Every time I think I have passed a milestone in forgiveness, I find myself later second-guessing whether I have really made any progress at all. I wonder if it may be like the place in the kitchen I just cleaned: it makes everything else look dingier by comparison. And so everything I do just shows up how much more still needs to be done, and what a long way I have to go.
I know that Christ calls me to be an advocate for those who have wronged me. Christ prayed for those who were killing him, "Father, forgive them" -- advocating for us even while suffering at our hands. And if he teaches us to ask, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us," then I know how much I need to be forgiven. It shows me that it is time for me to be a prayer warrior for those who have wronged me, to plead their case with God. But sometimes it is so hard to do, and some people are easier to advocate for than others. Last night I found myself squirming at that section of my prayers, since I had moved on to someone else I need to forgive. I was probably the least convincing advocate you've ever heard. Am I really still that hard-hearted?
I wish God would unlock my heart. I'm having trouble with it, myself.
I've been pondering why I have an easier time forgiving some people than others, and it seems to be this: the ones I can forgive are the ones who are already human to me again. I cannot forgive "the one who wronged me so many times in so many ways"; I can only forgive the one I love, or want to love. It may be the same person in my thoughts both times, but so long as they are only "the one who wronged me," I cannot forgive them. So long as the only identity I give them, the only face I recognize in them, is the face of the one sneering at me, I will not be able to forgive them. If I forgive them when thinking of them in that way, it is either an exercise in futility or a perverse justification of evil that is sometimes mistaken for forgiveness. It is not the real thing. The nature of forgiveness is separating them from that identity as "the one who hurts people", or recognizing that there can be more to them than that. Forgiveness means freeing them from that evil, not binding them to it and excusing it. The people I have learned to forgive, I have first learned to see them apart from their worst traits, have learned to recognize that there is more to them than that.
I've mentioned before that there is no way we can dehumanize others without at the same time dehumanizing ourselves. At the time I was thinking of partisanship and propaganda, not old wounds. But it does look like I was burying my head in the sand: it applies far more broadly than that. Whenever I cannot forgive someone, it is because they are somehow less than human in my mind. It is because I cannot see them apart from whatever bad they have done. And I think it does still follow: if I dehumanize someone else, I also dehumanize myself; I've mirrored the evil, reflecting the image of wrong instead of the image of God. There's a lot at stake when we're wronged. There's so much temptation there. Lord, have mercy.