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Economics of forgiveness

[Editor’s note: Father Baker has the week off. This column is from Nov. 13, 2019.]

By Scott Baker

A friend of mine has just recently gone through a break-up. Not with a romantic partner, but rather with her church. She had attended the church for a number of years and due to a conflict, which resulted in hurt feelings and a bruised pride, she has opted to stop attending. She even threatened to identify as a DONE (done = when bad Christians happen to good people).

After a number of conversations, we found that she had a few options available to help her current situation. She could: 1. Simply find another church; 2. Convert to another religion; 3. Forgive the situation and return to the community where she had found a home; or 4. Find something else to do on Sundays not church related. At the time of this writing, she still hadn’t made a decision.

She admitted that much of what stood in the way of her return was not just the emotional pain, but her bruised pride. I affirmed for her the two sides of forgiveness: cognitive verses the emotional side of forgiveness — wrapping our heads around something doesn’t mean we can wrap our hearts around it. What we walked through was what I call the economics of forgiveness. The question she was grappling with was, “Is the hurt and pain and degree of the offense larger than the relationship she had with the church and the possible relationship she would have in the future?”

She realized that one of the cornerstones of Christianity is forgiveness and the power of that forgiveness. Again, realizing that on a cognitive level didn’t make it any easier on an emotional level.

One of my favorite writers Fredrick Buechner, writes regarding forgiveness, “To forgive somebody is to say one way or another, ‘You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us. Both my pride and my principles demand no less. However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done, and though we may both carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us. I still want you for my friend.’

“To accept forgiveness means to admit that you’ve done something unspeakable that needs to be forgiven and thus both parties must swallow the same thing: Their pride. This seems to explain what Jesus means when he says to God, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ Jesus is not saying that God’s forgiveness is conditional upon our forgiving others. In the first place, forgiveness that’s conditional isn’t really forgiveness at all, just Fair Warning; and in the second place, our unforgivingness is among those things about which we need to have God forgive us most.

What Jesus apparently is saying is that the pride which keeps us from forgiving is the same pride which keeps us from accepting forgiveness, and will God please help us do something about it.”

My friend is still on the fence about what she is going to do. She loves her church and the relationships she has cultivated there. She longs to be in a worshipping community. I believe she is coming to realize that to live with integrity as a Christian, she is going to face one of the hardest things — to actually put into action what the cross of Jesus Christ stands for — forgiveness. I believe it is her reluctance to forgive that is precisely the element of conviction which is prompting her to embrace that forgiveness all the more.

I concluded our most recent conversation by telling her that, if she does indeed embrace the forgiveness by extending it to those who hurt her, she will see in even greater detail the power of the cross of Christ and how God’s love and forgiveness is for all without exception, and in the process realize that we all need forgiveness and to be more forgiving. It certainly would make for a better world to live in.

THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Franklin. Contact him at 562-4542.