In an earlier post I made claim to a cultural return similar to the prodigal son. This needs to be fleshed out because the process of forgiveness, of falling in love again with yourself, with strangers, and with the people who have wronged you is difficult. It is the most difficult thing our generation must learn to do, but the rewards are huge. Connection is beautiful and good.
Our understanding of relationship goes back to Ancient Greece. The anger of Achilles was a character trait, he would always be known as angry. If you are doing wrong, you are inherently evil, or you are blind. Evil has nothing to do with choices, it is attached to people like disease or pestilence, and therefore the community must be pure. People were cut off; they were ostracized and kicked out. There is no such thing as human dignity.
Does this sound familiar? It does to me. But there is a rival story: people do evil yet they are not evil in themselves. The recognition that human beings are created by God as very good but make wrong decisions is a divine affirmation that the original goodness can be restored. There are wrongs committed that can never be fully made right again, but forgiveness is what allows us to be set free from the past, it is the only way to end repetitive cycles of vengeance and fear. The curse is wide. It cuts right through me and because I have recognized the evil in me and how much I need God, I am better able to feel and absorb the pain my perpetrator has gone through. I can forgive him or her and in this forgiveness, a new order of shalom may begin. Forgiveness is an ontological possibility; it is our hope.
The chain of grievances ends with forgiveness. This concept was used during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa where it was understood that what you have done does not define you fully. They called it ubuntu and Bishop Desmond Tutu said that we are making each other human. When someone is wronged he or she is dehumanized, but the one who committed the offense is dehumanized as well. Two people are dehumanized and in the process of reconciliation, the perpetrator becomes less than the victim but somehow the perpetrator is human, the goodness is still there so when the perpetrator confesses, his or her humanity is restored and on that basis alone reconciliation is possible. If winner takes all, there can be no common future.
These themes are relevant for millennials in multicultural America—we need a new approach to issues like race and income inequality that does not end in disengaged despair. A language of describing the other, the stranger, as good, valuable, and worthy of love because he or she is made in the Image of God, will develop as we learn to live out our knowledge practically. As T.S. Eliot said in his Four Quartets, “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.” Judeo-Christian believers bring air into the collapsed lungs of individualism because in knowing God, we know love. We are in this together, I am through you and you are through me—we need each other to be human.
1 John 4:10-11 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
--Courtney Kane is participating in the Master of Philosophy (Christian Studies) at the Free University of Amsterdam, working towards a PhD. She is pursuing a kind of 'compassionate liberalism' that can speak to the class divide in the United States and United Kingdom. She writes for the Center for Public Justice in Washington, D.C. and graduated from Gordon College with a degree in Political Science. Photo via http://www.independent.co.uk.