The Poor, Debts and Your Enemies – Learning to Forgive

He who has pity on the poor makes a debtor of God. (Prov. 19:17)

Jesus told a story about a man with a huge debt. He owed it to his master and was unable to pay. When he was dragged before his master, he begged for mercy. Strangely, the master was so moved by the man’s begging that he forgave him the entire debt. This same man, Jesus said, turned around and had a poor man thrown into prison for a very minor debt. When the master learned of this injustice, there was a serious reckoning: the man was delivered to the “torturers” until he could pay his own debt.

Debt is serious business. Indeed, it is pretty much the business of our culture. America owes trillions of dollars – to itself, to others, to one another. Everybody owes somebody! Of course, in our land, there is an occasional reckoning. Some go to prison for failure to pay their taxes. Some lose their homes for failure to pay their mortgage. Others have their debts forgiven (particularly if they are “too big to fail”).

There is a deeper debt, something that makes money look like child’s play (and it is). That debt is the burden created by the injuries we do to others. Many of those burdens could never be reduced by any amount of money. We generally do not think of those who owe us money as “enemies” –  it’s usually only our “friends” who owe us money. But the level of emotional and spiritual debt owed by our enemies can be enormous. Such debts only grow older with time.

There is a spiritual burden created by the debts of our enemies. They keep us from true prayer and they block our journey to the heart. I have been told by many that they “have no enemies.” I suggest that everyone who owes you a debt is your spiritual enemy. Some are simply more pernicious than others. I have rarely encountered a heart so pure that no resentment or grudge could be found in it.

In the parable, the only possible way for the first man to settle his debt was for the master to let it go. He, of course, was promising to pay and begging for more time. The debt of the second man was small and could likely have been paid over time. But there was no mercy in the heart of his creditor, only resentment, and bitterness. His resentment and his bitterness created the “tortures” in his sentence.

My experience in life is that no one has the power to pay the emotional/spiritual debt owed to others. Nothing erases a memory or removes the injury itself. People fantasize that an apology would suffice. It doesn’t. It may restore some small measure of self-esteem, but the injury remains. I have listened to people who have returned to an injury year after year and marvel at their inability to forgive.

My experience has also shown me something else. There are those in my life whose “stock” is large. My love and communion with them are such that I easily overlook their sins against me. I find it easy to explain away their actions and make excuses for them. These are what constitute our “friends.” As St. Paul notes, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”

Essentially, the difference between our enemies and our friends are the allowances we are willing to make for them. Friends have credit accrued from a variety of things. Our enemies are bound in poverty.

There is only one way forward. The debts of our enemies must be treated as the debts of the poor. Our enemies will not have enough to pay us. If these debts cannot be paid (and they can’t), then they can only be forgiven. Or, perhaps, someone else can loan them what is needed.

And here we come to the verse from Proverbs: “He who gives to the poor makes a debtor of God.” The Scriptures add: “And He will pay him.”

The penury of our enemies is the deepest poverty of all, truly an inescapable cycle. It can only be broken by an act of radical generosity. But the generosity is not being asked of us. God will repay the debt. Whatever it is they have done, however much they owe, God will pay it.

I have long placed this thought in a prayer: “O Lord, you know what my enemies have done to me. On the day of judgment, do not hold it against them on my account.”

Set them free. Get serious about laying up treasure in heaven. Make a debtor of God.

 

 

50 comments:

  1. Thank you Father Stephen for this. A man hurt me very deeply long ago. I held great bitterness and resentment towards him. It hurt every time I thought of him. After a few years, though, I began praying that the Lord would bless his life. I knew that I needed to forgive him in my heart of hearts. As I prayed for God’s blessing in his life, the pain I felt toward him began to ease. After a year or two of praying for him, God healed my own heart. I was finally able to think of him without this producing pain. Just a few years later this man died. I pray that God softened his heart also, before his death, as He had mine. Yes, the injury or scar remains. But just as you can look at an old scar and recall the injury, you do not re-live the pain. God can and does heal the wound yet the scar remains. We have a scarred Savior who heals our deepest wounds pouring the healing balm of the Spirit upon them.

  2. Thank you so much Father Stephan. Today of all days I needed to hear this. I have a husband who has a beautiful heart but is also addicted to alcohol. Many times he will say things to me that cut right into my heart. I’m often angered and only get through it with Christ. I still have much forgiveness to give. Your words were an inspiration and made me cry. Thank you.

