I was sitting at the kitchen table the other day when I noticed the bottom section of a book peeking out from under my discarded newspaper. The only part of the page I could see was;
“Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.”
I stared at it awhile and began reassessing my view of that long abandoned edict. The last time I saw that line I viewed it through a singularly Catholic prism. Since then I’ve been through a 12 step program, Buddhism, life school, meditation practice, Oprah and Eckart Tolle.
Is it still true? Was it ever true?
Do people really not know what they do?
Being in the violence prevention business puts a very interesting spin on this platitude. Did Chris Brown really not know what he was doing when he beat Rihanna? Did those 20 or so young men who watched a Richmond girl being raped not know what they were doing? And why should I forgive them?
Maybe there’s some kind of acceptable gray area between evil and ignorance. Maybe evil knows exactly what it’s doing but evil diluted with apathy doesn’t. And apathy diluted with complacency must also be forgiven and on down the delusion scale to ignorance. If that’s true most of us have a whole cast of characters in our lives that must be forgiven even while we suspect their actions – though quite purposeful – were driven by ignorance.
Surely if you are a soldier nailing a human being to cross, you are aware, on some level of what you are doing – at least physically. The soldier must justify it somehow. The crowd watching, cheering him on must justify it.
The emperor, the high priests all justified it somehow. But Jesus said to forgive them – said they didn’t know what they were doing. All I can think at this time is that he is speaking spiritually. That there is damage occurring on a level that they are unaware of and thus the ‘ignorance’ part.
This has always been a difficult issue for me. I am judgmental, I do use my reason all the time to assess people and situations. Depending on what’s happened I take my time forgiving people. I believe in that. I know so many people who jump to forgiveness to avoid the discomfort of confrontation and anger. I believe in calling people out on their behavior, I believe in being adult enough to be called out on mine.
It’s not that I ‘hold on’ to anger in a grim resentful way. I use it to grow. I don’t like to shut down justifiable anger. I like to let it melt in the light of day and new information involving the conflict and the principles concerned. I feel anger is important, has a place in this world and shouldn’t be shaken off. I believe in forgiveness but as a transformative power, not saintly armor.
If I was Jesus, with his flame of wisdom and his insiders perspective on the realities of eternal life, I might just ask my Creator to forgive others on my behalf. I might have that profound vision of ignorance in the midst of people doing heinous things, knowing exactly what they are doing but perhaps, and most importantly, not why.