Trying to get down to the heart of the matter

I want to follow up on this earlier discusssion — “Mercy for the downpresser man is not the first step. Or the second, or third” — about what it might mean to extend grace to an oppressor or an abuser.

What we’re talking about here is forgiveness. Can Pharaoh be forgiven?

Forgiveness is a Good Thing. Each one of us, at some point, requires it. And thus each of us, at some point, will also need to grant it to others.

But that qualifying phrase there — “at some point” — is important. And it’s not enough just to say that forgiveness is a Good Thing without also exploring why and how it’s a Good Thing.

If I have wronged you, if I have done you harm, then I did so through the use of power over you. The case of an oppressor or an abuser makes this especially clear, but it’s always true. To do another wrong is to exercise power against them, and the more power we have in relation to another, the greater the capacity we have to do them wrong by using that power for harm.

Forgiveness works by reversing that power dynamic. If I have exercised power over you, abusing that power to do you harm, then I require your forgiveness. It becomes something I need from you, but which I cannot compel you to give me. Forgiveness cannot be coerced or extracted by force. It can only be granted.

This is part of why the wrong questions discussed in the previous post are the wrong questions. “What about grace for the oppressor/abuser?” is a question that, when asked out of turn, becomes a tool for trying to extract or to compel forgiveness. And that’s not how forgiveness works or what it means.

If you are to grant me forgiveness, then, it can only happen if I come to you in powerlessness — if I accept that my request for forgiveness grants you all the power in the equation. Pharaoh can only be forgiven when he bows down before the former slave he has wronged.

This reversal, this correction, of the imbalance of power is why forgiveness can bring healing to both parties in the transaction. It’s like the leveling sung of by Mary or preached by John the Baptist. It brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly; it fills every valley and makes low every mountain and hill. The powerful are brought low and the powerless are lifted up. The powerless are empowered.

The counterfeit of coerced or compulsory forgiveness cannot do this. There can be no leveling if the powerless are required or demanded or expected to surrender their forgiveness before the powerful are brought low. Any talk of forgiveness for one who has misused or exploited power over others that does not grant power — all the power — to those others becomes, itself, a second misuse and exploitation of power. It’s a sham and a scam that has nothing to do with real forgiveness at all.

And that is not a Good Thing.

"‘This Is Not of God’: When Anti-Trump Evangelicals Confront Their BrethrenBy Laurie GoodsteinMay 23, 2018"

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  • Erista

     That’s a really moving article. Thank you for sharing it.

  • WingedBeast

    We, as the adults watching, can write that in.  But, above all, this is still a show for kids.  So, it’s got to be accessable on their level, too.  That means it’s still questionable whether or not the writers are going to go in that direction of showing outright legal discrimination.

    Again, the gang members were a criminal triad.  In a world without bending, things would have looked much the same without the victims of the crime being oppressed by any establishment.

    It seems like they’re headed in that direction.  But, I’d like to see it something force Korra to look into and see explicit oppression in the form of not just crime but freedoms denied.

  • Yeah, I’ve yet to see any actual oppression (and in fact there’s a whole bunch of joke videos being made explicitly comparing the Equalist megaphone dude to the “help! Help! I’m being repressed!” Monty Python sketch) of non-benders by benders.

    The show will probably elaborate on how the Equalists became such a potent movement in the next few episodes, though.

    (PS. It’s Sokka. :) )

  • It might well be that the Equalist movement originally crystallized due to police harrassment from metalbending officers, and Amon seized on it as a vehicle to accomplish more nefarious ends than what the Equalists want.

  • WingedBeast

    I think that Amon, as a villain, makes more sense if the story he told was true, if he really is scarred from a fire bending extortionist.  Although, the fact that he can take bending away would suggest that he’s a bender, himself.  I think he’s more frightening, though, when his anger is a fully justified anger against a real world injustice that he, like so many battling injustice do when they develope tunnel vision, is just making worse.

  • swbarnes2

    If Jesus was real.  And most modern scholars do not believe that the gospel writers heard the voice of Jesus, as they were writing long after the events they purportedly describe. 

    We have no evidence that thousands of people heard “Blessed are the meek”.  It’s likely that there is one single source that originally held that claim. 

    And I’m sure there were many, many voices saying “kill the infidel”, all of them equally assured through prayer that God was behind them 100%.


    To drag this back to the orignial topic, it seems sensible to say “No victim should have to forgive someone for a hurt that the victim is still emotionally bleeding from, it’s pretty much impossible, not to mention harmful to the victim”, but neither the text of the gospels, nor the traditional teaching of the church seem to make this exception, and that’s the cause of the disconnect here.   The rules the scripture lays out are not psychologically right for real human beings. Withou looking it up, I think the rules about “real” rape in the bible are similar; they say that a “real” rape victim will always cry out, and will always report the rape right away, but women (and men) who are really raped aren’t going to do that all the time.  It’s a bad set of criteria to judge the accuracy of the claim.

    Personally, I’d expect better from divinity.

    (I feel like there’s a better word than ‘victim’, but I can’t find it right now)


    The other one is this. It’s from a slightly older source. It is this: you shall not side with the great against the powerless.

    I’m reminded of things like this when I read about people insisting on forgiveness from those who have little reason to do so.

  • Jurgan

    Yeah, you’re probably right.  I don’t know for sure what it means, but I’m always on the lookout for new interpretations.  Some of them make sense, and some not so much.  I’ve seen a similar question about Job- is God responsible for Job’s suffering because he doesn’t stop it?  I don’t know, but it’s a tough question.

  • Jurgan

    Say what?