Sometimes when I preach or teach, I get those listening to play “Let’s pretend”. The game involves me spinning a scenario and them imagining they are a part of the scenario. I don’t do it often but it is sometimes useful to help people better identify with a situation. So, today, I want to play “Let’s pretend.”
Let’s pretend that we own a small business–nothing big and nothing involving anything that would require ethical considerations. We have a couple of employees, one of whom looks after all our financial stuff because when we add 1 and 1, the answer comes out to 3 only half the time–the rest of the time, we get it wrong, even using a calculator. (This scenario is based on my reality when it comes to numbers) Because of that, it takes a while for us to realize that we are losing money while having lots of customers and lots of inventory turnover.
After some looking and consulting with someone who can actually add and subtract and do all that mysterious number stuff, we discover that our book keeper has been helping himself to lots and lots of our money. He has a sick child who needs lots of medical and practical support, a great deal of which isn’t covered by the government medical plan (I live in Canada). We confront the employee, hoping to find a solution that avoids the legal system.
He can’t pay us back–the money has been spend on stuff for the child. He tearfully confesses, promises never to do it again and begs us to forgive him. So, after expressing our outrage and sense of betrayal and the anger and all the rest, we somehow find the strength and courage to forgive him. Depending on your preference, you can imagine a bear hug with tears or a handshake.
We have forgiven–but what now? What if he begs for his job back, telling us that if we fire him, he will lose everything and his sick child will lose all the support that is necessary. With even more tears, he begs and pleads and even attempts placing a fairly decent guilt trip on us. And then we remember that time honoured phrase, “Forgive and Forget”.
Does forgiving mean we have to treat him as if nothing happened? Do we have to let him continue on in his old job as if nothing happened? Would the answer be different if instead of having a sick child, he was spending the money on a gambling or substance abuse habit? Does forgiving mean we have to move on as if the thing never happened?
After all, we are told that when God forgives us, it is permanent and complete and it is never raised again–it is gone completely. And I love that theology. But does that theology mean that I have to let the embezzler look after my money or the convicted habitual child abuser go back to teaching the Sunday School class where he found his victims? Does it mean I have to trust the individual whose desire for gossip keeps him/her continually asking for forgiveness for giving away confidential information?
Well, I struggle with this. Some things are easy to answer–I would never let a habitual child abuser anywhere near a children’s Sunday School class, no matter how long ago it was or how clear their repentance. But going back to our pretend game, I might consider letting the man continue to work for me but I would either given him a different job or ensure that I learned to count and deal with money better.
Forgiveness from God comes with no strings attached. But until we become perfect, we human beings probably need to be “…as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10.16) We probably need to temper our forgiveness with reality. It may seem like we are watering down our forgiveness or undercutting the Gospel–but maybe we are just being wise and helping people avoid the temptations that inevitably arise when we human beings deal with the messy issues of our lives and the lives of those around us.
I could be all wrong on this. This is one of the issues with forgiveness that I am still struggling with. I want God to forgive me completely and forget everything I have done–but I can’t quite see that working well all the time with we fallible humans.
May the peace of God be with you.