Saturday, September 30, 2006

Works of Love (Part 4): The Paradox of Forgiveness

By forgiveness, love hides a multitude of sins... This is a wonderful thought, therefore also faith's thought, because faith always relates itself to what is not seen. I believe that what is seen has come into existence from what is not seen; I see the world, but what is not seen I do not see; that I believe. Similarly, in forgiveness there is also a relation of faith of which we are rarely aware. What, then, is the unseen here? The unseen is that forgiveness takes away that which does indeed exist... The one who loves sees the sin he forgives, but he believes that forgiveness takes it away. This cannot be seen, whereas the sin can indeed be seen; on the other hand, if the sin did not exist to be seen, it could not be forgiven either. Just as one by faith believes the unseen into what is seen, so the one who loves by forgiveness believes away what is seen. Both are faith. Blessed is the believer, he believes what he cannot see; blessed is the one who loves, he believes away that which he indeed can see! -- S. Kierkegaard, Works of Love (294-5)

In this passage, Kierkegaard tells us that the act of forgiveness is a paradox in which the sin of our neighbor is both seen and not seen. And as with all other paradoxes, forgiveness requires the passion of faith - the faith to believe that what exists does not exist. Only in this way can love hide a multitude of sins.

Interestingly, Kierkegaard draws a subtle contrast between divine and human forgiveness. God's forgiveness is divine forgetting: "Forgetting, when God does it in relation to sin, is the opposite of creating, since to create is to bring forth from nothing, and to forget is to take back into nothing." Humans do not have this power to "uncreate" sin. But Kierkegaard recommends that we do the next best thing: following Isaiah 38:17, we should place the offending sins "behind our back":
"What is hidden from my eyes, that I have never seen; but what is hidden behind my back, that I have seen. The one who loves forgives in this way: he forgives, he forgets, he blots out the sin. In love he turns towards the one he forgives; but when he turns toward him, he of course cannot see what is lying behind his back." (296)

By placing the sin behind his back, the forgiver removes the obstacle that had come between him and the offender, and thus he opens the way for reconciliation. True forgiveness requires that we not see the sin when we look at the forgiven sinner. Of course, this is easier said than done. Too often, our forgiveness only goes half way. We say "you're forgiven" but, in reality, we continue to nurse our grievances. We may even remind the forgiven of their past sins in order to shame or manipulate them. In short, we refuse to put the sin behind our backs, and Kierkegaard points out that this refusal to forgive completely is also sin:
"Does not the one who unlovingly denies forgiveness increase the multitude of sins?... He enlarges the sin, makes it seem greater. Forgiveness deprives the sin of life, but to deny forgiveness provides the sin with sustenance." (297)

The unforgiving person multiplies the multitude of sins. Only forgiveness liberates both the sinner and the offended one from the bondage of sin.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

mr. thomas,

i just wonder why are you doing philosophy which is is contradictory to science?

anyway, i am writing a bachelor's thesis concerning forgiveness. i want to prove that there can be justice in forgiving.

thank you. i got significant ideas from you.

wish me luck...

thank you

louie, philippines