Glenn Beck does more charitable work in a day than I’ll do in a lifetime. He has lately started a project to rescue Haitian children who have been sold or forced into sexual slavery. Nothing I write here is meant to disparage that heroic and noble undertaking, or any other of its kind.
But I heard the Beckster to say within minutes of describing his work in Haiti that we should forgive everyone–even those who don’t seek forgiveness. He had already shifted context: he was discussing, I believe, the recent book of a former “guest” at the Hanoi Hilton (i.e., a POW held by the Viet Cong).
I have this to say about that. If the man who had kidnapped your eight-year-old daughter and rented her out to perverts for three years were captured, put on trial, and released on a technicality, would you forgive him? Knowing that he had smirked at you in the courtroom and entertained every intention of resuming his lucrative profession, would you simply lift your eyes to heaven and sigh, “I put down this burden–let him go in peace”? Such “forgiveness” would strike me as grotesque and rather comtemptible. Sorry… but I don’t think you would be much of a parent, if that were your frame of mind.
Now, I’m not saying that you should plot to ambush the guy and feed his testicles to stray dogs as he watched. You must not allow a beast to reduce you to another beast.
But I know from my own youthful experience that forgiveness can be an intoxcant–and a relaxant. Something’s eating at you: you can’t get any food down, you can’t focus, and you can’t sleep. You have to let it go. And so you tell yourself, “Though I haven’t deserved this treatment, I have surely deserved punishment for other things I have done that passed unremarked. The best man who ever leaved was among the most tortured–and I’m not worthy to kiss his toe.” With that mindset, you can eat again, sleep again. So liberating! You feel that you have really climbed to a new spiritual plateau.
What you’ve really done, though, is find a way to eat and sleep again. Is it morally good that you should be able to eat and sleep… or is it just materially pleasant and helpful?
If someone has truly done you an outrage, is letting go of the hurt a spiritual triumph… or is it a facilitating quietism that leaves the scoundrel free to claim more victims once you stop pressing your suit?
Many Irish peasants in the mid-nineteenth century embraced the notion that the Potato Famine was God’s punishment upon their weak faith. Thinking that their misery was deserved made it easier to bear. Nevertheless, what a horrible, ultimately blasphemous idea! The popular version of forgiving can provide the same kind of Bandaid: wounds can heal beneath it–but more because of what it screens out than because of any inherent curative properties. In fact, the skin can turn white and anemic under such “protection”.
I would claim that this is not true forgiveness at all. I think the word is much abused. Sometimes you’re just doing what you have to do to survive. Be honest about that and don’t kid yourself. A good night’s sleep is not necessarily a sign that you’re traveling the right path.