  3. Father Bless,
    Very true words. Along the way in life I learned a maxim that has helped me greatly. Anger, resentment and refusal to forgive are all things I punish myself with for what someone else has done to me. It continues to give them power over me that I don’t really want them to have. I am not claiming perfection at this by any means but it has made the burden lighter to realize this maxim and let go of things.
    I shall add your simple prayer for those that have hurt me as it seems to be the finisher of the past and will allow to concentrate on the one thing needful. At my age I only have time for preparing myself to leave this world and enter the next. Again, I admit I am not perfect in this either, but it helps to focus in proper prospective.

  4. And when we don’t forgive, I presume we are essentially keeping the other person in their poverty, Father?

  5. I find that I am sometimes harder on my friends than my “enemies” because I tend to have excessive expectations of my friends. In any event, I am much more of a grudge-holder than I would like to believe. I can say and intellectually believe in the words of forgiveness but it is often hard to resist the urge to retell the story – whether to myself or someone else. That retelling is particularly antithetical to mercy. At worse, when related to another, it has the potential to hurt the reputation of the one with whom I have a grievance. However, even when told about an “anonymous” person or just in my own mind, it stirs the passions in a way that is destructive to my soul. How can I accept the merciful Lord into my heart and not be merciful myself?

    Sometimes it seems that my only recourse is to ask my Savior to lift the burden of grudge from my heart – I do not want it yet oftentimes feel unable to free myself of it. This is a prayer that God will answer if I pray it with sincerity. Resentment is a worse disease than any physical illness I might have – for it is rooted in pride. Do I imagine that I am not a sinner in need of mercy?

  6. This post’s moral logic is very meaningful so I’m pondering it. There are implications to the idea that forgiveness means seeing enemies as poor friends to cover their sins. I keep thinking about that.

    Forgiveness is not simple to do even when someone entirely wants to forgive – it requires education in a delicate method. I am studying it a lot over the years, reading several books and praying a lot. I think many people get stuck trying to forgive but not knowing the method. I mean that psychologists who study forgiveness have developed a science of it that specifies how it can be done well. It’s important to recognize it’s not a simple gesture of will, rather a whole, dedicated process with many steps. Forgiveness involves a lot of work.
    Here is a thorough interview and list of 9 steps of forgiveness by a leading expert, a psychologist at Stanford: https://www.virtuesforlife.com/qa-on-forgiveness-with-dr-fred-luskin/

    I have applied his teaching to implement the Christian teachings on forgiveness and they go well together. I also pray about forgiveness every day.

  7. Ivan, it’s an interesting article. His focus on gratitude and “changing the story” is a good one. But he undoes much goodness when he states that Also, forgiveness is not reconciliation. You don’t have to rejoin a relationship. It’s not the same as justice. For example, you can sue your ex-husband for child support, but you don’t have to hate him…. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.. His viewpoint there is dangerous, in my opinion, and seems to hold that forgiveness is an autonomous act; not one of communion. We should be wary of such things. Just my thoughts.

    However, some things in the article are helpful. Forming habits is central to Church teaching in many ways; especially a habit of gratitude.

  8. Lisa, my father was an alcoholic though he loved us very much. He also said and did some things that were hurtful and I will likely always remember. May God hold you close.

  9. ” The debts of our enemies must be treated as the debts of the poor. Our enemies will not have enough to pay us. If these debts cannot be paid (and they can’t), then they can only be forgiven. Or, perhaps, someone else can loan them what is needed.

    And here we come to the verse from Proverbs: “He who gives to the poor makes a debtor of God.” The Scriptures add: “And He will pay him.”

    “O Lord, you know what my enemies have done to me. On the day of judgment, do not hold it against them on my account.” ”

    Thank you Father.

  10. Byron,

    I have not yet read the link so just responding to your thoughts: I know men who have literally killed enemies in the line of (both formal and moral) duty. What would “relationship” ,”reconciliation” and “communion” even look like in such a reality beyond a mystical/spiritual one in a formal Sacrament?

  11. “Essentially, the difference between our enemies and our friends are the allowances we are willing to make for them. Friends have credit accrued from a variety of things. Our enemies are bound in poverty.”

    Difficult Father Stephen. I hesitate around this – is the *essential* difference between an enemy and a friend really a *relative* one (of debt)? Of course, the distinction that the debt is so large that it can never be paid (at least in Time and this “age”) takes the debt and difference between enemy and friend beyond the relative.

