Monday, May 16, 2011

Clarification on Forgiveness

In failing to define "forgiveness" in my most recent post on that subject, I seem to have done a disservice to my readers, especially the non-Orthodox. Please accept my apology and my attempt, now, to recitfy this - somewhat, at least. It's a complex subject, one with which we all struggle, and I despair of doing it justice in less than a full chapter of a book, but at least a few remarks are in order here.

When I said God forgives everyone, period, I meant He loves everyone, at all times, unconditionally, infinitely. He holds no grudges; His tender compassions never fail; His steadfast love never wavers. He is good, as Jesus taught us, to the unthankful and the wicked. He makes His sun to shine on the just and the unjust alike, and His rain to bless the good and the wicked alike. He loves the worst sinner with "as much" love (if His love could be quantified) as He loves the greatest saint.

What I do not mean when I speak this way is that the unrepentant are restored to communion with the Most Holy God. I do not mean all is well with us if we do not repent; far from it. I do not mean the unrepentant are justified or sanctified or given a portion of the Kingdom of God or are spared from eternal misery. God's fathomless forgiveness cannot benefit anybody who does want it.

No, without repentance, God's very love will seem to us an exquisite torture; His sweet forgiveness, the most beautiful thing there ever was, will rankle, with harrow our souls. In short, the ultimate effect of impenitence will be not one iota less fearsome than if God literally hated us - which is why it's put that way in some Old Testament passages that come to mind.

But it's important, for the sake of our own ability to love God, to know that all this is caused by our own perversity, egged on by the devil, and is not due to any shortage of love or forgiveness on God's part, nor to any limitation upon them. It's the devil and our own intransigence pervert love into torment and forgiveness into agony.

And I think there is another issue as well, involved in our struggle to forgive others, which I hope to address in the next post.