Sunday, August 31, 2014

Forgiveness: Does Offense Equal Injury?

August 31, 2014

Dear Friends,

Last week’s story of the Lunch-Lady’s traffic adventures raised questions about the basic nature of the forgiveness process.

In the story, the Cut-in-Front Lady and the Angry Gesturing Man both behaved in less than desirable ways. In thinking through forgiveness issues we will certainly return to their behaviors for consideration at a later time. Today, however, I want to reconsider the issue raised by the Lunch-Lady’s response. 

In a magnanimous fashion Lunch-Lady declared both the Cut-in-Front Lady and the Angry Gesturing Man “forgiven,” making her forgiveness something I labelled a judicial decision. Despite the Lunch-Lady’s good intentions, her behavior (in my opinion) raised a question about the appropriateness of her “forgiving” response. 
Think again with me about the story.

The Cut-in-Front Lady certainly caused the Lunch-Lady to exercise some quick defensive driving tactics in order to avoid accident and potential injury to both herself and others. At this point we are likely to agree with the Lunch Lady: the Cut-in-Front Lady demonstrated poor driving skills and (possibly) a careless attitude—not good. 

But not so quick. Seriously considered, do poor driving skills and carelessness require forgiveness? 

Certainly these behaviors offended and aggravated the Lunch Lady. What is less clear is the matter of injury. Had the Cut-in-Front Lady injured the Lunch Lady? The answer to that question, of course, depends on a number of things, beginning with the belief system of the Lunch Lady.  

Suppose that the Lunch Lady believed that the law entitled her to drive I-25 without risk or sense of discomfort. If that were true, then (from the Lunch Lady’s point of view) both the Cut-in-Front Lady and the Angry Gesturing Man were guilty of violating this law and needed forgiveness for their infraction of the law. In this case, forgiveness granted appropriately, and brownie points to the Lunch Lady. 

But there are at least two serious snags in this tidy scenario. 

First, the Lunch Lady made no distinction between offense and injury. Is there a significant difference between offense and injury? Could the Lunch Lady rightfully say, “I was offended so this means I was injured.”? Does the forgiveness process apply to offense in the same manner forgiveness is relevant to injury?

And further, THE LAW to which the Lunch Lady non-verbally appealed merits a second look. Under careful examination, this version of  “law” incorporates something suspiciously similar to a sense of personal entitlement.  Does the “law” actually require all drivers on I-25 to drive at all times in such a manner that the Lunch-Lady’s comfort and sense of well-being remain unchallenged?

If we take forgiveness as a significant obligation of mature living, then no matter how commonplace the traffic story, we are faced with two serious issues.

Are offense and injury indistinguishable in the context of forgiveness? When I am offended, does the person who offended me need my forgiveness? When I offend, then must I seek forgiveness of the person I have offended? What is the relationship between offense and injury? An how does my personal sense of entitlement obligate others with whom I relate?

In growing up—or at least in growing older—most of us have been forced to come to grips with two aspects of reality: life is not always fair; people are often not nice. 

Thinking with you that forgiveness is not easily defined in the context of life the way it is.

See you next week.


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