    Powerful essay!

  12. The Orthodox Psychologist Dr. Xenia (Serena) Enke has an excellent talk on the process and methodology of forgiveness available through Patristic Nectar Publication.

  13. Something to think about. I wonder about great grief that is a result of betrayal or shattering of trust- or when a great trauma has occurred. I think of the struggle Corrie Ten Boom had when after giving a talk on forgiveness, one of her concentration camp guards approached her thanking her for her talk…. it was a huge challenge for her. She talks of how she forgave this man and the freedom she felt in Christ…. but she also didn’t stick around and have an on-going relationship with this guard. She physically moved on.

    I wonder about the having forgiven, but but having to stay in the same location and being wary of trusting again. My father used to say, “burn me once shame on you, burn me twice shame on me.” There isn’t a lack of love in that statement, but there is definitely the sense of caution . Trust is something built, and while you can forgive someone and pray for them and ask all God’s goodness upon them…the readiness to extend unlimited trust or even trust at the former level is affected… how does one go forward?

  14. Fr Stephen,
    This article is remarkably appropriate for our current affairs in this country, right down to our private lives. How we are spiritually and what we do in our immediate circumstances (our life ways) affects all. Indeed, we would have broken chains (to our passions and perceived hurts) as your image conveys, if we forgive our ‘enemies’ debts and set them free. And this is a matter of love. God grant us His grace to love and live in humility.

  15. Father Bless,
    Sorry, one more thought and question, Fr Stephen:
    Is there a method of forgiveness? In my experience at least, forgiveness is something that I have received from Christ, and I believe it is a grace received to forgive. Our part is to be willing to submit to such grace. I ask for your thoughts and direction in this question.

  16. Christopher,
    I may not have the full gist of your question, but there is something I want to share. In the early Church, there was a liturgical ceremony for those returning from war. As part of the service, the soldier’s clothing and armor would be removed, and then he would re-dress in civilian clothes, returning to civilian life. And there was penance, simply for having killed. It didn’t matter if the killing was utterly justified; this was for the soul and healing of the returning soldier. There were even Emperors were not exempt from excommunication for a time after returning from war. I frequently our returning Vets could benefit from such a ceremony.

  17. Fr. Stephen,
    Sometimes I think women’s perspective on forgiveness and spiritual need may generally be slightly different from men. So often we have been raised to forgive by simply forgetting or suppressing, and it just doesn’t heal in the long run. A wound has to be recognized before one can truly forgive. Even then forgiveness — giving up to God, as you say here — may happen, while reconciliation without acknowledgment on the part of the offender might remain difficult or impossible (I think of Christ’s recommendations in Matthew, and that they include acknowledgment).

  18. “O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted on us, remember the fruits we have bought, because of this suffering – our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown out of all of this, and when they come to judgement, let all the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness.”

    Ravensbruck concentration camp
    Written by an unknown prisoner

  19. Janine I don’t know about a difference between men and women in forgiving others. Holding onto ‘debt’ is different from acknowledging ‘debt’. This first case, ‘holding’, is destructive. The latter is on the path of letting go, in the manner Fr Stephen describes.

    Last there is ‘perceived’ hurt which has a lot to do with shame, ego, and a loss of humility.

  20. Thanks, Dee. I guess what I was trying to say is not that forgiveness is different, but that the need to frankly acknowledge the wound, even the wrongdoing, may have to be a first step. This often seems just plain wrong, but it is necessary. I suppose I would assign the cause to be the frequent difference in social roles

  21. I should clarify that it is often a victim who needs to acknowledge the wound frankly before thet begin the process of forgiveness, or maybe as part of it

  22. I know men who have literally killed enemies in the line of (both formal and moral) duty. What would “relationship” ,”reconciliation” and “communion” even look like in such a reality beyond a mystical/spiritual one in a formal Sacrament?

    Christopher, I know a very few of the same people. My understanding is that such communion will be one that requires newly forged boundaries and space for both safety and healing by all parties. It will likely be a lifetime of work and while those wounded may never meet again, the healing of their wounds and hearts by God will, over time, bring about the reconciliation. I don’t know exactly how it will look; it is something that God will do.

    Forgiveness can never be only about us. It is, as I understand it, an action of communion. The amazing prayer that David posted, and the love within it, is such an act, I believe.

