“I can’t forgive you for what you did last week because it is similar to what you did on July 21, 2004, which was similar to what you did on September 23, 1992,”
Every family seems to have a historian who can actually remember such things in vivid detail, and in the act of remembering is able to conjure up the demonic energy of resentment in full and fulsome force. What is tricky about this is that we can learn experience and passage of time. So we learned not burn ourselves on a hot stove, and we have probably internalized that it is probably not good to get burned in other ways. So what is curious about this is that memory and our awareness of time can be a great blessing, but not always. Sometimes memory stands as the enemy of forgiveness. How many of us have made the speech that begins with “I will forgive, but I will never forget that thing (fill in the blank) that that person (fill in a name) did to me.”
And being human myself, I can certainly agree that there are some things that I might not be able to forgive readily. Which brings me to a certain sense of wonder at the Advent readings that bring us face to face with John the Baptist. For while we may not love to hear about the necessity of repentance as that thing which paves the way for the highway of God, what is amazing is that in a relationship with God we have the possibility for repentance and forgiveness. Generally these are not commodities that so freely a part of most human relationships. In human experience, an act has a consequence, and then there are consequences to the consequences. I like to call it by a name I gave it: “playing 3 Stooges.” You know the hammer slips and Moe gets hit, and as a consequence he feels entitled to retaliate, but that goes wrong and turns into a chain reaction, all of which could have been avoided had there been any grace in the situation. But humans don’t tend to insinuate grace into the situation. But God does.
So in a way the call to repentance is good news that a loving God is willing and capable to forgive. Maybe Psalm 30 put it best: “there is mercy with thee, therefore art thou to be feared.” Well I learned it in the Coverdale Psalter from the BCP, and a more modern translation might be less poetic, but clearer: “you are merciful, and therefore you are to be held in awe and respected.”