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Tag: forgiveness

The Creative Power of Forgiveness

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The irreversibility of action is one of the most profound truths of life. When we act, we interact with others from our position of human plurality to accomplish something more creative and powerful than we could ever accomplish on our own. Action is always an inter-action with others, and action is always resulting in an outcome that exceeds our own creativity and personal power. When we act, the consequences of our actions out live our selves. However, forgiveness can reverse the power of destructive action.

The inter-active, inter-personal reality of action is remarkable to consider. Because of our fallen nature and our lack of foreknowledge of future events, our actions can be creatively productive or creatively destructive. For example, we routinely see the creative power of action at work in politics. When DeRay McKesson asserts that #BlackLivesMatter, his actions are multiplied beyond his own power because others subject their personal will to the ideal that other Americans are willing to productively confront the structural devaluing of minority lives in our justice system. When President Donald J. Trump asserts that only he can #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, i.e., #MAGA, his actions are multiplied beyond his own power because others subject their personal will to the creative destruction of the American-dominated world order in favor of re-creating another domestic future.

We saw the irreversibility of action this past week in profoundly destructive and profoundly redeeming ways in Las Vegas. While the shooter may have had (yet unknown) plans effected in his own actions, the destructive power of his actions has been greatly multiplied beyond anything beyond his own power as the losses of life and health ripple through all of the families and communities affected. At the same time, his actions released the creatively redeeming actions of others who sacrificed themselves to protect others, risked their lives to keep the company of the dying, and provide immediate physical and spiritual relief to those who were suffering in the moment. While on the one hand, there was one irreversibly destructive act, on the other hand there were many irreversibly redeeming acts that negated the power of one’s rebellion against the sanctity of life.

In fact, action is so powerful that the only thing that can reverse or undo destructive acts is forgiveness. Forgiveness is the sole personal action that can release the actor and the one who is acted upon from the irreversible consequences of action. This is because forgiveness is so unexpected in the wake of actions with creatively destructive actions. Most of the time, when the circumstance demands forgiveness, it is because the hurt and pain caused by the original action is so deep that it creates a cycle of retribution in which the one acted upon is obligated to reciprocate the original action. Thus, the original action attains its destructive power. But forgiveness can have redemptive power, because it destroys the cycle of retribution while re-configuring the relation between the actor and the one acted upon. Ideally, forgiveness re-configures this relationship so that both parties can proceed as if the original act had never happened. In our human world, this is obviously not true since some of the artifacts of originally destructive acts cannot be reversed or restored (e.g., a man is paralyzed because he was struck by a drunk driver). However, future actions are no longer predetermined by the original act of destruction.

Have the events of the past week made you reconsider the meaning of life? The meaning of our actions? The power of forgiveness?

Peace and Blessings.

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Love Redeems: Reflections on Crime and Punishment

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to read fiction, and I like to at least read one every few months to make sure that my heart remains full and refreshed. I read plenty of narrative prose for my research and day job, and I read plenty of prose for learning about Christ and teaching in my church. While I love the beauty of well-written, technical, narrative prose, my heart remains detached from the details of those documents. I cannot remain detached from the fiction that I read.

My latest book was Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. This was, quite possibly, the best book that I have ever read. For me, the power of the book is in its communicating the power of love to redeem and transform even the most guilty conscience.

In my opinion, this book, like Anna Karenina, was much more about a supporting cast member, Sonechka, than the main character, Rodya. While the book deals mainly with the acts and thoughts of Rodya, his ideas about the doctrine of man from the agnostic/atheistic and theistic/Christian perspectives, social structure and hierarchy, guilt and the identity of man, the book makes its main statements through the actions of Sonechka.

As a Christian, I find Sonechka’s place in the story remarkable. Having become a prostitute to support her family in spite of her father’s alcoholism and depression, her lower caste and occupation makes her essentially untouchable in the contemporary Russian society. Nonetheless, her nobility is demonstrated in her inability to remain indifferent when confronted with the suffering of her family. Rodya rightly sees this aspect of her character, and even appraises her character much more highly than the higher caste Luzhin, engaged to his sister. Luzhin has the higher social position and resource, but he is of much lower character, treating his future mother-in-law and fiancé with great contempt.

At the end of the book, Sonechka is vindicated as we witness the closing scene between Rodya and Sonechka. Having been sent to Siberia for his murder, Rodya has recovered from a sickness and now has the chance to receive Sonechka after an illness of her own. During this time, it becomes clear to him how much he loves her and is indebted to her reckless companionship and faith in his future redemption. We are told at the end of the book that it is her tireless love that convinces Rodya to pursue life, spurning guilt’s heavy weight on his conscience and giving him a taste of the sweetness of life. He is compared to Lazarus, in my opinion. Just as Lazarus is resurrected at the word of Jesus, the redemption of God endures beyond the greatest guilt that can be upon any man or woman. Sonechka clearly believes this, as we see from her reading of this story with Rodya when he visits her after his sister spurns Luzhin, and this story is in the background of the final third of the book as we approach Rodya’s confession.

Crime and Punishment closes with a statement of newness of life for Rodya, a statement of renewal and regeneration. There’s so much more in this that could be explored–the use of a broken vessel to bring life to a guilty soul; the inability to escape one’s own guilt; the fact that our deeds and desires carry us along despite our desire to master them. But I leave the exploration of these topics to my fellow reader.

But here begins a new account, the account of a man’s gradual renewal, the account of his gradual regeneration, his gradual transition from one world to another, his acquaintance with a new, hitherto completely unknown reality. It might make the subject of a new story–but our present story is ended.

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