  23. Byron,

    Regarding your 10:56 comment… I think that it is important to recognize that forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation, as the latter implies a response from the other person. I can forgive you but, for us to be reconciled, you must join the process in a life-giving way. I have seen many people misunderstand forgiveness, thinking that that means giving the person another chance at relationship. That is not always wise, especially when there has been great cruelty or abuse. We can forgive such people – from a distance. We only have the capacity to change our own hearts (and then, only with the help of God); we can pray that the other’s heart changes but we cannot make them say “yes” to the grace that will enable it to occur.

    “Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.” I think this can be taken in two ways (at least). I do believe that we should enter the process of forgiveness for the purification of our own hearts, not to try to change another or get something we want from them. Still, when we are truly merciful, we are united with Christ and His endless love for all people, certainly not an autonomous action. The impact of our mercy on others is between them and God.

    Or such are my thoughts…

  24. Rosemary, et al.
    I very much like the imagery of money debt when thinking about forgiveness. Christ employed it in the parables. That I forgive someone’s debt, does not imply that we’ve become friends, etc. I might very well remain quite wary. Nevertheless, as I suggested in the article, we can pray that God not hold any of it against them at the judgment. This is a good beginning. Also, remember that the people whom Jesus forgave were crucifying Him. There’s no promise that people will respond well or deserve their forgiveness. Only – we are asked to forgive in the manner that God forgives.

  25. Byron, you wrote: “But he undoes much goodness when he states that, ‘Also, forgiveness is not reconciliation. You don’t have to rejoin a relationship. It’s not the same as justice … Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.’ His viewpoint there is dangerous, in my opinion, and seems to hold that forgiveness is an autonomous act; not one of communion. We should be wary of such things. Just my thoughts.”

    I will echo what Mary Benton has already written. It is important to recognise a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Not understanding the difference, I was afraid for many years of fully forgiving an abuser, because I thought it meant I would be obliged to allow that person back into my life, even though they hadn’t changed a bit. Forgiveness may open the door to communion, but communion is reciprocal and cannot happen without reconciliation; and that requires the other person to see their offence and repent.

    On the other hand, I am not comfortable saying that “forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.” I believe that we are all much more deeply connected than we realise, and the stories we tell ourselves about others, whether of love or accusation, do have an effect on the world. I believe that as I am healed, I somehow bring others along with me. I think that is an Orthodox view.

  26. This post and all of the comments prompted me to take another look at Our Thoughts Detrmine our Lives – Elder Thaddeus which I had read many many years ago. . Here are a few quotes

    That is when our minds learn to contemplate in the right way, and we come to the realization that quiet and gentle thoughts, full of love and forgiveness, are the way to peace and stillness. Why does the Lord command us to love our enemies and to pray for them? Not for their sake, but for ours! For as long as we bear grudges, as long as we dwell on how someone offended us, we will have no peace.

    We need to look to the Lord, His Mother, the apostles and the saints as examples and renew our life. We must repent and leave behind our former way of life with all our bad habits, and we must strive to learn obedience. If anyone has hurt us—our parents, our brother or sister, a neighbor—then we must forgive them all from the heart, and when we have done so, the Lord will know. Our forgiveness must not be confined to words only. The Lord wants us to forgive from the heart. Our neighbor will then feel our forgiveness and no words will be necessary. The person will know in his heart that we have forgiven him.

    Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors – it’s where the rubber meets the road and this article and the comments is very timely.

    Forgiveness is a martyrdom and a severe mercy but what we all desire – true reconciliation involves not only the radical grace in the heart willing to offer it but the radical receptive grace to absorb it and receive it.

    Fingers crossed that the blockqoutes html worked.

  27. Byron,

    Thank you for noting this, I don’t agree with this part entirely either. It’s a psychological-scientific article, not written to agree with American Orthodoxy or Christianity. The findings are somewhat subjective, but also based on extensive psychological research. The data gathered by Dr. Luskin is considerable and so he wrote several books about it. I plan to read his main book this summer.

    Dr. Luskin’s focus on gratitude is confirmed by many people and I think it has mystical meaning – forgiveness literally requires gratitude. One simple definition I use is that forgiveness means appreciating the offender as a equal and good person. Of course this attitude calls for direct communion when it is possible and safe- but that comes later. Survivors of abuse are not ready to forge “new boundaries and space” until after they work on forgiveness with separation from the offender. Personally, before reconciling I have worked on forgiveness privately, praying for many hours and many years. This work is both private and communal. Of course forgiveness is not autonomous because humanity is coinherent, but initial reconciliation is private, not done with the offender.

