Your Thoughts on Forgiveness

E-mail Father Jonathan

July 28, 2006

I’m afraid the few e-mail messages I posted yesterday don’t do justice to the seriousness and diversity of your responses, but I do hope they give you a flavor of the good will and smarts of so many of you. One reader put it like this:

“I don’t pretend to know the answers to your questions, but I’m just glad we finally have a place to think out loud about things that really matter.”

Another suggested we start a dating service!

“Reading the responses of other fans of this blog, I think a ‘Father Jonathan’s Dating Service’ would be a real hit. I feel like I have more in common with people who think deeply (as you always invite us to do) — regardless of their religious background — than I do with people in my workplace and even in my own church. I would bet money my future husband is reading you too.”

I’m starting to feel the pressure. While I don’t have any plans to play professional matchmaker, I’ll be happy to make the official wedding announcement here on this blog when the first couple makes themselves known!

As promised, you will find below more responses to Tuesday’s blog entry on the nature of forgiveness, in general, and as it relates to the Middle East crisis. On Monday or Tuesday (depending on my flight arrival time to the United States) I will post a summary of what we have discussed and a more systematic explanation of the similarities and differences in the understanding of forgiveness in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Father Jonathan,

It is true that there is forgiveness in Christianity and Judaism, but your claim that Islam holds the same value is incorrect. You quoted Sura 42:40 and 43. These are for Muslims to forgive other Muslims, not to forgive non-Muslims. Check out Sura 42:39. “And those who, when an oppressive worng is done to them, take revenge.” Revenge is a main theme throughout the Koran! This is especially true for actions against non-Muslims. Understand that the Koran divides the world into two camps: Muslim and non-Muslim. There are no civilians! Islam has NO golden rule! Please speak out about this terrorist religion. It is costing the U.S. large amounts of money and human bodies.

— Capt. Phillip, Iraq

RESPONSE: Dear Captain, thank you for the service you are doing to our country and to Iraq's future. I am grateful. Perhaps I was not clear enough in my original posting. I did not mean to imply the Islamic understanding of forgiveness, as presented in the Koran, is the same as that of Judaism or Christianity. I hope Monday's blog will shed some light. Please give my personal greetings and thanks to the soldiers under your command.

Father Jonathan,

Wow! You have just taken the term “wild-eyed dreamer” to a whole new level. These Middle Eastern “people” (to keep from using a profane expression) have been fighting for thousands of years! And you expect peace and forgiveness in this century?

— Allen (Keyser, WV)

RESPONSE: Allen, there are plenty of others who think as you do about me. So no worries, you are not alone! Based on your note, where you and I most disagree, however, is not on the most effective path to peace, but rather on the intrinsic dignity of every human being, no matter race or origin. If you and I can exchange diverging opinions peacefully, it is because of the education we have received, not because we live in North America. Thanks for following the blog.

Father Jonathan,

I really enjoy your blog, and appreciate your logical approach to the issues. If only politicians would do the same! As you said, offering forgiveness involves an act of the will to love one another. In addition, though, since it is in giving that we receive, it is through the forgiveness that we are freed from being a continual victim of the offense. It releases oneself from the slavery of hatred. In the short term, it isn’t easy, as you said. However, in the long run it is much easier than a life of bitterness and anger. It is the only way of attaining true and lasting individual, family, national, and global peace. God bless you!

— Josh (Rock Island, IL)

RESPONSE: Josh, thanks for the kind words. Certainly not everyone is so appreciative of my work, as you saw in the previous e-mail. When you speak of forgiveness, I think you are referring to internal forgiveness. On Monday’s blog I will explain the difference between this and inter-personal forgiveness. They have different requirements. You can’t have full inter-personal forgiveness without the wrongdoer recognizing what he has done wrong and being willing to change. Nevertheless, we can always achieve internal forgiveness by letting go of the bitterness and anger even when the other party is unwilling to modify their behavior. Thank you for the good thoughts.

Father Jonathan,

Most important to me is that forgiveness means that you no longer hold the power of being wronged over that person any longer. If I truly forgive someone in my heart, I will not bring up that wrong again in the future and hold it against them.

— Rachel (Grand Forks, ND)

RESPONSE: Oh, how wise, Rachel. From my experience in marriage counseling, there is nothing more damaging to a relationship than reminding your spouse about problems of the past that have already been resolved in a satisfactory way.

Dear Father Jonathan,

My name is Anita and I’m a Catholic from Germany. I am a frequent visitor to and I always enjoy reading your writings.

