For more than 30 years I have been pondering the concept of forgiveness. Lots of people seem to have weird ideas about it. Let’s explore some of the forgiveness quagmire…and we can have a conversation if you wish. The following is a semi-short list of things which are hardly ever discussed, others are wrong-headed, and some which are just wrongly understood, about this subject.
First, a strange thing about most articles or comments about forgiveness is that almost nothing is said about the criminal offender’s obligation to APOLOGIZE or RESTORE the person harmed. The offender should be called upon to “make it right,” not just spend a few months in a jail cell (“doing time”). This is the JUSTICE side of the MERCY coin. However, it is clear that truly “making it right” is impossible. The murder victim will never receive her life back. The loss of well-being because of the breaking-and-entering may never be healed. However, we seem to have lost ALL connection between the offending act and the restorative act. The victim deserves better, and the “perp” should be compelled to make some amends to the victim. Clearly, that loss of connection results in the offender mysteriously presuming the role of the “victim” through the penal system. The true victim in almost every instance is replaced by “found guilty of breaking a LAW.” Professionals handle the process. Victims do not have a role. Practical? Maybe. Satisfying? No. Recently, a crypto-investment company went belly-up. The owner knew it was merely a scheme, but according to one expert may never spend a week in jail or be required to pay investors back from his OWN funds.
For the actual victim (and those close to them) there are times when justice is unattainable, when the best option is to release the anger and move on. In those situations we may choose to be merciful because it releases them from carrying the physical, emotional or spiritual weight of the offenses.
I was recently reminded of the mother whose son was murdered. She had to deal with the pain in the only way that made sense to her…she went to the prison to visit the young man who killed him. Over several years she developed a close relationship with him and when he got out he went to live in HER home. He is a changed man. She has more than for which she had hoped. He now has the love he never had as a child. She has a son. Paying the penalty for breaking a LAW would never have given these results.
An extreme side of JUSTICE has reared its ugly head in recent years. This wrong-headed corruption of justice is seen more often in the political and social arenas. A “political” opponent says or does the wrong thing and apologizes for his or her error, but receives no MERCY and no forgiveness. They become forever “criminals.” This is political punishment, not justice.
An extension of this corruption of JUSTICE is seen in seeking to penalize people NOW for events of a past era using current sensibilities. For instance, the 1619 Project. [NOTE: I have simplified the 1619 Project theory because neither their ideology, nor slavery, is the topic, I am not writing a book, and this is one of several examples I could have used to illustrate this point.] One of the things the 1619 Project seeks to do is place shame on present day United States for the slavery of the past…even though its beginnings (1619 – 1776) occurred BEFORE the United States existed. In fact, it occurred while the land was a COLONY of Great Britain and was following the laws and customs, and under the oversight, of its foreign OWNERS. That shame, if any, therefore does not belong to us (our country), but fully rests on the owner of the colony. This land was not the only colony where Great Britain introduced slaves. That imposed system of slavery, which eventually included Indigenous Peoples, Asians, Hispanics…as well as Blacks…continued for 84 years after the founding of our free nation. Near our major ports, men were often enslaved (“Shanghaied”) to crew sailing vessels and fishing boats. Of grave interest, though, is that less than 5 years after its founding, the United States was one of the first nations IN THE WORLD to begin to outlaw slavery (no one has told you that!). In 1777 the State of Vermont, an independent Republic after the American Revolution, became first sovereign state in the world to abolish slavery. In 1780 Pennsylvania passed laws ending the practice (to put this in context, that was 12 years before Kentucky was granted statehood). Ending slavery entirely COST us (all of us) plenty in the Civil War and beyond.
As of the end of 2021 there were still 167 countries that had not outlawed slavery, including a few in Africa. India today is believed to have more slaves than any other country. China is a close second. Those are great places to work for present-day justice, if that is your goal.
Imparting shame or guilt to present day citizens for sins of the past is wrong for many reasons. Not only is it someone else’s shame, it is also a past sin which can never be “made right” by any present-day action, AND MOSTLY it attempts to judge the past by present sensibilities (Note: Slavery was not illegal in most of the world in 1619 and African blacks were far from the first people group to be enslaved). For example, if the sensibilities 50 years hence declare that tattoos are EVIL, should every person tattooed this year be held accountable to something that is not considered evil by today’s standards? Back to the point, in addition, both the actual offenders and the actual victims are long dead. The offenders cannot be penalized or suffer from any action we could take (even if we tear down their statues). Seeking to penalize those who did not do the injustice is, in itself, an injustice.
Focusing on the distant past creates a desire for Punishment, much like a multi-generational feud. The person who wants to punish the current generation for the sins of past generations is not interested in Justice or Mercy. Recognize and learn from the past, but focus on the future. Northern Ireland learned this lesson.
I say this because it is true… The law makes it clear that the only actors which may be found guilty of a crime are those who did the crime and/or those who abetted the person who committed the crime. There is never a trial when the perpetrator is dead; he is beyond the reach of the law. The grandchildren of a murderer carry no guilt. Thus, I rightfully claim no accountability and no responsibility to pay for those acts in which I did not participate.
JUSTICE and MERCY are two sides of the same coin. One without any possibility of the other is fake, false, and wrong.
Copyright 2023 Donald Whelpley
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~ Quirky! ~ Ten-Foot Trestle ~ Settling Estates ~ Living In High Horse Country ~ The Dying Generation ~