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Archive for May, 2012

David Kelsey’s chapter “Sin as Living Death in a Distorted Personal Identity” from his larger work, Eccentric Existence:  A Theological Anthropology provides a helpful anthropological assessment for approaching forgiveness.  As fundamental as forgiveness is for the Christian faith, it can be difficult to orient ourselves to think critically about it.  Too often we feel we “should forgive”.  Therein, we realize that forgiveness is a Christian fundamental that faces profound challenges.  In Kelsey’s larger work, he explicates God’s reconciling energy toward humanity and also formulates an ultimate question for the human community who is challenged to respond appropriately to the reconciling energy.

Appropriate response to reconciling God is a humanity that can engage forgiveness.  But there are things about our anthropology that challenge our ability to be forgiving or to forgive. Thus, we find ourselves living alienated from the only appropriate response to a reconciling God…. forgiveness.  And Kelsey defines forgiveness as “the interhuman reconciliation that is the necessary social context of acts seeking the rectification of unjust patterns of human action.” (878)

I will crudely summarize his three scenarios in which human beings are unable to approach forgiveness:

Humanity so ordered by culture that there is no room for forgiveness.

Personal identities that find their worth in power (the ability to command) or adherence to a moral order leave no real room for forgiveness.  Because one is only worthy insomuch as one is able to continue to exert power or adherence to a moral order, there is a cyclical need to return to power initiatives or rules of the moral order in order to find oneself as an individual of power.  This cyclical need puts us on a treadmill of spiritual righteousness.  We understand ourselves to be superior to those who cannot behave to the moral order or command an influence over their environment.   Kelsey asserts that identity in power and moral order provide no space for forgiveness. We cannot forgive others for not adhering to a moral order, nor can we forgive them for not exercising more power and influence in their own lives.  Because we understand our worth as coming from a perpetual cycle of power and order (inequality), forgiveness becomes a nuance-like interruption or inconvenience.

Waiting for the best time to forgiven.

As limited as power and moral order end up being, they do begin as best intents within the human heart.  In the second option, Kelsey reminds us that sinful behavior also obstructs our approach to the Christian essential of forgiveness.  While this seems obvious, Kelsey describes the dual-blockade of sinful behavior that is at once interpersonal and intrapersonal.  Not only do we find ourselves in relationships where we diminish others and they diminish us, additionally, we find (intrapersonal) a cognitive function  that denies our existence in such diminishing relationships.  Because we are involved in a structural bind, forgiveness is not an option. Kelsey draws upon the scriptural use of the word Hypocrite as one who is self-deceived.  Abiding in insulated armor, we imagine that when the world straightens up, we will then forgive.

Inability to forgive within the self:

Whereas the previous two options are interpersonal, this third option is really an intrapersonal experience.    Whereas the two previous options have human beings primarily concerned with social order or relational complexities, in the third option, human beings want to avoid “discovering themselves inwardly guilty of failure to do their duty and live consistently across time”.   While forgiving others may be an option or an interest they pursue, Kelsey notes that individuals are unable to forgive themselves.  They are unable to forgive themselves because they have a sense that they have fallen short of living consistently and to the standard of what is their duty.  This duty may be social constructed, humanistically defined or divinely ordained.  In any case, it is a standard that is never satisfied and the human being lives a partial life, guilt ridden.

Kelsey goes to great pains to explicate why forgiveness is so difficult. I think brilliantly.  However, in the end, we are in despair.  What Kelsey does not seem to acknowledge are brief moments in which forgiveness is attempted, respected and hoped for as sufficient responses by human beings to a reconciling God.  What if within adherence to power, moral order, complexities of relationships and our own intrapersonal world, our spiritual discipline of forgiveness is a ripple, sparkle or flash that leads or lights the way to our next significant moment wherein we behave with increasing faithfulness?

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A Poem of Preparation.

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approaching considerations of  forgiveness with DH Lawrence’s help….

 

 

 

 

 

 

How nice it is to be superior!

Because really, it’s no use pretending, one is superior, isn’t one?

I mean people like you and me.–

 

Quite! I quite agree.

The trouble is, everybody thinks they’re just as superior

as we are; just as superior.—

 

That’s what’s so boring!  people are so boring.

But they can’t really think it, do you think?

At the bottom, they must know we are really superior

don’t you think?

don’t you think, really, they know we’re their superiors?—

I couldn’t say,

I’ve never got to the bottom of superiority.

I should like to.

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