But the Amish community is clearly witnessing to an important, and sometimes impossibly difficult, aspect of Christian life: forgiveness.
Among the things they're teaching us about forgiveness are these:
- Forgiveness is the attitude with which we're to meet the world.
- Forgiveness can't be earned or merited.
Jesus painted a vivid portrait of forgiveness and repentance in His parable of the Prodigal Son. The father in the story, emblematic of God, never stopped loving or wanting a relationship with his son. His forgiveness was always available for the taking. When the son came back, even before the boy was able to utter his words of contrition, the father was surrounding him in a bear hug of forgiveness.
- Forgiveness is release.
- Until we willingly forgive others, God's forgiveness can't reach us.
It's not for nothing that Jesus teaches us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." When we withhold forgiveness from others, we block from our lives the forgiveness and life God wants to give us.
Three things that forgiveness is not:
- It's not approval.
In fact, the Christian's hope and prayer in offering forgiveness to others will cause the person to want to repent and enjoy a whole, personal relationship with the God revealed in Jesus and the restoration of other relationships. The New Testament teaches that it's the kindness of God that leads people to repent. Christians hope that in offering forgiveness, people will experience God's kindness and so, want to walk with Him too.
- It's not an indication that the person we forgive is right with God.
- Forgiveness doesn’t replace the proper working of the judicial system.
So, Pope John Paul II visited his would-be assassin within months of the attack that nearly ended his life and forgave Mehmet Ali Agca. But the Pope also left Agca in prison. The man still had to pay his debt to society. (See here.)
One final point. A commenter on Henderson's post, a person named Queenie, wrote this:
Thanks Susan for tribute to Amish. If only the Christians of our country had followed the lead of the Amish instead of the Falwell/Robertson crowd, we would not be bogged down in Bushs' Iraqi killing debacle now.Leaving aside any discussion of the war in Iraq, I responded:
Queenie:My personal experience tells me that to forgive in ways that the Amish are demonstrating right now is impossible when we rely on ourselves. It can only happen when we rely on Jesus Christ...and even then, one must go to God again and again and again, asking to be released from the feelings of hatred, anger, and hatred that can sometimes dog us so that we can get down to the business of living our lives. My experience says that only a Savior Who has forgiven all my sins--and the sins of the world--can give me the capacity to forgive as I've been forgiven.
I can assure you that the Falwell/Robertson crowd represent but a fraction of we Christians in the United States and it ticks us off the way they've been able to hijack the perceptions of gullible people about what Christianity is about. In this sense, the Amish, who are also Christians, are more representative of what is best in us. Of course, none of us is perfect. As an apt bumper sticker puts it, "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven." The Amish are reminding us of that.
The Amish are showing us all how the very practical life skill of forgiveness happens and how it works.
[UPDATE: Thanks to Andrew Jackson of Smart Christian for linking to this post.]
[ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE: Written by a Mennonite pastor. While I think that there's a lot of food for thought in this piece, I also think that governments are authorized by God to use force and other coercive power. This isn't necessarily an endorsement of US policy. I'm simply saying that God rules in two different ways over different constituencies. See here and here for posts that contain discussions of the two different means of rule God employs.]
[THANKS TO: Pastor Jeff at Conblogeration for linking to this post. Go over there and read the poignant personal story of forgiveness told in the comments by Des Moines Girl.]
[THANKS ALSO TO: The Ruminating Pilgrim for linking to this post.]
[I ALSO THANK: Susan Henderson, the blogger whose original post on The Huffington Post elicited this response from me. She wrote a gracious email to me, expressing regret that her post, which she intended to both laud the Christian graciousness of the Amish and to confess a personal desire to be more like them, had attracted so many "Christian-bashing" quotes. Susan's personal blog is here.]
[THANKS TO: Bonnie at Intellectuelle for linking to and summarizing this post.]