The condition of our life has been shaped in part by people, groups and ideologies which we will never see or understand. Regardless of who or where you are, the life you are living has been curtailed or diluted by forces which are historical, global, invisible and inaccessible.
For example, many people feel accused and violated every time they fly because of the security checks at the gate. And, they have to endure that humiliated matrix because of nothing they did. It is inflicted on them because of terrorism and bureaucracy and they will probably have to submit to this systemic insult every time they fly for the rest of my life. And, they did nothing to cause it. Injustice is the most difficult thing to embrace.
On a much larger scale, how do African-Americans forgive the pervasive and unrelenting culture of racism which killed, raped and robbed their ancestors and created an exclusive, elitist and often unresponsive power structure which continues to this day?
These are very tough issues; they trace the far horizons of organized cruelty and injustice. How does forgiveness play out in the context of these hidden sources and offenders? When you cannot face the one who injured you and constricted your borders, how do you forgive? Is it even possible to walk away from such overwhelming injustice? How would a Jewish father ever transcend the memory of his daughter being torn from his arms and sent to the gas chambers of Auschwitz?
I recently sat beside a woman on a long airline flight. I was tired; she wanted to talk. She won. In the course of her opening up her life, she revealed the searing pain of her husband’s cruel rejection and the trauma of divorce. She talked about it for more than an hour.
When she finished, I said very spontaneously, “As a man, I am sorry you had to suffer this injustice. I despise what he did; he violated who you are. But, he is not here and I am. So, I’m asking you to forgive me on his behalf.”
Tears filled her eyes. She said, “I didn’t know I needed to hear that until this moment. I accept your apology and I forgive you.”
As those who are forgiven, we are free and empowered to be agents of forgiveness. It does not matter that we are not the specific offending party. If we represent them at all, we should ask forgiveness. The prophet Daniel repented for things he had not personally done. He represented others in going before God to ask forgiveness.
I once asked an African-American friend to forgive me for what white people have thought, believed and done. I broke down in a very public place – for a moment I felt like I stepped into the sin which had abused and oppressed so many. I personally identified with it and was more reviled by it than ever in my life. My apology groaned up out of my guts. And, he broke down, wept and forgave me.
Don’t misunderstand; we should not live in some politically correct posture of running up to people and asking their forgiveness. But, as we sense “the moment” of redemptive grace and invitation from the Lord, I believe we should always be ready to serve as an agent of forgiveness.
I can and must forgive the 9-11 hijackers and others unseen, unknown and unreachable because I choose to give up all hope for a better past. Giving it up is not at all to condone it. But it does release me to walk beyond the reach of what they did.
Forgiveness also releases me to live beyond my own capacities and walk in the everlasting provision of the One Who does for me what I cannot do for myself.