My Ideal Day of Love: Forgiving

Forgiving is not magic as in “Abracadabra, I forgive you!” with the wave of a Harry Potter wand. Forgiveness is challenging at the very least and commonly mind numbing work. Forgiveness has a two-fold nature. Continue reading “My Ideal Day of Love: Forgiving”

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When NOT to Forgive

Indie musician of Vietnamese heritage Thao Nguyen tells a persuasive story about when forgiveness should be withheld!  I heard her story on satellite radio and you can find it on the Snap Judgment website episode, “Absolution” at 7:00 minutes into the episode. The story is about her grandmother, a refugee who came to this country when Nguyen was 5 years old. Family legend held that Grandmother did not speak to her Grandfather for 21 years until he was on his deathbed when she spoke to him and forgave him. Only the story Grandmother told Nguyen was different.

Grandfather was a cruel and abusive husband in a culture where women were second class citizens slightly higher than possessions. His cruel and contemptuous language and behavior was as relentlessly dehumanizing as the rest of his unfaithful ill-behavior to her. In that culture where she could not divorce or leave him, the only weapon she could use was silence. For 21 years she did not speak a word to him!

Sick and on his deathbed the Grandfather’s Roman Catholic family called the priest who tried to manipulate and persuade Grandmother to forgive the dying man and release his soul to heaven. She refused despite relentless imploring from the priest. The man died without the benefit of her forgiveness. She did the right thing!

My first critique is of the priest, who cared not about the behavior and choices of the grandfather and who, for the sake of tradition and religion, was willing to make the perpetrator the victim and ignore the injustice of the wanton unfaithfulness perpetrated on the Grandmother for more than 21 years. The priest made the same mistake that many people still make, blaming the victim.

Second, Grandfather made his choices. He never attempted reconciliation nor did he ever express any regret or sorrow for how he treated his wife. In essence he chose to die in his reprobate condition. Grandmother honored his choice. Any other action on her part, that is the mere verbalization of meaningless words, would simple be religious hocus pocus assuaging the beliefs of the priest, who misapplied a critical pastoral intervention.

Grandfather had violated his covenant marriage vow with Grandmother repeatedly with hate, anger, contempt and malevolence for over twenty years. While never “legally” divorced he had literally and actually divorced her by his actions and continued to torture her by not freeing her from her virtually imprisonment. In the next life he will have to stand judgment for his behavior.

All this reminds me of the story of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19f) The rich man cried out to Father Abraham “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.” Neither was there a drop of cool forgiveness to soothe the Grandfather/tormentor’s dying moments.

Ironically Grandmother could now, away from the manipulation of a corrupt culture, have pity for Grandfather. Through the eyes of time years away from abuse she may see that the perpetrator was a victim himself. Unable to control so many areas of his own life, angry and hurt, like a wounded animal he lashed out at someone weaker over whom he could control, the only area of control in his meager life, and misapply his angst on the one who should have been the object of his love. She may conclude after all these years, “Wretched soul, pitiful and ignorant, you lived a hellish life and died the same way you lived.” I could hear Grandmother say, “In life I refused you control and I held on to a straw of my dignity. And now in death I refuse to allow you room in my heart or my mind. I am free. For your actions you are subject to the justice of God, but for your ignorance I give you something you were never able to give; I give you my pity for your wretched soul.” But these words of grace are not forgiveness, nor is forgiveness necessary or warranted.

Forgiveness was never the point of this story. The real story is how people are able to move forward and live fruitful lives, contributing to the well-being of the generations even after suffering indignity and injustice for decades. Thao’s grandmother is an inspiration to her. The story of strong surviving free women fills her songs and reminds women and deprived people everywhere that silence amidst oppression can yield a free voice and a new song.