Friday, September 10, 2010

Forgiving the 9/11 Perpetrators?

A commenter on a friend's Facebook page said that, irrespective of what Christians are called to do, she would never forgive the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. Another commenter suggested that if a person can forgive the terrorists, "then you need to check yourself."

I understand their sentiments, of course. In the days following the 9/11 attacks, my wife and I were fond of the political cartoon showing an American eagle sharpening its talons preparing to respond. We liked it so much that we posted it on our refrigerator. Without getting into the specifics of endorsing or condemning any particular policies, my wife and I, like hundreds of millions of others thought that some response to the September 11 outrages had to come.

But I didn't agree with the commenters at my friend's site today when it came to this business of forgiveness. This is what I wrote:
There's a difference between forgiveness and heedlessness. In an imperfect world where people do evil things, God has provided for the establishment of governments in part to pursue justice--whether through domestic police powers, economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure, imprisonment, or armies. The government that is heedless of injustices like the September 11 attacks would not be doing its job.
[Similarly, the woman, for example, who fails to get out of an abusive relationship or fails to take the necessary legal steps to keep an abuser from continuing to harm her, is not doing the right thing. She will be right to forgive, but she will be reckless to take no action, to be heedless of the threat her abuser poses in her life. She must do something to stop her abuser!]

But Jesus leaves no question as to whether we should forgive. Not forgiving will, if allowed to prevail in our lives, make us monsters who also commit injustices against others.

Forgiveness is hard to do. It requires supernatural power given to us only by God, which is why Jesus taught us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Vengeance is not the same thing as justice. 
Forgiveness is not the same thing as excusing. 
Release (aphiemi is the word in the Greek in which the New Testament was written) is one word for forgiveness used in the New Testament. [When we forgive,] we not only release others from their indebtedness to us, we release ourselves from the corrosive, hellish feelings that accompanying holding onto hatred, vengeful sentiments, and putting ourselves on God's throne of judgment. 
[Government leaders can only think clearly about how best to mete out justice, including the possibility of waging war, by getting all notions of revenge out of their minds. When armies wreak vengeance, they violate one of the most important principles of Christian belief on what constitutes a just war: proportionality.
[We similarly escalate relational discord in our own lives when we seek revenge rather than justice.]

I'm only a student of the lessons God wants us to learn, by the way.

What I try to do when faced with my inability to forgive or love others is to ask God to forgive or love them through me, in spite of my feelings. [Imperfectly,] I try to follow as Savior Who, as He died at the hands of hateful, violent people, against all common sense and evidence to the contrary, put the most charitable construction on his murderers' actions and prayed, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do!"

If Jesus can do that in His own power, maybe He can do it through [me in spite of] my weakness.

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