I think forgiveness is certainly never easy and not always possible. I could never forgive someone, for example, who would kill one of my relatives, nor am I able to forgive people like the terrorists of 9/11. In the war on terror, turning the other cheek is certainly not an option. Again, I commend you on your writings. They are an inspiration and something to think about.

— Anita (Freiburg, Germany)

RESPONSE: Anita, sometimes we Americans think all Europeans are against us and they all think the war on terror is a big joke. Since, I too, live in Europe, I know this is not true, but it is nice to get a reminder now and again. I hope our discussions in these days about forgiveness will allow you to get to a point where you can truly forgive anyone, no matter the case. I don’t suggest this is easy, but I do think it is possible. I have seen this virtue lived out by many people to a heroic degree. I have no doubt you would be capable of this and more.

Father Jonathan,

Forgiveness? Gag me with a spoon! That is what weak people do who don’t know how to respond with justice!

— Sincerely, nobody you need to know

RESPONSE: It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the term "gag me with a spoon." I think it was one of those 1980s "valley girl" phrases. In any case, I don’t know how else to respond to your note. If you pray, please pray for me. I’ll do the same for you.

Father Jonathan,

If the lady down the street drives me nuts and hurts me in some way, I may be very angry and I may think that I could never forgive her. I may even think that Christ can’t possibly dwell in her…she must be evil. Then a couple of days or weeks later, I find her out on the corner gently ushering an elderly gentleman across the street. I’m astonished and I know how wrong I was. Maybe that makes me look deep inside of her once more and it is then that I do find Christ. It is also then that I realize that maybe what she did to me is forgivable after all.

This is a smaller scale than what is going on in the Middle East, but I think it’s the point where we all need to begin.

— Shel (Pennsylvania)

RESPONSE: Shel, like you suggest, I think looking for the good in another person is a habit we can form, even if it doesn’t come naturally. Another very difficult habit along these lines is learning to speak well of people. Here’s a challenge for all of us: think of someone you don’t get along with, or someone of whom you are envious or jealous, and go speak well of them TODAY to a third party. You don’t have to lie or be disingenuous, just speak of the good qualities the person has, without touching on his or her defects. This is one of the most difficult things to do, and at the same time, one of the most beautiful.

Father Jonathan,

Should the peoples of the world forgive radical Muslims who want to destroy the freedom to choose, to speak, to read, to learn, to let children play, to laugh, and to live in peace? NO way! I watch my great granddaughter who is 11 months and who walks like a penguin. I watch her reach for toys and books. I hear her squeal and laugh. I could never forgive anyone who tried to destroy her natural desire to learn these things. Forgiveness? Maybe we should work on acceptance of each other. That might stand a chance of working, but only if all religions and political powers accept the rights of others.

— Carolyn

RESPONSE: Carolyn, because we have swapped e-mails before, I know you are a very rational and kind person. When it comes to protecting children and grandchildren from agressors, I know forgiveness can seem like a pipe dream. I agree with you that an attitude of tolerance or appeasement of evil is irresponsible. Forgiveness is neither of these. It is our willingness to hate only the sin and not the sinner. Does that help?

Dear Father Jonathan,

I read aloud your blog on FOX News this morning to my husband and children. I must say, I had given up hope that there was a single member of any clergy left who had anything insightful to offer the population at large, and lo, you restored my faith in one blog post. I wish I had heard of you yesterday.

Being of Irish heritage, I’m sure you can appreciate the mountain of personal experience I have regarding the subject of transgression and forgiveness. I am currently embroiled in a war of words (or silence in this case) with my immediate family over a statement I made that wounded my father’s pride, and at this point, his faith in me. My faith in him is waning quite frankly, but there is always hope, as your blog this morning demonstrated to me.

I have asked my husband and children to send their feedback as well. I hope you find our responses interesting and thought provoking, or at the very least, they will give you hope….that there are people out there who believe as you do, and are willing to do what it takes to achieve what we all know is not easy, but possible.

— Sincerely, Jill

RESPONSE: Jill, I changed your name for the sake of your father. I just wanted to say thank you for your kindness. I am quite sure, though, there are many, many clergy members who have a lot to offer the public. I’ll say a prayer for the unity in your family. Please tell your husband I received his note as well, and it sounds like you have a great family!

Father Jonathan,

I just wanted to say what an idiot you are. That’s all.

— Jim

P.S. And thanks for offering me a daily portion of absolute absurdity. You help me to put everything else I read into perspective.

RESPONSE: Jim, and thank you for making this blog fair and balanced.

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