Forgiveness and Predestination
Written by Ed Watson
Saint Hilda’s House corps member
I spend a lot of time thinking about how hard it can be to forgive. I spend less time, however, thinking about what precisely forgiveness is. I think it often entails mercy or working past feelings of anger, but I very rarely think about it much more than that. It strikes me that a reflection on this latter question might help me to navigate the difficulties of the former.
So, let’s look at the word itself: forgiveness. It’s a compound word of Germanic origin, comprised of the words ‘for’ and ‘give’. It is structurally similar to the words ‘forget’ and ‘forgo’, and this structure, I think, can give us a clue as to what the word ‘forgive’ itself suggests forgiveness is.
Let’s look at ‘forgo’, then: when we say that something is a ‘forgone conclusion’ what we’re suggesting is that what is going to happen might as well have already happened; that however much time might elapse between now and then, nothing that happens now can change what will happen then. When we say ‘forgone’ then, it means that, irrespective of anything else, we might as well have already gone where we happen to be going.
If we apply this to forgiveness, a picture begins to emerge. Now, we probably know what it is to give: it is to share ourselves and what we have with others in the name of Jesus Christ. It is to offer without demand, both in terms of material and emotional gifts. If ‘forgive’ is structurally similar to ‘forgo’, however, then it suggests that, for us, to forgive is to ensure that this giving is a forgone conclusion. It suggests that forgiveness is not primarily a response to injustice or cruelty, but an attitude which, before a response is even possible, says ‘no matter what happens, I will continue to offer you my love, my support, my life: just as I know that no matter what happens, Christ will continue to offer me His love, His life, and His salvation.’
When I say the Lord’s Prayer then, and pray that God forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, I are not just saying that I will try to wipe off the debt I might think others owe me: I am saying that I will try to live in such a way that neither trespass nor debt could even enter into the question of my loving my neighbour. As such, I hope that when I say to someone ‘I forgive you’, I are not supposing myself to be writing off a slight or sin from my chequebook, but instead promising to live in such a way that neither slight nor sin could ever stand in the way of my obedience to God’s command to love.
This might of course be impossible for humanity: but I think looking at it in this way can remind me (among other things) that forgiveness comes first from God: and for God, all things are possible.