Friday, March 9, 2012

Forgive Me - Aron Smith

Growing up, my father had a pithy aphorism for every occasion.  I didn’t always agree with the sentiment, and often I’d roll my eyes in disdain.  Not that again.  Nevertheless, some of these bon mots have stuck with me over the years.

Let’s see… There was tempus fugit (Latin for “time flies”), “assume a virtue if you have it not,” “I don’t suffer fools gladly” and, let us not forget, “Retard!” (non-PC epithet for anyone whose driving skills failed to live up to my father’s standards).

And then there was “To err is human, to forgive, divine.”  I didn’t really understand that one, but I had the general feeling that it had something to do with accepting that people make mistakes.  Later, when I studied French, I learned that the word “pardon” is the same as “forgive.” Pardoner = pour (for) + donner (give).  When someone bumps into me on the street and says “pardon me,” it doesn’t just mean “excuse me,” but also “forgive me.”  Just think about the “give” part – excusing others for their errors is a gift!

So why is it so important to forgive others?  Well, there is that “do unto others” thing.  Your action may seem stupid, rude or any of a hundred forms of nasty right now, but I still need to forgive you because sooner or later I’m going to do something equally dunderheaded and will want you to cut me some slack.  Thus, forgiveness is a kind of quid pro quo, an exchange of “this for that.”  But it’s not all about staying in the good graces of others.  It is also about staying in the good graces of the Lord.  “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  Matt. 6:15

Whoa, this is a lot more serious.  What do I care if my idiot next-door neighbor doesn’t forgive me?  But if God won’t forgive me, I’m toast.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who care neither what their next-door neighbor thinks nor what God thinks.

Even psychotherapists agree that forgiveness is good for you.  If you can’t “let it go,” then whatever “it” is will fester deep in your soul and foster neuroses, psychoses and bad taste in dressing your kids.

Then why is forgiving others such a difficult thing?  Most of us know someone who can nurse a grudge for twenty years.  Like the Montagues and Capulets, we know we hate each other, even if we can’t quite remember why.

I have a confession to make:  I am lousy at forgiveness.  Although I may say that I forgive you today, when your name comes up tomorrow, guess what I’m going to remember?  Whatever real or perceived slight that I supposedly forgave.  Well, what do you expect?  After all, I was right!  (Oops, sorry Lord, do I get credit if I forgive him all over again?)

Let’s face it, most of the things that get us royally ticked off at each other are nothing more than petty slights.  So, you parked in my space, cut in front of me in the supermarket line or displayed an ugly garden gnome that I can see from my front porch.  You didn’t invite me to your party or gave me a Christmas present that clearly came from the dollar store.  If we can’t forgive others for this sort of nonsense, what hope have we of reaching forgiveness for the really big sins?

I am always amazed when a grieving mother appears on the TV news, tearfully proclaiming that she forgives the recently arrested guy who killed her son or daughter.  I have to wonder whether she is fooling herself, trying to look good on camera or maybe, just maybe, she is a bigger person than I could ever be.
And then there is genocide, when not one, but thousands or millions of people are systematically killed.  

There are the horrors of east Africa that have been in the news in recent years, and the unspeakable atrocities that the Jews faced at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust.  God expects us to forgive those responsible for such enormities?  Whatever happened to “Justice, justice, thou shall pursue?”  Deut. 16:20

Justice, of course, is a social function, a point that I have become much more sharply aware of since I began working for the courts.  But although justice may not be taken into our own hands, forgiveness must be.  Condemnation is for the group, but forgiveness is for the individual.  One could say that giving and receiving forgiveness is one of the ways we achieve a personal connection with God.

I hope you had an opportunity to listen to the preacher in the above link who boldly proclaims that “forgiveness is the new F-word.”  While this assertion is notable for its shock value, what could be better than turning around something ugly into a vehicle for the expression of God’s love?

When my father used to tell me “to err is human, to forgive, divine,” it never occurred to me that forgiving others not only brings us closer to God, but also brings God closer to us.  For if man was made in God’s image, there is no reason for us to be any less forgiving than He is.


  1. I don't know if I'm any better or worse than anyone else at forgiving, but I do know it's slow going, and something I have to constantly choose to do and hope that someday my feelings will fall in line with my decision of forgiveness. It's good to be reminded that it is in forgiveness that God comes close. Thanks.

  2. This was good. Thanks Aron! You've reminded me how important it is to forgive right away.