Why write a blog? I’ve often complained about how many people, especially young people, have a blog. My primary issue is just how many people think they have something important to contribute to the public square several times a week. Yet, here I am.
To be clear, I may go so far as to think that occasionally something I write down may be important, but mostly I am aware that not all my ramblings are gold. Mostly this blog is to unburden myself. I’ve taken to writing in the last few years and as I work through a long project like a book, I find myself having ideas for things I would like to put on paper; in this case, keyboard. But I resist the urge to break the “roll” I am on for a current musing and start something else. For a long time, those ideas went in the ideas doc. Then when the list soared past what I could write in the next two decades – and upon second glance, the core ideas I was trying to record were often incomprehensible even to me – I decided no more things on the list.
So here I intend to take the shortest ideas and unburden myself of them. Some will be passing thoughts, some directly Christian, some just the unrelated thoughts of someone who happens to be following Jesus. Others may be short stories, sometimes just scenes. I hope for all of them to be short. So here we go:
Forgiving Small Sins of Stupidity and Selfishness
The other night my wife and I were watching an episode of the semi-popular show Supernatural. In this episode, the brothers were searching for the blood of a “very holy man”. I feel compelled to start this blog by confessing that were the brothers searching the streets of Toronto for such a man, only those who know me the least might think to point them in my direction. I’ve been following Jesus for more than 15 years now and I’m still getting the hang of it.
Those who know me better would quickly be able to tell you I am certainly not most holy. Perhaps holy-lite. Those who know me best, my mother and brothers, my wife, might not even go that far. I hope that all of them might say that I am working on it though. More importantly, I am being worked on.
Two and a half years ago my father died. Shortly after this we had to settle a financial partnership with someone who was connected to him through business. The man took my father’s death as an opportunity to dig his claws in deeper, in the hopes that he might be able take advantage of a grieving and broken family. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t describe him as evil, only his actions.
We went through the ringer – being rung at his hands – for more than a year while we said goodbye to dad. My mother was so thoroughly shaken by his evil actions that we don’t speak his name in our house anymore. I make sure not even to make friends with anyone who shares his name just to make things easier.
When all this was going down, I, and not my family, was at the center of the maelstrom. I was filing with the courts, talking with the lawyers daily, and conference calling this man. And yet, more than a year later, he rarely crosses my mind at all.
This is not because I wasn’t wounded and exhausted by him. It’s because despite it all, I have forgiven him. Forgiveness is a huge part of my faith and in this crucial moment of being the recipient of such vitriol, God moved my heart to extend it to him. I like to think that the reason for this capacity for forgiveness is because I myself have been forgiven for a few things. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” is the popular biblical refrain.
Why then, can’t I forgive the Rogers guy who kept me on hold for 41 minutes? Much more often, why am I moved to wrath faster than forgiveness for the guy who jumps the cue at the four-way-stop? With the Lord prompting me and moving me to forgive such a big thing, you would think it would be automatic for me to forgive my wife for putting the frying pan away in the wrong cabinet. But I don’t, that’s an offense that causes me to simmer for at least 10 minutes.
Why? I don’t know, but I have some guesses. I think in some cases we want to forgive those who are sorry. Someone who has caused major harm is more likely to be sorry or at least bashful at their actions. It is at least much easier to forgive someone who we can all agree is at fault. My evil-action nemesis certainly wasn’t sorry, but I at least felt that the will of society would unilaterally agree with me that he was totally in the wrong. I can work at forgiving a man such as this.
In some regard, I think I want to forgive the dramatic and not the trivial. This seems counterintuitive on the surface, but still, it resonates with the human experience. Maybe the thought is that God doesn’t really care about an anger so small on my part, or even that He doesn’t care enough about their small offence for me to need to forgive it.
Maybe it’s that the injury is such a small one, though it never feels that way, that I don’t think I will get any religious credit for it. In the famous Sermon on the Mount Jesus follows up the Lord’s prayer by explaining that “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Forgiving a man of evil actions might be worth some reciprocal forgiveness (for the record I don’t think that God exactly forgives forgivers more easily, but it’s more likely forgiven people tend to forgive. That spiral of forgiveness, receiving and applying, will always move us closer to the will of God – think of the parable of the unmerciful servant).
The focus on the big sins does seem totally unwarranted though. When they ask Jesus about the frequency of forgiveness, He tells them that each of us must forgive another offending person 77 times. This quota even seems to renew once they burn through their first batch, which is important because I get cut off by someone who didn’t indicate at least that many times on my way to work each morning. It also doesn’t leave a lot of latitude for throwing people’s faults back in their faces. At least God hasn’t done it to me yet.
Maybe part of the trick is perspective. When I step away from a situation that’s heated, I can consider how I should honour Jesus with my life. Not yelling at the person who parked across my driveway to run into the Timmie’s just doesn’t always seem like a “with-my-life” level of pardon.
It could even be that sometimes I convince myself that Jesus is just as peeved with the impolite self-involved person as I am. What if it’s even more than that? What if as an agent of God, I am supposed to tap into His spirit of justice by applying divine retribution to such offenders?
I can tell you that when I lose my cool and choose the unforgiveness route, there is often a self-justifying impulse that says what I am really doing is sorting out the evils of society on everyone’s behalf. I am making sure by the honk of my horn and the flail of my arms in a “what-are-you-doing” manner, they know that they have sinned. Which brings us exactly to the point. Often the small sins aggravate me the most because I shouldn’t get so worked up for them, but I just need them to know they are in the wrong and resolve to do better. I need them to recognize my sense of what the universe should look like and conform. Even if I’m right, it’s often still fairly petty and self-centered: stupid and selfish.
So what then is needed? Maybe it’s not exactly forgiveness that is required. To forgive this person who has not perceived their own fault only heals my own heart. When the impulse to forgive is well exercised and fully matured, it tends to look like graciousness: if I were to let this perceived slight get under my skin, surely I would eventually forgive, so I just won’t let it in at all – “have a nice day, sir.”
So I’ll make a hopeful resolution to add up all the things that I have been forgiven for, grievous or small, stupid, and selfish, and work to proactively apply that as grace to those who often couldn’t care less. I’ll leave the sorting out of the universe to God and try not to contribute to any of its ugliness. And if ever I have to stick my nose in, I will try to do it in the spirit of helpfulness and not retribution and self-righteousness. God help me.