Lent II – Forgiveness and Awe

 

“You who fear the LORD, praise him!

All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;

stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel.”

 

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk at some length with a group of university students curious about the link between Christian spirituality and reconciliation. The basic question we were working with was this: What is it within the Christian tradition that serves as an impetus for resolving conflict? Other groups were having similar discussions related to other spiritual traditions.

One of the things that was the most provocative for my group was the idea of forgiveness. In particular, the words of Jesus on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” I tried to steer the conversation toward the lines about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer; I think those are more formative for Christians. However, it was the response of Jesus to his tormentors that grabbed the student’s attention. Why would he forgive in this situation? Would we do the same? Why would we go through the often long and difficult process of releasing our right to get even? It was not a short conversation.

The truth is that there is no short answer to questions like these. The ability to practice forgiveness in situations where it matters, just like the ability to work for peace where it matters, is the product of a whole ecosystem of beliefs, practices and unanticipated divine gifts. It is not the result of any one thing. In fact, the opening verses of the Psalm assigned for the second Sunday of Lent (Psalm 22.23ff) show an aspect of this we often overlook: a sense of awe.

The poet is in awe of God. I’m reminded of how some environmental theologians write that we should ‘behold’ the natural world, not just see it. Both of these ideas speak to the fact that we are small and frail creatures. I can’t help but wonder if the motivation for forgiveness and the motivation to pursue reconciliation is connected to this. When we are in awe of God and when we quietly and deeply recognize the intricacy of the world around us we are less apt to think we are the centre of things. This, I think, helps us see beyond revenge. If we can’t quite get to forgiveness or reconciliation this Lenten season, maybe we can cultivate a sense of being in awe of God. In the long run we might find that this creates an ecosystem in which forgiveness and reconciliation can grow.

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