To forgive is divine

the first in a short series on forgiveness. I’m really interested to hear your own stories, insights and opinions

“To forgive is divine,” so they say.

In some ways, it’s simple. Why forgive? we might ask, and we can enumerate the spiritual and psychological benefits, but if we are Christians it usually, eventually comes down to, because we are forgiven, and anyway Jesus said so.

To forgive is divine, and we strive to follow in the footsteps of the revealed incarnate God.

But happens when it is God that you need to forgive?

After my grandmother died, my mother was very angry at God, not for her death so much as for the suffering that preceded it. Why, she demanded, did your god put my mother through all that, if she was only going to die of it anyway? I was fourteen, and I hardly knew what to say; truth be told, more than thirty years later it’s still a struggle.

My mother eventually forgave God. I don’t know how she got there.

I have had my own moments of shouting at God, particularly over parenting issues: “They’re your children, too, you know!”

But like any other relationship, if it’s going to carry on, if it’s going to bear fruit, the grudges have to be given up. Whether or not we understand the behaviour of the other, whether or not we know what in heaven or on earth they were thinking, whether or not we agree with their actions (if in fact we can ever really know what they were up to, in the case of the ineffable godhead), we cannot reach out to take their hand if our own arms are full to falling off of heavy resentments and half-remembered arguments.

Because of the difficulties, because he would not remove all of the difficulties but in some ways seemed to add to them, many of his disciples turned away from Jesus (John 6:66-68). He asked the others, “Do wish also to go away?” And Simon Peter answered, exasperated, exhausted, resigned, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Forgiveness is a very practical matter, when it comes right down to it, a function, perhaps, of the creator god who liked to use anthropomorphic hands to mould out of clay the trees and the people and the sea anemones; less a manufactured feeling of softness than a shrug of the shoulders and a sigh as the resentments stream like grains of sand through unclenched fingers.

If we practice on God, we might even find that we are able to forgive one another, all in good time.

We forgive in order to live together, to live for one another, we and God; and that becomes, if we live it and let it, our deep, deeply serious, and profound joy.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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