    I am wary of the moralistic responsibility to be not-angry, as if people who have been abused are guilty of anger. Fr. Stephen has explained why this is not true, that anger is natural and self-protective.

    I agree with Mary Benton, Fr. Stephens’s, and Rebecca’s comments and they express what I think better than I could. I think forgiveness can be thought of in two phases, where reconciliation is the second one. Connecting with other people when forgiving is necessary, and so is space apart from the offender. Reconciliation can be very painful and frightening so it is not possible to do right away when the wound is fresh – at that moment separation is needed. I have pursued reconciliation probably much more than most people do, and it’s been frustrating to discover that it only works when the other person (or people) repent. So it mostly hasn’t happened yet, regardless of how forgiving I am. I think offenders cause the de-conciliation and forgiveness only opens a door for them.

  28. To Father Freeman’s comment that “I very much like the imagery of money debt when thinking about forgiveness”, Michael Hudson’s book  ”. . . and forgive them their debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption From Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year”, on the historical antecedents of the Mosaic debt jubilee, illustrates that Christ often was actually talking about debt, not just using the imagery.

  29. Ook,
    The original language might have more nuance than what is translated into English. And yet there are certainly references to the literal poor and rich and the jubilee that you mention.

    Not ‘instead of’ but in ‘addition to’ what you describe, is what father referenced, for example how the ‘Our Father’ prayer is interpreted. Instead of ‘transgressions’ one might read a translation saying ‘debts’ and ‘debtors’. The original language typically has more nuance and layers of meaning than a straight literal reading.

    But indeed your reference to the jubilee was a real deal. And certainly we could benefit from such an economic approach today!

  30. Mary, Ivan, and Rebecca, I don’t disagree with the understanding that this is a process that takes time; it can take a lifetime. I wrote concerning that above (7:10pm).

    The “newly forged boundaries and space” required may in fact be such that the people involved never again meet, as I stated. However, I simply don’t see a hard wall of separation between forgiveness and reconciliation; they are, in a way, two sides of the same coin. But I have not said the fullness of it happens right away–or even in this lifetime. There are obviously many factors that can be involved and the shape of how it all plays out may be different in every situation. My apologies if I was in any way unclear.

    Ivan, I would also say that the nature of reconciliation is not necessarily dependent on the other repenting and returning (although that is obviously the desired hope). We can be reconciled in love to the other whether they return such love or not. That is Christ on the cross. Our love for them is not dependent on them any more than God’s love for us is dependent on us.

    That I forgive someone’s debt, does not imply that we’ve become friends, etc. I might very well remain quite wary. Nevertheless, as I suggested in the article, we can pray that God not hold any of it against them at the judgment. This is a good beginning.

    Indeed. A very good beginning. Not necessarily the end, by God’s grace. But how and when that may happen, will depend on many things.

  31. Victoria, I want to address Elder Thadeus’s quote (“Why does the Lord command us to love our enemies and to pray for them? Not for their sake, but for ours.”) I have seen that quote quite often, and it always strikes me that there seems to be one word missing. Of course I can’t say that Elder Thaddeus would say so, but to me his quote can only make sense if we put the word “only” into it. “Why does the Lord command us to love our enemies and to pray for them? Not ONLY for their sake, but for ours.” It is my understanding that we are to love our enemies primarily for their sakes, because God loves them. The fact that we gain peace in the process of loving them is a welcome consequence in the same way we gain peace whenever we lift our eyes off ourselves and onto God and His love for all men.

    “The Lord wants us to forgive from the heart. Our neighbor will then feel our forgiveness and no words will be necessary. The person will know in his heart that we have forgiven him.” How true!

  32. All,
    I think that in forgiveness we start with whatever we can do. My suggestion of letting it go, like cancelling a debt, is a beginning. How we get there will vary – sometimes just because personalities are different.

    There is a mystery of grace at work in forgiveness. When I free someone from the “debt” they owe me, it sets a certain grace in motion. This is not easy to explain but it’s related to “whoever sins you retain, they are retained, etc.” We are deeply and profoundly connected and should not underestimate the power such an action has – even when it is small.

    But, we start little and don’t have to understand. We do what we can do.

