"I could never be a Christian," remarked a new friend to my husband and me when we were traveling abroad, "because I can't agree with their doctrine of forgiveness." This amazing woman is a caring and devoted psychologist who counsels tortured refugees from Africa and the Middle East seeking asylum in her country. The concept of forgiveness wasn't something she could offer her patients, because they needed something tangible. That something was justice, and in the eyes of her and her patients, unless justice was made evident, these damaged individuals couldn't move forward to healing.
To her, forgiveness looks wishy-washy and tends to let people off the hook, while others suffer indefinitely from their wrongdoing. But where does the concept of God figure in with any of this? Is this what Jesus really intended when he preached forgiveness? Does forgiveness exclude one from justice?
The Old Testament presents God as dispensing egalitarian punishment with the law of "an eye for an eye." The New Testament tells of a God whose law of grace and truth is given abundantly and unconditionally to each of His children, no matter what religion, sex, or race. Jesus illustrated everyone's connection to this law of grace and truth with his life example. He understood God's laws to be infinitely superior to human events, and forgiving love as key in his resurrection.
When we pray, this biblical thread can remind us how to formulate our prayers effectively. Asking God to punish those who have wronged us may provide some temporary satisfaction, but this mode of vengeful thinking can tend to perpetuate evil rather than heal it - an eye for an eye, for an eye, for an eye, and so on.
So what are the prayers that can lead us to permanent healing, to a state of consciousness that actually excludes evil? Instead of asking God to avenge us, we might begin to pray from the standpoint of a God who is Love, who is an ever-present Father and Mother to each of His children, who cares for our human needs and who abides by and administers the law of grace and truth.
Such a prayer might look something like this "Daily Prayer" that Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, gave to the world: " 'Thy kingdom come;' let the reign of divine Truth, Life, and Love be established in me, and rule out of me all sin; and may Thy Word enrich the affections of all mankind, and govern them!" ("Manual of The Mother Church," pg. 41)
Does this prayer mean that sin and wrongdoing go unpunished? Absolutely not. But it does indicate our own willingness to trust the disposal of events in our lives to a higher power, a higher court of judgment. When we surrender our own agenda of appropriate human punishment, it allows divine justice to take over, and frees us to be receptive to the grace that God has for both victim and victimizer.
What does this divine justice look like? Because God is Love, we can be sure that this love includes spiritual growth and healing for everyone involved, including ourselves. Mrs. Eddy summarized the action of divine justice, or grace: "The intentional destroyer of others would destroy himself eternally, were it not that his suffering reforms him, thus balancing his account with divine Love, which never remits the sentence necessary to reclaim the sinner" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," pg. 161).
Forgiveness not only puts us on the road to healing but it is the key to healing. It clears the way for God's justice to prevail by opening our thought to the innate goodness and innocence of everyone. It stops evil in its tracks. It enables us to yield to the grace of God - the grace that protects, uplifts, unites, and heals. It is divine justice itself, and it reclaims the sinner.
Let all bitterness, and wrath,
and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind
one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
Ephesians 4:31, 32