By Fr. Andrew Carlson
MARLBOROUGH, May 22, 2013
A Christian friend whose experience and judgment I trust recently forwarded a picture of Jane Fonda on Facebook, with the statement that her deeds need to be remembered. Fair enough, I thought – until I saw the caption under a black and white mug shot of Ms. Fonda from 30 years ago. “Traitorous B***h.” Whoa, that’s a little over the line. I mean, regardless of how terrible her support of North Vietnam was, doesn’t that statement seem a little gratuitous? A little self-righteous? Where’s the room for grace in THAT statement?
As I thought about it, I remembered from somewhere Ms. Fonda supposedly repented of her youthful actions, so I Googled her and repentance. Sure enough, numerous articles came up, about her and her regrets at having engaged in those behaviors. I also saw many of the articles were about why her “repentance” wasn’t really repentance, or it didn’t go far enough, or she wasn’t trustworthy at ANY stage of her life, etc. These assumptions about the validity of her “repenting” of past actions, it seemed, gave license in continuing forwarding statements that she was a traitorous b***h, or worse.
This got me to thinking about RECEIVING repentance in the Body of Christ. In a sense, this is a secondary issue, because repentance only really matters as the Holy Spirit invokes it, and the Father receives it through the Son’s mediation. Completely Trinitarian, it is between the one seeking forgiveness, and our God who is merciful, slow to anger and forgiving. But this tells only part of the story, no? Because sin is lived out in the world, and it often involves others. Our relationships to others as we repent of sin – and our response to them if they repent and seek forgiveness of us – matters a lot.
Wrathful? So long as that stays in your mind, then it is only an offense against God – until, that is, you cut off that “idiot” on the highway who isn’t driving to your satisfaction. Bearing false witness against others may have a huge impact upon their lives and wellbeing (try explaining to your child why you lied, even though you expect honesty from them!) Taking God’s name in vain may seem “harmless,” until you realize two things: it is not honoring but disrespectful to God, and two, if you have led someone else to dishonor God by your own carelessness, then you have helped bring a double portion of dishonor. You can repent, but you are still responsible to having led that other person astray.
On the other end, if you have been sinned against, and the offender comes to you in repentance, what is your response? We know what we should do – but how often have we rejected their outreach? Held a grudge? Justified our rejection because of the pain we experienced? That’s hardness of heart. And it prevents the God’s grace from healing that other person, and yourself. In short, rejecting repentance is sinful! And it would be a shame if an evil visited on you works more evil through your rejection of God’s healing.
Now, I’m not totally naïve. Sometimes an injury we experience is very, very painful. It may take the passage of time to fully forgive, to let go of hurt and injury. And forgiving is NOT the same thing as forgetting, nor should it mean there shouldn’t be consequences for painful, hurtful actions. But if we remember that evil and sin cease having a hold on us when we let grace and forgiveness reign, then we know that receiving and accepting repentance – and giving forgiveness back – is the true route to healing human hurts and offenses.