  33. Thanks for this, Father Stephen. It was very helpful. In praying through the Psalms, I hit 68 (69) yesterday, and it really resonated with what you said.

    At times, forgiveness is so hard that it really would be impossible without the Resurrection, I think.

  34. Sometimes I think that we forget that the notion of forgiveness is really about putting things in God’s hands. We give the debt up to God. I believe this does not negate still seeking guidance in prayer for how we deal with circumstances. In the ancient world, systems of justice did not work as our present-day systems do. Justice was frequently up to family or clan to get for an individual, making the plight of “widows and orphans” so much more poignant. “Vengeance is mine” is still in force in Christ’s teaching — that is, in the hands of the Lord.

  35. In the Greek “forgive” in the Lord’s prayer) is to “let go” or “release”– exactly as in letting go of a debt.

  36. I think another very good quote about forgiveness can. Be found in Metropolitan Jonah’s book Reflections on a Spiritual Journey. . There is a chapter on Forgiveness and Reconciliation- where he says

    To forgive means to restore a bond of love and communion when there has been a rupture. Sin ruptures our relationship with God and others, as also do offenses taken and given among people.

    This speaks loudly to what you have written Father Stephen – that God will pay the debt. Because if I am holding and offense – living lacking forgiveness for what has been done to me – I have the spiritual deficit – the deep reality is that no matter how awful and soul wounding might be those offenses done to me — i am hurting my own relationship with God when I withhold forgiveness. – which brings Elder Thaddeus words into focus – it is FOR ME that I forgive because my very relationship with God hangs in the balance. Yes of course it is also beneficial to the other person – but I consider that we say Psalm 50 and think of grave sins – like that of King David – but what if when we say Psalm 50 we think of being offended or withholding forgiveness against another when we say

    against THEE only have I sinned and done this evil in THY sight”

    It is profound image to me because first and foremost my lack of forgiveness is between me and God. Of course it is also between me and the other person – but it directly related to my relationship with God. I’m not trying to sound harsh. I know i can get pretty matter of fact (with myself) It just seems very important.

    Metropolitan Jonah also makes a distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. He says :

    Reconciliation presupposes forgiveness. If we forgive someone, we need to be open to reconciliation, if possible. Reconciliation is forgiveness in action—the actual restoration of the interpersonal bond between two people, in mutual acceptance of each other for who each one is.

    But he also says that although reconciliation is the fulfillment of forgiveness it is not always possible and also NOT ALWAYS WISE – if there has been abuse and deep wounding and a lack of remorse or change in the part of the other person – full restoration of the relationship may simply not be possible. But our forgiveness of the other person is our work – our repentance – because forgiving others and loving our enemies in those cases becomes – our reconciliation with God because those stored up resentments take a spiritual toll on us – like a spiritual cancer. I also once heard a quote that went something Ike “storing up anger and resentment anger is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die”.

    That of course is an individual matter and Metropolitan Jonah stresses the role of a wise spiritual Father in the work of forgiveness and reconciliation

    But I see now that God does pay the debt. In the Book the Hiding Place – Corrie Ten Boom – after surviving a concentration camp – her father and sister did not survive- meets one of her Nazi torturers On the streets of Germany. she asked for Gods Grace and took his hand – embraces it. No one on the street that day really had any idea the spiritual gravity and cosmic good if what just happened. But the two of them did. God did and angels in heaven did. And that is a profound image of a God paying the debt.

    Here is the quote from the book

    His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give Your forgiveness. As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand, a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

    And the fruit of that Grace she says :

    And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.

  37. I must confess, at the risk of sounding obnoxious and dull, I have a problem with the Corrie Ten Boom story, at least in the very limited way I get from only reading a blog post. I don’t doubt good intentions or her experience. And of course, if in response to prayer, she felt that a handshake was asked of her by God, so be it. But truly, I feel the need to say there are ways to forgive torturers their roles in our lives without accepting an advance on whatever their terms might be. There are others who suffered. It is not up to us to pardon their sin, but God. Our handshake might serve as a qualification for them to seek no healing and no repentance for themselves. I do not know under what circumstances she shook this man’s hand, but to me it is complex and problematic. I say so as a grandchild of genocide survivors.

  38. Janine – I was certainly not trying to offend.

    My own grandfather is a holocaust survivor, and he was German – not Jewish. He was sent to Dachau to teach him a lesson because he said he didn’t like Hitler…. His gardner as it turned out was a spy and turned him in.

