An article in the Washington Post On Faith section in response to their question:
Another politician (John Edwards) has admitted to having an extramarital affair, and another spouse (Elizabeth Edwards) has been forgiving. At what point does a person of faith cease to forgive? At what point does forgiveness become destructive?
A cynic might say, in the wake of so many adulterous politicians, that in future they should issue a preemptive confession before running for President to save The National Enquirer excess ink. Why wait until you are caught? John Edwards' gotcha moment hasn't stirred much glee, perhaps because a rich personal-injury lawyer was an unlikely figure to mold into presidential stature to begin with. On the more humane side, his wife's illness and Edwards' own political failures create a sense of sadness. They both deserve sympathy and the right to retreat into the shelter of home, family, and hopefully a marriage whose wounds will heal. The confession itself smacked of hypocrisy -- as with other cheating politicians, one suspects that Edwards is mostly sorry that he got caught. that he would cheat on a devoted spouse with cancer is best passed over with a cringing silence.
But the question posed is whether forgiveness can be so difficult that it stretches religious faith too far. Yes, of course. The most devout Jews are not expected, required, rewarded, or pressured to forgive the Holocaust. Such forgiveness would be the same as saintliness. Human nature is vulnerable. Violence and persecution create wounds in any faith that not only last but are exacerbated, because for true believers attacking their faith is the same as attacking God -- an unforgivable affront. The notion that God is bothered by being attacked seems irrational to someone outside organized religion, but it is a persistent article of belief and has been for centuries.
A more probing question, then, would be whether forgiveness and faith are compatible. Yes again. The devout, like the rest of us, are capable of holding two contradictory ideas at the same time. As unforgivable as Christians in the past found it that the Jews crucified Christ (their perspective, not ours), forgiveness is a primary tenet in Jesusʼ teachings. He asks for the most difficult form of forgiveness when it is offered to one's enemies. How does a Christian bridge the gap between that ideal and the natural reaction of revenge and resentment? I feel that traditional Christianity doesn't bridge the gap. Without a shift in consciousness, it's impossible to clear the psychological slate and forgive deep hurts just because you aspire to be moral. The imprints made on the psyche by violence and humiliation, guilt and shame, prejudice and lack of love, are as real as wounds to the body. The psyche possesses some healing mechanisms that work -- the passage of time, forgetfulness, the will to forgive, a strong sense of self, and love. These healing methods, however, have their limits.
Eventually, forgiveness cannot be accessed simply because you want to forgive. The essence of forgiveness is transcendent -- it lies in a domain of consciousness where the wound doesn't exist and the wrong never occurred. Whenever we forgive our children and other loved ones, we do so by transcending the normal responses of blame and judgment. To find a larger sense of forgiveness, you have to undertake a journey that leads to this transcendent place inside yourself. Sadly, few people begin the journey with enough knowledge and guidance to arrive at the goal. As Edwards will discover, it's an unforgiving world. But one must be deeply grateful that transcendent forgiveness is real. After all, the day may come when we need it ourselves for our own transgressions.
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