Monday, July 23, 2012
This past week, our city, state and nation experienced one of the worst examples of domestic terrorism to happen in our country - the worst example of mass shooting - in US history. The events which happened on Thursday night, (7/26 - thankfully not a date which will become a memory piece, unlike, for example 9/11) in Aurora, Colorado will never be erased from our thoughts or minds.
Like all pastors who had to speak into this crisis, on Sunday morning, I struggled on the Thursday night before with what to say to people. Do, I say that "bad things just happen, and we must learn to live with them?" "No," I thought to myself, that's too glib. Do I say that we must, "love the victims with a special intentionality?" "Yes," I thought to myself, but that's not enough. So, I decided to focus on the subject of "Evil" itself, and of the "Evil One" the one who plants seeds of division and destruction in the minds of vulnerable and broken people. "But, even that" I told myself, tends to take too much responsibility away from the perpetrator of the event. Wasn't he (and his name will remain a noticeable vacancy from this blogpost) a culpable, responsible participant in this terrible act of violence?
Most of all I decided not to talk about the topic of Forgiveness. As I watched the evening news on Sunday, I saw that several churches in and around Aurora chose to focus on the topic of forgiveness - forgiving the perpetrator, forgiving his terrible act, asking people to begin to forgive the act itself. When I saw these newscasts, I definitely respected the churches that decided to talk about forgiveness on this day, but at the same time I felt that talking about forgiveness in this setting, and on the quick heels of such a terrible disaster, was, perhaps another example of "missing the mark."
Let me insert here a strong proviso. I definitely believe in forgiveness!! I believe that forgiveness is at the center of the Christ following faith. I believe that Jesus' strong endearment to forgive those who do wrong things to us, "forgive them 7 X 77" is at the heart of the gospel. I believe that Jesus was correct when he said, "if you go to the temple and you have not forgiven your neighbor, you cannot worship God fully." Forgiveness is a must. Forgiveness is at the center of our faith. Forgiveness is a mandatory dynamic of the Christ following experience.
However, I have also come to learn, in my 12 years of ministry, that forgiveness is not ever as simple as a single act of contrition. Forgiveness is not the waving of a wand over something to make it so. Forgiveness is not an act of FIAT that can be bequeathed, like a sentence on a criminal. Forgiveness is a process. While forgiveness might be an instant absolute on the part of God, it is always an unfolding event for humans. Forgiveness is almost always a long journey that involves so many important things.
Dr. David Augsburger, one of my favorite all time professors at Fuller Theological Seminary talked in a class I took from him, about the steps involved in a true act of forgiveness. These include:
* Coming together by both parties in an open, honest and forthright communication about the act of wrongdoing which has occurred.
* A mutual recognition of wrongdoing
* A continued dialog about the wrongdoing
* Time and a sense of space between the act of wrongdoing itself and the process of forgiveness.
* A form of compensation or restitution, or restorative justice on the part of both parties
Augsburger once said to our class of D.Min students something I will not soon forget. He said, "Sometimes the worst thing a pastor can do on a Sunday morning is to stand before his/her parishioners and say, 'We JUST need to forgive those who have done wrong to us." Augsburger said, "There is just no JUST about it. Forgiveness is a long process of restitution and justice and mercy and grace."
But we should pray for the process of forgiveness, and we should recognize that all things are possible in Christ - even forgiving despicable acts that are on their own face - completely unforgivable!
All For Now,