    My own mother has lived in a constant state of PTSD from being born in Berlin during the war in Germany. None of it is pretty – war is hell and just because a peace treaty is signed doesn’t mean people are not still living out the wounds of that war. But my grandfather was a man of forgiveness… and that forgiveness can be radical and for those of us who still bear wounds, honestly it can hurt (people like me…which is why forgiveness is work).

    Before you judge Corrie Ten Boom I would actually read the book. It’s profound to me the struggle they endured, the hope in Christ they maintained while in the camp. I personally have read many stories of those who survived the camps…. the ones who could forgive literally break my heart.

    I take her story as the ultimate encouragement in forgiveness. It doesn’t say she invited him over for tea and became his friend. She shook his hand… she was cordial…. But she treated him as a human being, in way that I can not even really comprehend. And when those stories bother me.,… I just ask myself why. It’s easy to diminish her story… but there are other stories like hers – its not isolated.

    There are saints of our own Faith whose lives bear extraordinary forgiveness… think of Saint Dionysius who literally hears the confession of his brothers murderer…. and in knowing it comes from his heart, gives him the prayer of absolution.

    For me, those stories are there for me to struggle with – mostly I find hope and God’s Grace in them.

  39. Sorry, Victoria, I did not mean to imply that you gave offense, not at all. I am grateful for the dialogue.

    But in a nutshell, you write the example of St. Dionysius:

    “There are saints of our own Faith whose lives bear extraordinary forgiveness… think of Saint Dionysius who literally hears the confession of his brothers murderer…. and in knowing it comes from his heart, gives him the prayer of absolution.”

    For me it is just the confession that makes all the difference. Perhaps I read too much into it, but to me the handshake speaks of a public reconciliation which may silence the rest. Many on the thread have commented on the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. There is also not absent the consideration of the social response to such a crime.

  40. That quote from Corrie Ten Boom is powerful.
    She couldn’t forgive. She wanted to but couldn’t. All the time though she was saying ‘yes’ to God. As she held out her hand, still unable herself to forgive, God forgave, and transformed all. I think of Forgiveness Vespers where we stand face to face and ask for forgiveness. We reply ‘God forgives…I forgive’. The tears we see in this ritual I think are proof of this transformation…His grace…upon us. It is like a washing in pure water.

  41. PS Victoria, You are right, to be cordial is generally good. We can find love for those who have harmed us, even without their repentance. But there is so much more that is not to be glossed over, and it so frequently seems to be

  42. Janine – 😊 💗✝️

    Yes I agree there is so much that is not to be glossed over. Which is why what Met Jonah saying about in extreme cases of abuse full restoration is not wise – ot necessary – is very important. Father Steohen says this too – Mary Benton and others have commented much the same. .

    We all have our own field of forgiveness to hoe – we didn’t ask for it – especially severe abuse – craziness of war experiences – living with people who have mental illness.

    But we don’t always get to chose our circumstance that led to the need for forgiving – sometimes though we do – Confession is necessary in both cases. But we can not make another confess. I was if this lately. And for me fr Stephen article – in fact many of them – have a deep timely parallel with something at work in my circumstance. It so unbelievable that I can only be grateful. I suspect that is true for many who read the blog – simply because he writes about what is needful.

    In Corrie Ten Booms case – in all of our cases – whether another person repents or confesses is not in our power. How many Saints martyred last words were “Lord forgive them”. They didn’t say it because their torturers /murderes were sorry. They said and meant it for the state of their own soul.

    Their torturers in most cases were unrepentant – in other cases – especially with the Great Martyrs – many unbelievers and some torturers converted to the Faith.

    So in terms of hoeing and cultivating my own field of forgiveness – it’s rocky ground I’m dealing with – and do I think that often when I get stuck breaking apart those rocks – I’m always looking at those fields which are examples of fields bearing fruit. Like the Saints and even those testimonies of people outside the Faith – I’m definitely drawn to those extreme extraordinary examples just due to some of my own experience. And I always feel so inspired and deeply encouraged – that it is possible – not with me – but with God – all things.

    When Father Stephen says it’s time to get started storing up treasure in heaven I feel like I want to say Right On!!’ – yeah that’s what I want to do. Time to dump this really heavy wheelbarrow full of rocks I keep lugging around and tend to the compost.

