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How Far Should Forgiveness Go?
Image: Brian Macdonald
"Forgiving love is a possibility only for those who know that they are not good, who feel themselves in need of divine mercy, who live in a dimension deeper and higher than that of moral idealism, feel themselves as well as their fellow men convicted of sin by a holy God and know that the differences between the good man and the bad man are insignificant in his sight."
—Reinhold Niebuhr, An Interpretation of Christian Ethics

I wish I could believe every one of these words from Reinhold Niebuhr. Instinctually, I don't, wishing instead for Dante's hell for certain kinds of sinners—like corrupt pastors who egregiously violate their calling and never repent. In my unregenerate opinion, I believe these types of sinners should be relegated to the eighth and ninth circles of Dante's Inferno.

I've read numerous books on forgiveness. Some of them lead me to conclude that the authors have never known the kind of spiritual betrayal some Christians, including myself, have known. If they did, they could never write the pabulum they are selling.

A diverse collection of books—L. Gregory Jones's Embodying Forgiveness, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Ethics, Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower, Miroslav Volf's Free of Charge, and Desmund Tutu's No Future Without Forgiveness—offer honest help for my unforgiving heart. These writers grapple with the call to forgive in the face of real evil. They understand that pop psychology and cheap theology are no match for it. The murderous societies under which most of them suffered find their Christian complement in churches that, for example, allow or ignore the sexual abuse of children and punish those who call the abusers to account. ...

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October 2010

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