Forgiveness is absurd and excessive

Forgiveness is not what our world preaches nor practises. The problem in religious circles is that we may preach forgiveness but don’t often practise it.

When I listened to the speakers at the rally on Parliament Hill last week, I was impressed by the diversity of Christians represented in the crowd. There were placard-waving enthusiasts as well as mild-mannered conservatives. There were the politically right-wing as well as social justice progressives.

The diverse crowd of around one thousand responded with cheers, claps and arm-waving every time a speaker called on Canadians to stand up against the atrocities done in the name of religion against minorities in northern Iraq and Syria. Our sympathies were rallied for the cause of justice and human dignity for all.

Some speakers reminded us of the deplorable, evil acts of violence meted out by extremists, and the overwhelming social consequences: beheading, raping, exploitation of children, displacement of entire communities, refugee camps, even genocide.

Members of Parliament reviewed government actions in response to the crisis. Pastors, priests, bishops, Imams, and lay leaders called for the silent majority of Christians and Muslims to rise up against this evil.

And to all of this — loud cheering and fist pumping and whistling.

Then towards the end of the rally, a Syrian priest, I believe it was, stood up to give his speech. After commenting on the problem of evil as did many speakers before him, he said the most remarkable thing I heard all afternoon: “ISIS, we forgive you. We love you because God created you too, and loves you.”

I shook my head in stunned awareness. The crowd was silent. Not a popular things to say, I thought. True, yet hard to comprehend. So what does the theology of the Cross, the foundation of Christianity, say to this reality?

“Love your enemies,” Jesus commanded his disciples (Matthew 5:43-44). “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Suddenly, and only for one, uncomfortable moment, the focus of the rally shifted away from northern Iraq to us — shouting, jeering, clapping crowds on a sunny day in Ottawa.

As I left the Hill, I could only reflect on how absurd forgiveness is, in Jesus’ name. Perhaps it is in the humble and honest struggle to practise this essential part of the Way that is redeeming. After all, it took Joseph from chapter 37 all the way to 50 in order to finally forgive his brothers the evil done to him (Genesis 50:15-21).

Lord, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy.