Monday, April 25, 2005

Forgiving great evil

I read a quote the other day from J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon Five (and lots of other things), about forgiving evil. He said he wrote the episode of B5 called "Passing Through Gethsemane" in order to try to understand how someone can forgive a great evil that had been done to them, because it was something he could never do.

It's a question I've pondered a great deal. How exactly do we forgive? I think I'm a mostly forgiving person, to a point. And that is the rub. Where is that line drawn? I'm not a person that holds grudges. Someone can really piss me off, and if they apologize sincerely, five minutes later I'm fine. (This bugs the crap out of my wife.) But these are usually minor disagreements, or someone being rude or thoughtless. Not someone who has done me, or my family, considerable harm.

I could not, under any circumstance that I can envision, forgive someone who harmed my son. I don't believe in sin the way the church (take your pick which one) does, but I think an adult who willfully harms a child is committing the worst sin imaginable. How could a parent forgive a pedophile who molested a son or daughter, or killed them when he finished sating his appetite? Yet what is the alternative?

I worry about my son sometimes. Not in an obssessive, unhealthy way (at least I don't think so), but I imagine in the way most parents do. What would I do if something happened to him? How could I go on? An accident would be devastating enough, but if someone deliberately took him from me...? I could not forgive. That capacity is beyond me in that circumstance. I fear something happening to him not only because of the depth of my love for him, but because of what it would do to me as well. I would be consumed by hatred and guilt. Hatred for the person who took him, and guilt that I could not do what all fathers are to do, and that is protect their children. It's something that's too awful to contemplate.

But there are people who have lost children, or spouses, or parents, who have found the ability to forgive what was done to them. I believe it is a survival mechanism of some sort, a way of dealing with a trauma that otherwise would be as deadly as ebola. But it's also a conscious decision, a choice made to forgo hatred and the desire for vengeance. Do these people feel this way because they are religious and believe what happened was somehow a working out of God's will on Earth? I don't know. I only know that such forgiveness is beyond me, and I hope I never experience it outside a father's late-night wonderings.

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