Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 65: “Forgive them, Father”
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 65: “Forgive them, Father”

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

While suffering and dying on the Cross, Jesus said, “Forgive them, father, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 32:34) This comment, which likely surprised the mob, has profound implications for Christian faith. First, note that Jesus asked God to forgive them; he did not forgive his tormentors himself. This would have been difficult, given his suffering. Furthermore, the mob, believing Jesus guilty, would have scoffed at his forgiving them. They might even have regarded his forgiveness as an attempt to gain mercy or as a condescending and sanctimonious effort to get in the last word.

Jesus asked God to forgive them. When one genuinely loves everybody and everything, one wants them to be forgiven, even for the most heinous crimes. One will want them to desist from hurting other individuals, of course, but one will not desire vengeance against those one loves. Being human, it can be very hard for us to forgive those who have deeply wounded us. When we find it impossible for us to forgive, sometimes the best we can do is, like Jesus, to pray for God to forgive them, just as God’s unconditional love prompts God to forgive sinners like us.*

In addition, Jesus recognized that the authorities and the mob had become caught up in the scapegoating mechanism. As has been true since the foundation of human civilization, the scapegoating mechanism has been hidden and “they know not what they do.” In fact, Jesus told his disciples, “Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering a worship to God.” (John 16:2) Is this not the scapegoating mechanism par excellence? From the foundation of human civilization, people have murdered innocent victims and attributed their own violence to God or the gods. As Jesus continued, he explained why people have always thought their violence was righteous: “And they will do this because they have not known the Father, nor me.” (John 16:3) Those who know God’s unconditional love are peacemakers; they do not engage in scapegoating violence.

Finally, our ability to love our enemies derives from our having been sinners who have been forgiven. By our sinfulness, we have worked against God’s desire for love, compassion, and harmony in God’s creation. Yet, God has forgiven us out of love. If God can forgive and love us, then surely we can forgive and love our enemies. Indeed, if we fail to forgive, our position is often like that of the ungrateful ­­­debtor, whose king forgave his large debt but who then refused to forgive another man a much smaller debt. Jesus illustrated the principle of forgiveness when he encountered his disciples after the Resurrection. They had abandoned and denied him, yet Jesus greeted them, saying, “Peace be with you.” Notably, Jesus did not first demand repentance. Forgiveness came first, and the repentance of the Disciples came later.

Next week, we will consider how the story of Jesus saving the adulteress from stoning informs this ongoing discussion on forgiveness.

* I acknowledge Julie Shinnock for her contributions to this topic.

Go on to: Part 66: The Adulteress
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