Apologies to my readers for missing a blog last week. I was wrapping up a dissertation chapter which took all of my focus. That chapter has been handed in, so I have time this week to write a new blog. I might even include a bonus one on Friday as well. Today’s blog picks up our series of posts on Augustine by exploring a different work of his, The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Charity (New City Press, 1999 edition). It’s a helpful work with several different sections on Christianity. The topic for today’s blog is forgiveness of one’s enemies.
I have read Augustine’s catechism (which this work is often called) and enjoyed several aspects of it, but possibly nothing in it hits me harder than Augustine’s section on “Forgiveness from the Heart” (Ench. 74). Apologies for the non-inclusiveness of the language. In it, Augustine writes, “A person who pleads with one against whom he has sinned, if he is moved by his own sin to make his plea, should no longer be thought of as an enemy whom it is as difficult to forgive as it was when he was behaving as an enemy.”
The reason this is hard for me is the idea that we should easily forgive those who were formerly our enemies and no longer look at them as our enemies. The idea that we are supposed to forgive those, who through contrition ask for it, sits just fine with me. The idea that we should look no longer at them as our enemies is a bit more difficult. For example, the powerful testimonies of forgiveness that have been offered in Charleston, South Carolina towards Dylann Roof after his hate-crime killing spree. I don’t know how those families forgave him, let alone advocated that he not be executed. That is truly the power of Christ’s forgiveness in them. I don’t know if I could have extended the same grace, let alone no longer looking to that shooter as an enemy (provided he asked for forgiveness, which to my knowledge he has not done).
Let’s take another example. What if someone is directly responsible for you not getting a promotion, eventually get you fired, which causes you to lose your home? What if, years later, you and that person end up at the same church, and even in the same Bible study? What about if he or she were to come up to you and plead for forgiveness for his or her past actions and tell you he or she is truly sorry? Can you forgive that person? Sure. Can you no longer look at him or her as your enemy? Maybe.
Augustine continues, “But anybody who refuses to forgive from his heart one who asks forgiveness and repents of his sin should not think that the Lord forgives his sins, since the Truth cannot lie. What hearer or reader of the gospel does not know who said, ‘I am the truth?’ (Jn. 14:6).”
This is the rub of Augustine’s message here. Refusing to forgive has personal consequences for the offended person. The Lord’s forgiveness seems to be predicated on our ability to forgive others. Should we agree with such theology? Does Augustine’s own theology allow for this? These are larger questions which might sidetrack the purpose of this blog. I think that the point Augustine is making (based on Matthew 6.14-15 mind you) is that if we are to live as Christians in this world, we must forgive others. How can we think that our enemies have offended us more than we ourselves have offended God?
I want to close today’s blog with a story that looks at this issue from the opposite side of things. Back when I was in high school, a friend of mine was upset with me for a while. I wasn’t sure at first why he had been so mad at me, until I asked a mutual friend of ours about it. That friend told me that my buddy had heard that I was telling a story of his that I wasn’t supposed to share with anyone else. Side note: it was a compelling story and I had ignored the request for confidentiality in order to captivate an audience at school. Long story short, I finally convinced my buddy to talk to me. I told him I was sorry for blabbing his story and sorry for betraying his confidence. He said, “Okay, I forgive you.” It was so simple and he acted like it was nothing. He and I hadn’t talked for about a week, but he so easily forgave me. It was powerful. We were able to get back to being good friends almost as if nothing had happened at all.
That is the strongest picture I can paint (from my own experience). Someone who had felt so wronged and so hurt just needed to hear “I’m sorry” in order to forgive. Friendship was restored because of my friend’s forgiveness. We therefore should treat our enemies (who are contrite, mind you, Augustine doesn’t really address those enemies who don’t want our forgiveness) in a similar way. We are to forgive as the Lord forgave us.
Have any of you been forgiven in such a way? Have any of you forgiven your enemies like this? I would love to hear your stories. If any of you have an issue currently like this (whichever side you find yourself on), I would urge you to seek forgiveness in one way or another.