One of the great joys of blogging comes in the back-and-forth with people who read and care enough to give me the opportunity to fine-tune what I’ve been saying.
I’ll make room first of all for David Weinberger, who (I predict–because Blogger failed him this morning) will sometime say something such as,
You make restitution because doing something wrong fractures the world and you need to try to make it whole. . . . The reason to be righteous in the world is not to put beliefs into action or to make G-d like you but because, well, that’s what’s right and it’s what we have been commanded to do.
Wish I’d have said that, because I couldn’t have said it any better. Steve Yost appreciates my account of these things, but the tenor of his praise suggests to me that he’ll like David’s version even more. (By the way, Steve, when I said “Christians have set themselves over against Jews…,” I may have been carrying over some idiomatic expression from another language, or just using words idiosyncratically—I meant, “Christians have defined who they are over against Jews.”)
Note that when David says these wise words, he focuses on the one who’s restituting (in I may use that barbarism), the one who’s moving toward making-right. What he’s describing can’t be mandated from outside, and that’s something I was trying ineptly to get at in my sleep-befogged writing about restitution.
Jonathon Mays raises the question of we should stop at forgiveness. Forgiveness, after all, simply takes for granted that people suffer wrongs—in Jonathon’s words, “[b]eing offended necessitates taking things personal.”
I suppose I had been making the assumption that people will continue to suffer wrongs; Jonathon submits that perhaps the goal involves more than mere forgiveness, but imperturbability. He wonders why I might feel offense if a drunk driver kills my child–“The accident had nothing to do with me nor my children. It had to do with him.”
I should think about this longer, but my first reaction supports what I had simply been assuming. I would hesitate before assenting to the premise that we ought to “transcend” feelings of loss and injury. It’s certainly easy to get caught up in those feelings, to overinvest in one’s wounds; but I would fear that there’s something less than fully human in “transcending” a love for one’s children that feels wounded if a careless driver killed them.
“Forgiveness,” as I understand it, aims at cultivating a right affection for the wellness of the world, rather than cultivating detachment from misfortunes.
Vergil Iliescu would add to my observation that “forgiving entails recognizing a wrong, looking at it clearly and honestly, assessing responsibility for it, and resolving not to permit that wrong to determine our lives from thence forward,” the comment that “it is not so much ‘resolving not to permit that wrong to determine our lives’ but more resolving to allow it to determine our lives in a positive, more inclusive manner.” Vergil, you couldn’t hear the intonation as I said the word “determination,” but it is the word I wanted; our past isn’t defined, determined by the wrongs we experience or commit. Instead, forgiveness frees us—and then, yes, I very much agree that forgiveness issues in a positive, constructive orientation toward the future.
I loved all these answers, but was especially deeply touched by Tom Matrullo’s following the winding Way that negotiates the uncertainties that beset humans who try to live with integrity without a net, without guarantees.
This appears to put us, as humans, in an interesting double bind (double register?): we must reck to be forgiven, and also, to forgive, not reck whether the other recks.
This introduces a complexity in human transactions that departs from all the usual double-entry reckonings of supply and demand, quid and quo, tit and tat, mutual consideration, etc. As a model distinguishable by its asymmetry from the economics of standard moral bookkeeping, it is provocative. It seems to say, forgiveness is not a mutual, reciprocal act like a greeting, a treaty, a war or a deal.
I have not yet tackled head on the question of particular people forgiving horrific sins that others have visited upon them. I will try to get to that, perhaps tomorrow. Thanks, all, very much.