  43. Victoria, your comment at 7:36 is very wonderful. Thank you for that illustration from the book as well as the quotes and your thoughts from them.

  44. I did not see Janine’s and Victoria’s comments after reading Corrie Ten Boom’s quote. So my comment was not in any refutation, but just my thoughts.

    Janine…those things ‘glossed over’…I am not sure if you mean all the circumstances that involve forgiveness and reconciliation. By circumstances I mean events in our lives and their impact, both good and evil…how we process them, hold on to them, nurture them, and define ourselves by them.
    Our capacity for memory does not allow these events to be glossed over. After all they are real events. When we suppress the evil ones they end up surfacing in a different form (bitterness, anger, vanity, pride, self pity). So it is of benefit to address these things.
    That is one thing. Forgiveness is another.
    I see a difference in the way we are asked to forgive (as God forgives) and the way we actually approach it. As we carry around our brokenness, and because this is so difficult to face, we tend to analyse past hurts, why they happened, whether real or perceived, from every angle that can possibly be. It seems to me God does not do this. He doesn’t need to. He knows the answers to all the “whys”. We have no way of knowing the hearts of our oppressors. Only what we see on the outside. But we do know the darkness of our own soul. In that respect we all share the same brokenness…and…we all have but one Savior. So He asks us to forgive, as He forgives.

    This does not make all things “better”. Our memory is not obliterated. But I think He simply asks us to imitate Him. And in doing so, in time, as we grow in Him, light is shed on those things we do not gloss over, where forgiveness is the defining moment rather than all “those things”.
    It is like Father Stephen always points to….just look at the Cross. It is the defining moment of all time and eternity.

    Perhaps I am being too simplistic in the face of our complexities. I don’t know…

  45. Thanks everybody, for comments and follow-ups <3

    I think I need to quickly, before reading more deeply, say that Ten Boom's story is likely including the assumption that the overall crime was recognized and adjudicated in a national and context. Perhaps the man had served time in prison. Unfortunately this is not always the case, and certainly the opposite is true for the place where my grandparents came from. In fact, I have met those who have hated me simply because I identified my ethnic roots, originating from their own country The "things glossed over" are the things that come between forgiveness and reconciliation. I can forgive, but I cannot lie about what happened or deny it in order to make others comfortable. Too often this becomes an open door to more of the same.
    Christ did not forgive by staying silent about the sins of bad leadership either.

  46. Victoria, I was touched by your comments on forgiveness, as well as the story of Corrie Ten Boom and the grace she literally felt, physically, shaking the man’s hand–a person she saw as a fellow man whom Christ died for. It made me really think how forgiveness truly does allow for God’s Divine grace to truly flow to us, literally, washing and cleansing, filling with His Holy Spirit in this Divine act, on behalf of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
    I have found St. Dionysios to be a profound example of forgiveness as well. The deeply touching rest of the story from tradition is that the man he forgave, later became a monk at the same monastery:
    “The Saint of Forgiveness”
    St. Dionysius was remarkable in his forgiveness and love for his fellow man.

    A man came to St. Dionysius’s cell and begged the saint to hide him from his pursuers. When St. Dionysius asked him why he was being pursued, the man told him that he had killed a man. The murderer did not know that he had killed the saint’s own beloved brother Constantine. St. Dionysius was very grieved but hid the man and did not surrender him to the law. Instead he instructed him and brought him to repentance. According to local tradition, the murderer later repented and became a monk himself at that same monastery.

    Taken from Orthodox Wiki:

    “The Saint of Forgiveness”
    “St. Dionysius was remarkable in his forgiveness and love for his fellow man.

    A man came to St. Dionysius’s cell and begged the saint to hide him from his pursuers. When St. Dionysius asked him why he was being pursued, the man told him that he had killed a man. The murderer did not know that he had killed the saint’s own beloved brother Constantine. St. Dionysius was very grieved but hid the man and did not surrender him to the law. Instead he instructed him and brought him to repentance. According to local tradition, the murderer later repented and became a monk himself at that same monastery.

    St. Dionysius is an example to us all for his forgiveness of even the most grievous sins against us.”

    My husband visited Zankynthos last year, where his incorrupt relics are, and he is a very venerated and beloved saint. He is a wonderful saint to ask intercession for helping find forgiveness.

  47. Anonymous
    Zakynthos is actually on my bucket list!!! How wonderful that your husband was able to go there!!

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