What is Forgiveness?

Editor's Note: Father Jonathan will appear on "DaySide" today at 1pm ET to discuss the crisis in the Mideast.

E-mail Father Jonathan

July 27, 2006

Here’s my little confession: as I read the hundreds of e-mails that you sent in response to Tuesday’s blog, I was moved to tears — just a few — and I’m glad there were no witnesses.

The emotion had nothing to do with good news in the Middle East. After all, not even the meeting of high-level diplomats held here in Rome on Wednesday was capable of producing an international agreement for a path to peace. Bullets and bombs still fly.

It had little to do with any single note, any story in particular.

It was brought on by the beauty of the combined goodness of so many of you. From all over the world and from every walk of life, you added your two valuable cents. Many of your comments were smart, but they were free of the flavor of cold academia. They were wise, but not self-important (others were ridiculous, but that’s another story).

You reminded me to put things into perspective. Whether we die in war or from old age, life is very short, and it can be very good.

I had planned in today’s blog to give a summary explanation of the theology of forgiveness in Judaism and Christianity, but I’ve opted to dedicate more space to your comments and questions.

The e-mails below are neither random nor representative of the majority, but I think each has something to add to the whole.

Dear Father,

The problem with the president is that he is not ruthless enough. The problem with your well-intentioned statement in premise two is the Islamic fascist is beyond a Dr. Phil moment. The worst aspects of Islam are non-negotiable.

This is a religious war institutionalized by Muhammed. Offerings of forgiveness and apologies will be a prelude to your head being severed.

— James (Morgantown, WV)

RESPONSE: Rather graphic! I have no doubt that someday my head may be severed. Until then, I think it’s worthwhile working for enduring peace, which includes not being afraid to call things by their names, as you suggest. I just hope my legacy is not having offered "Dr. Phil moments." I would have a hard time dying for that!

Father Jonathan,

Forgiveness is something we do, and it usually runs counter to the emotions we feel at the time. Much like patience, it’s the ability to idle your motor when you would rather be stripping the gears.

— Tim

RESPONSE: I like the car analogy. Taking it further, I would say forgiveness is finding a whole new set of gears. It’s the ability to look at difficult situations with realism and still respond to them with moral courage. I say this is a new set of gears because our car doesn’t come off the lot with this included. A forgiving spirit is forged through the repetition of virtuous acts, and as I would see it, also through the grace of God.

Father Jonathan,

I, an ex-U.S. military soldier from Texas, was raised and baptized Methodist; however, after traveling all over the world studying several religions, I've found none that weren't corrupted by man's self-serving interpretations. All profess to be the only correct and true religion but none really are in their present state.

— Jim

RESPONSE: I include this part of your very good message because it reflects the feelings of many people. It is normal, and shouldn’t surprise us, that everyone thinks their religion is the right one. After all, we otherwise would change religions. If there exists a great diversity in interpretation about who God is, it doesn’t mean there is no right answer. It just means that, as human beings, we are limited and are conditioned by self-serving intentions. In my own life, I’ve found it helpful to always distinguish between what a particular religion actually teaches, and the way in which its members live them out.

Father Jonathan,

I really feel the "turn your cheek" command does not directly apply to situations involving violence, self-defense, and national defense, in specifying that we should leave ourselves defenseless against an attacking enemy. Hey, if you can help me in this area, I trust you. I’m a southern Baptist, but I saw how skillfully you shot down the Da Vinci Code, so you have full permission to shoot me down too!

— F.R.

RESPONSE: I think you’re on to something. If a robber enters your house and is aiming a loaded gun at your wife, you have not only the right, but also the responsibility to respond with whatever force is required to stop the aggressor. This, in my opinion, does not go against the Christian principle of "turning the other cheek," which refers more specifically to a situation where our pride is hurt.

Father Jonathan,

In your conclusion you call contemporary Christian "outspoken mouthpieces" peaceful. I assume you are not including Jerry Falwell and Pat Robinson in this category.

