, as it were, a "condition" of Divine forgiveness (though I happen to believe that God will do everything possible to encourage and foster that repentence--so I imagine does my correspondent.) My correspondent very rightly points out that there are those who will choose not to receive this grace. And unless I am a Calvinist I cannot posit irresistable grace (isn't that the I in T.U.L.I.P.?). As a practical point I wonder how many do resist it, but I will leave that for the moment so as to not try the patience of my correspondent.

My question is, "Does human forgiveness require that the recipient express repentence?" Or perhaps, "Under Christian obligation does human forgiveness require repentence?" Now, my correspondent, Mr. D'Hippolito asserts:

Forgiveness is provisional upon repentance. I rest my case upon Luke 17: 3-4: "Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day and returns to you seven times saying, 'I repent,' forgive him." (emphases mine)

And this is correct. And yet. . . I look to the rest of the "book" written by God--all of the subsequent history of His Saints, and we see there innumberable examples of Saints who have forgiven without the repentence of the sinner. St. Maria Goretti comes to mind, as do most of the Martyrs--St Thomas More, St. Edmund Campion. So it would seem that in practice it is possible to forgive without repentence--and in fact, this forgiveness is a supernatural grace presumably granted so that the offenders will realize their sin and seek unity with God. That is a lesser vessel speaks what God is offering in such a way as the recipient is moved to receive it.

So, perhaps in ordinary human relations the passage from Luke is the "normative" path of forgiveness. It certainly is in most of our ordinary practice. It takes an extraordinary person to overlook even a minor slight if the person giving it has not expressed regret. But the examples of the Saints may be the signs of greater grace working through a lesser vessel.

I am still thinking about these matters. However, there is something within that wrestles against the notion that I may only forgive those who repent. Perhaps it might be better to say that I have no standing to forgive those who have not harmed me directly. I cannot go to someone who murdered thousands and say to them that I forgive them, because while the damage is done to the whole, it is up to God to decide their fate. But, I must have some standing to forgive those who persecute me even if they don't repent. That is, if I am a vessel of the Holy Spirit, and it truly is God's will that none will be lost, then I must allow the spirit to work. If so, I might well forgive someone who has done wrong to me with no expression of contrition on their part.

There is much to consider here. And while I don't dislike "esoteric theology" nearly so much as Mr. d'Hippolito, those who know this place know that I have relatively little patience with abstruse doctrines and minute points of law. I rather like someone's notion--was it T.S. O'Rama who implied that perhaps we need both sides to have within the entire body a balance. That is a side that cries "Justice, justice," reminding us of the victims and those who have been harmed, and a side that cries "Mercy, mercy," reminding us that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Admittedly not is so great a way.) If I am to approach the Lord and my fate is determined by how I have wished others were treated, I know I would prefer mercy to justice. This is how I read Jesus's injunction to "Judge not lest ye be judged." On the other hand, there needs to be a voice that cries out to Heaven for the injustices done to the victims of such men. We need to be reminded that these are not trivialities--that such men may have deprived others of a chance of salvation through their depradation and torture. I respect the voice that refocuses attention. Still, for my own sake, and the sake of those I love, I will pray for Mercy, and trust God to do what is right and proper.

As Mr. D'Hippolito points out quoting a correspondent elsewhere--God does not send us to Hell, we go there ourselves, quite willingly. We embrace Hell with Satan, "Better to Reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven." God, in fact, provides sufficient and superabundant grace and Atonement to allow all to make it into heaven. We have no disagreement there whatsoever. And perhaps it is better to start at the point and work backwards to see where our disagreement lies. In such a way, all parties might come to a better image and understanding of God.

Bookmark and Share



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on July 28, 2003 8:13 AM.

The Gaffs of NPR--Hawthorne was the previous entry in this blog.

At Minute Particulars is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll