The politics of forgiveness

We have entered a season of heated political debate. As Christians, we are called to do our civic duty, to inform ourselves concerning the issues, to form our consciousness in the light of truth, and to participate in the political process, but we must not give in to the politics of resentment.

There are many areas where people of goodwill can disagree on policy, but there are some areas where the truth is clear. Politicians and judges have made, and no doubt will continue to make decisions that are objectively wrong and in some cases intrinsically evil. These decisions may affect us as individuals or corporately as nation. When this happens, it is easy for us to feel a righteous anger. We must not, however, let that righteous anger turn into bitterness. No matter how much evil we see, we cannot harden our hearts and refuse to forgive.

Whatever evil has been done in the past, whatever evil is still being done, we must be like Christ -- the ultimate victim of political injustice -- who, while the nails were still in his hands, struggling for breath said “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

No matter how many calumnies and insults we receive for standing up for truth, as Christians we must remember that we are blessed when we are persecuted and reviled. When our adversaries lie, distort the truth, and say all manner of evil against us, we must rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is our reward in heaven for so they persecuted the prophets who went before us. Our political adversaries, whether they mean to or not, are giving us a great gift and we must respond by thanking them.

That doesn’t mean we must refrain from speaking the truth, from exposing lies and deceits. Were we to avoid speaking the truth, we would not only be denying ourselves the reward that comes with persecution for the truth, we would be depriving our adversaries the opportunity to repent. No matter how fierce the battle, we must never let our righteous anger turn into hate. Jesus cleansed the temple, but he also wept over Jerusalem.

In order to keep hate out of our hearts, we have to make continued acts of forgiveness. We have to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. Of course, doing good doesn’t mean voting for them, but speaking the truth in love even when that truth is thrown in our face.

This is tough. Some may say if we forgive, we are letting people get away with it. Forgiveness doesn’t work that way.

We can only forgive the injuries those who commit evil have done to us. We can’t forgive what they have done to others or how they have offended God. Each person will have to stand before the throne and answer for his choices.

Therefore, holding on to resentment is pointless. No one gets away with anything. Either they throw themselves into God’s merciful arms and he accepts the blood of Jesus shed on the cross in payment for all their sins; or they stubbornly refuse to repent, reject the mercy of God, and bear the consequences of their choices. If they beg for mercy, God is going to give them mercy. If we were to refuse our forgiveness, it would not change his mind. What is worse, if we choose not to forgive, we will not only live with the pain of bitterness and resentment, but we will have to answer for our refusal to forgive our brothers from our heart.

In the parable of the servant who was forgiven much and refused to forgive a small amount, Jesus says that servant was handed over to the tormentors until he paid every penny. I am not sure exactly what being handed over to the tormentors entails, but I am sure it isn’t pleasant.

On the other hand, if we forgive the injury, and those who have done evil die without reconciliation with God, our forgiveness will not change the outcome. Still our forgiveness has tremendous benefits. Forgiveness sets us free. Unforgiveness leads to the bondage of bitterness. Resentment -- the re-feeling -- of old wounds keeps those wounds from healing and prevents us from moving on. Jesus didn’t wait for the crowd to repent and neither can we.

When we forgive our enemies we open the floodgates of grace, and I have seen many hardened sinners so touched by love and freely given forgiveness that they come to conversion.

Therefore, as we pray for our nation, let us pray the prayer of Jesus on the cross for those politicians and judges who have chosen wrongly, particularly those who call themselves Catholic and Christian: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Dale O’Leary is the author of “The Gender Agenda” and “One Man, One Woman.”

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