— Rick (Columbia, TN)

RESPONSE: Rick, there are disgraceful moments for Christianity today as there have been in the past, but it is disingenuous to consider them equal to the problems we are seeing in radical Islam.

Dear Father Jonathan,

After reading your questions, my next thought was "where is TRUST?" Do you forgive someone and give them another chance only to be done in again by their human nature to stiff you again?

— Laura (Cleveland, OH)

RESPONSE: Almost contemporaneously to your message another e-mail message came into my In-Box from Anna. She said, "Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you trust them. You can forgive and move on, but if the person hasn’t changed what they do, you are not expected to trust them." I agree with Anna. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we pretend the other person is a living saint. I think forgiving "70 times 7 times - as the Bible says - means never letting our heart turn against the person. It doesn’t suggest we empower the offender to continue to offend.

Father Jonathan,

I write to you as a first time reader of your FOX News articles online. I have seen you on television.

I am searching for more of an understanding of the war and the world, as is has recently become very personal to me. A church member, who is a police officer, is being deployed to Kosovo on August 1, leaving his wife and two teenage children behind.

I am embarrassed to say that up until this point, the war has been something very bad, very far off... something I pray about probably weekly, and something that I am very uneducated about. I feel a real need now to become involved. I feel called. It pleases me because I have wrestled lately with my purpose in life and what difference I can make in the world. I am vowing to take care of the family left behind. I try to put myself in this soldier's wife's place, and cannot without tears welling up inside of me.

So, that is who I am and this is the start of my quest. I kind of feel that when I push "send," this e-mail will be lost in space, being just one of thousands who probably write to you. But that's okay. This seems a good way for me to articulate my thoughts and feeling, and help me to organize my head.

I look forward to reading the continued discussion.

— Sincerely, A Preacher’s Wife

RESPONSE: Your e-mail was not quite lost in space. In fact, it is now on the World Wide Web. I post it because I think we all feel a bit like you - wondering what we can do to make a difference. I hope your decision to help take care of the family the police officer leaves behind will inspire others to respond in a similar fashion to the opportunities that arise. Thanks so much for the note.

Father Jonathan,

Your questions were too broad. There are two types of forgiveness — God/Man forgiveness and man/man forgiveness.

— Annie and Neatie (Newton, TX)

RESPONSE: Annie and Neatie, you keep me in line. You are right; there are various types of forgiveness. Look at the next e-mail below and my response.

Father Jonathan,

You pose a very good question, however, I believe we should be asking, how does one attain or garner forgiveness?

In my studies through sixteen years of Catholic schools, it seems to me that one cannot truly be forgiven if one is not truly repentant. To apply this on a macrolevel in the Middle East it would argue that the Arab/Muslim world would need to fully admit, and apologize for their wrong-doing.

— James (St. Paul, MN)

RESPONSE: Great points. I think we have to make some distinctions. When are asking for forgiveness, of another person or of God, our request is only sincere if we are truly repentant, meaning we have made a decision to change our behaviour. Nevertheless, I think we can forgive people in our hearts even if they are not repentant. The next e-mail shows a great example of this.

Father Jonathan,

Thank you. This blog came to me the day after an uncle of mine decided to sue my dad and grandmother over something completely and utterly frivolous. My dad and I had a long discussion on forgiveness and your blog has helped greatly in supplementing our discussion.


Dear Father Jonathan Morris,

I think using verses from the Koran on your part, especially since you claim to be a Christian, was inappropriate. The only true forgiveness comes from what the Old and New Testament say that forgiveness is.

— Nick

RESPONSE: Hmm...I would suggest you read my column again. I cited the verses in a very particular context. Hope that helps.

Tomorrow I will post more!

God bless, Father Jonathan

E-mail Father Jonathan

This article is part of a regular blog hosted by Father Jonathan Morris on FOXNews.com. You can invite new readers by forwarding this URL address: www.foxnews.com/fatherjonathan.