Thursday, November 1, 2001

Forgiveness After 9-11

Several weeks ago we were having one of our period controversies on a listserv that I subscribe and participate in. I'd come across an article on forgiveness through one of the blogs that I read regularly. Jeff Jarvis refers to an article by Rabbi Benjamin Blech: There, Rabbi Benjamin Blech asks and answers the most nagging question facing the religious: Can we ever forgive? No. Jarvis goes on to give the following extracts from Rabbi Blech's article:

God's great gift to us is a heavenly pardon. But his present is predicated on a condition. What he asks us to do before He grants us forgiveness is to acknowledge that we were wrong and that we renounce our sinful behavior. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, and He will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7)

Forgiveness is willing to overlook the sins of the past for the sake of an altered future. It is ready to pardon the most terrible wrongs for the price of remorse, regret and the desire for a new beginning. But the one thing God's forgiveness is unwilling to do is to condone vicious crimes by simply accepting them. An unrepentant sinner mistakes God's mercy for permission to continue in his ways. To forgive such a person isn't kindness; its cruelty to all those who’ll be hurt by the evil that wasn't stopped before it could do more harm&hellip.

Forgiving people who aren’t sorry for what they did makes a statement: Repentance isn't really necessary. No matter what you did, you don't have to change. Can anything be more immoral than encouraging evil by refraining from any condemnation of those who commit it?

The day after the Columbine High School massacre, a group of students announced that they forgave the killers. A short while after the Oklahoma bombing, some people put out a call to forgive Timothy McVeigh. And, on September 12th, on several American campuses, colleges groups pleaded for forgiveness for the terrorists responsible for the horrific events of the previous day.

These weren't just misguided gestures of compassion. They were serious sins with potentially tragic consequences. Evil unchallenged is evil condoned. To forgive and forget, as Arthur Schopenhauer so well put it, “means to throw valuable experience out the window.” And without the benefit of experience’s lessons we are almost certain to be doomed to repeat them.

The terrorists who piloted the planes into the twin towers never asked us to be forgiven. They expressed not the slightest remorse as they went to their deaths together with their victims. Those who sent them, those who financed them, and those who applauded their mission never for a moment regretted what happened. Forgiving them is no less than giving them license to murder 4000 more innocent people. That's why to forgive in a case like this is to become an accomplice to future crimes.

I added the following comments in my post to the mailing list: I asked myself how this squared with Luke's account of the Prodigal Son, which is so frequently held out as an example of unconditional love. The answer I think is pretty well. If it is understood that the son's leaving the cesspool of his life behind is a sign of repentance, and that the father, when he sees the son from afar, knows that the son is repentant, then the act of forgiveness is in accord with the principle the good rabbi cites. Ezekiel 3:19-21 confirms this:

Ezekiel 3 19 Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. 20 Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. 21 Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul.

Notice that the wicked must turn from his wickedness in order to be saved. It is not a namby-pamby kind of God loves everybody so everybody is saved no matter what they do religion that is preached by Ezekiel. The theme is repeated in Ezekiel 33:10-20:

10 Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live? 11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? 12 Therefore, thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness; neither shall the righteous be able to live for his righteousness in the day that he sinneth. 13 When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it. 14 Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right; 15 If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. 16 None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live. 17 Yet the children of thy people say, The way of the Lord is not equal: but as for them, their way is not equal. 18 When the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall even die thereby. 19 But if the wicked turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby. 20 Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. O ye house of Israel, I will judge you every one after his ways.

The life, spiritual life, of the sinner is predicated upon his turning from his wicked ways. None of this is denied or modified by the New Testament. So we cannot forgive, nor should we forgive those who attacked our country. To do so is to sin against their memory, and to deny justice to the voice of our brothers' blood that crieth unto God from the ground. (See Gen. 4:10.)