Is there anything more powerful in the world than forgiveness? Maybe the only thing that is nearly as powerful as forgiveness, is unforgiveness. Forgiveness releases incredible generative power into the world. Unforgiveness releases the power of enslavement and death.
Forgiveness is another name for mercy: the forbearance of one’s right to punish another; to have vengeance. Unforgiveness is the pressing of those rights … to hold to an offense, and so to achieve retribution. Often, forgiveness isn’t really fair or just, but it is distilled goodness. Unforgiveness is often both fair and just, but it is never good.
Unforgiveness is nothing more than a way of holding power over another person, to maintain one’s own superiority. Unforgiveness allows us to occupy the moral high ground all by ourselves – to play relational king on the mountain. Unforgiveness is a form of power that allows us to control other people, shame them, and diminish them.
God is not like that. God refuses to control people in order to prove God’s superiority. God doesn’t need to hold the moral high ground. That’s why God forgives so easily, why God holds no need to control or manipulate or dictate every single thing that happens in relationships with people. God has no need to play any sort of power game.
So, God is free. And the truly transformational part of that freedom is the freedom to let created things just be, just be themselves, to be what they are, and then to love them even in their broken or nascent form. Mercy is established in the love of an “other.”
This is why parents can so easily forgive their children. They feel no need to establish their position as parent. Their position is fait accompli. They are free to feel only love for their children, and so to forgive effortlessly.
This is also why it is so hard for us to forgive our neighbors. We have been taught that we are in competition with our neighbor. Forgiveness feels like losing power, losing control.
In the end, our unforgiveness is mostly about our twisted desire to establish superiority, position, or power, and the refusal to embrace the weakness and vulnerability that comes with love.
Eventually our unforgiveness enslaves us, and we miss out on the freedom that comes with love. We are enslaved by our unforgiveness, and end up suffering more than the one we refuse to forgive. This is why it has been said: unforgiveness is like drinking poison, and expecting the other person to die.
In the quest for power, there’s no room for reconciliation. This is surely a sign of the weakness and frailty of our culture. We are increasingly enslaved to unforgiveness. Nothing about the way our society is organized will ever change, none of our national tribalism and conflict will ever dissipate, none of our damaging problems will be solved so long as we remain locked in a competitive frame where forgiveness and mercy are impossible.
There’s nothing more powerful than forgiveness … and unforgiveness. One has the power to bring life and light and flourishing. The other has the power to enslave, and it is currently enslaving us. If unchecked, the unforgiveness that comes with the lust for power will eventually destroy us.