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~ The Freedom
of Forgiveness ~
In his book, "Victorious Faith," Richard Wurmbrand relates a story of caring: "In the Romanian town Lugoj, the director of the prison received an order to arrest the sub-director, a lieutenant. The director called the sub-director and told him, 'Today we will have a new political prisoner. See to it that you prepare a cell for him!' The lieutenant took a warden with him and chose the worst of cells. Now, all prison cells are bad, but some have a little more light, others less; some are damp, others are dry; in some you can take three steps to and fro, in others only two. He chose the worst of cells, the worst of straw mattresses. He came back to the director and told him, 'I have prepared the cell.'
"The director said, 'I would like to see it myself.' He went to the cell with the lieutenant and asked him, 'Do you not think that you should give the man better housing than that?' The lieutenant replied, 'You are too softhearted captain! That is the right cell for a bandit.' The director told him, 'Well, you are the bandit. Please enter!' And the door was locked behind him."
Theology distinguishes between two kinds of faith: "Fides reflecta" and "Fides directa." The first term refers to our consciousness of faith. That may be good and bad. Reflecting obsessively on our faith, state of mind, depression, sins or moods tend to plunge us into a spiral out of which escaping is difficult. So we become depressed about our depression, moody about our moods, and faithless about our faith.
"Fides directa" reminds me of our cat. He exists, but he doesn't reflect upon his condition. This is what eastern philosophy describes as the "Zen consciousness." The cat may feel hungry, but doesn't have an opinion of it. He doesn't muse, "I'm hungry. This is terrible. I'm getting depressed over being hungry. Now I'm getting angry about being hungry. Now I'm getting worried about when I can eat. Oh, I can't stand this! I best go some place and sulk over my painful predicament."
No, the cat just remains hungry. That is all.
Babies are like that. They exist without an opinion of their condition or even an awareness of it. But a loving mother is like God. She knows the child's existence and his or her needs to sustain it, providing the sustenance.
We are conscious (knowing) of many things. I contend we are unconscious (unknowing) of a thousand more. Things that drive our behaviors and thoughts, like babies. But our God, like mothers, embraces our existence and provides our sustenance.
Among the greatest of God's graces is the forgiveness of sins. Judas was consciously aware of his sin of betrayal, and tried to exonerate himself by settling with his sinful accomplices, throwing the silver payment at their feet. Achieving no satisfaction or empathy from them, he hung himself. There is no doubt that if Judas approached Jesus in remorse, he would have been forgiven. Judas would have fulfilled the needed role of betrayal and gained a place in the heavens. That would have been, as we say, a good deal.
Peter's sin of denial was no less than that of Judas, yet there is no biblical record of his asking Christ's forgiveness. Peter knew forgiveness was a given, an understanding that escapes many of us.
I have reveled in pain over my sins. The biblical metaphor for them is "red as scarlet," which is also the metaphor of redemption, the red of Christ's blood. Since Christ does not dwell on my sins, why should I? Why refuse the grace of forgiveness and forgetfulness? Why deprive others of that grace and power provided me? Such depravation is antithetical to being Christlike. This is tantamount to insulting the blood of Christ.
Christ's disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray, not to teach them another prayer, as the Psalms already provided 150 prayers. The response was titled "The Lord's Prayer." It takes me quite a while to pray through this format. When I get to the part, "Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sinned against us," I elaborate, "In my forgiveness, call into yourself my foes and enemies, make us all brothers and sisters in You. Change my transgressors into my defenders, and I, in turn, will defend them before You. Let healing, reconciliation and harmony reign in our lives. Make us all brothers and sisters with Christ and all will be well in accordance with Your covenant with us." It does take a while to name them all.
We began 2006 with the Reflection, "Instant Christlikeness." The practice of forgiveness is to participate in the empathy and grace of redemption. To dwell on our sins and that of others "who sinned against us" is tantamount to Judas' sin of betrayal and Peter's sin of denial.
Let us return our thoughts to the story that introduced this Reflection. Many of us are asked to prepare a place for those who are deemed sinful. That place may well take the form of judgments, condemnations, challenges, and beliefs in perceptions we believe are true.
Compassion and the new covenant of Christ mandate we prepare a place in accordance with His will and mercy. The place of condemnation and judgment we outline for others marks our own graves. Who will ultimately lie in them?
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Spiritual Resource Services © January 19, 2006