Can you both forgive the sinner and still be motivated to seek justice- if not for yourself, for others affected by it past, present and future? This question seems to lie at the heart of Christina Patterson’s article for the Independent. Her premise, it would seem, is that by forgiving the perpetrators of child abuse or torture we deny ourselves the anger that would propel us to ensure that it never happens again. If we’re all honest, we know that forgiveness in many situations is a big ask. And in the cases she cites, it’s a monumental task of the human spirit. However, in suggesting that ‘sometimes, it’s beside the point’ she misses the point herself. Unforgiveness may be used mistakenly to trap the perpetrator in some kind of never-ending, psychological knot but its aim is actually trained on the withholding victim.
Without reference outside ourselves, it is simply not possible to define when forgiveness is either possible or productive. A pragmatic approach can only ever get us so far- and with complex situations, past performance is surely never a guide to future return. When our self-understanding is dependant on a perfect sacrifice given on our behalf for all our wrongdoing, then we have a mandate for forgiveness- and a clear statement on its scope. But that still leaves us with the problem of motivation for seeking justice. Should we just give it all up to the final judgement of God?
When Jesus threw out the money-changers in the temple courts, it wasn’t motivated by a desire for revenge over the stall-holders or temple authorities. It was a visible demonstration that depriving the poor by creaming off the profits was unacceptable, it denied them their place in the worship community or left them destitute as a result. Acting on their behalf, He challenged corruption at the root putting down a marker for future behaviour. Being angry at injustice is not mutually exclusive with having a forgiving heart. Indeed, if we have an accurate reflection of our own self-centredness we should be doubly determined to prevent it ruining the lives of others. The gospel of grace with a heart of compassion provides all the motivation we need to seek truth and justice.