SATURDAY OF LENT WEEK 1
The long and deep process of forgiveness needs to start as soon as the harm is done. This is not a matter of will but of being prepared. John Main said once that the goal of Christian education is to prepare the young for the experience of betrayal they will meet in their lives.
In the first instant of seeing harm deliberately directed at us, we feel shocked and sad. ‘Angry and sad’ as Cain was when he felt that he was being badly treated by God. God told him to wait and process these feelings. Otherwise the beast of violence would spring out of the shadows and overwhelm him. We are angry firstly because any act of injustice assaults the delicate balance of the universe. The ripple effects of our justified outrage extend far and wide and through generations. This is visceral, before we rationalise and blame. The beast itself is visceral and deeply stained into our psyche. Vladimir Putin described himself in childhood as a street thug who had learned that if you felt there was going to be a fight make sure you throw the first punch. Our tendency to be overwhelmed by the beast, like a predisposition to alcoholism, lies deep in our cellular memory even before our personality has formed.
We can be prepared for it. Like many viruses it may lie dormant in human affairs but it cannot be eradicated. Our visceral outrage against the unjustified violence allows the process of forgiveness to start immediately even as we resist and defend ourselves as Ukrainians are doing. No one expects them to say how likeable Russians are. But they, like us in less extreme daily situations, can learn not to turn the enemy into a demonised object. This is why it is important for us to hear and admire the many instances of Russian opposition to this war, which are being brutally punished and repressed. They remind us that because of fear for oneself or because one has been brainwashed one may obey inhumane orders. And horribly, in the self-hatred of knowing that we have been ‘turned’ we may begin to enjoy it. None of us can say for sure that we wouldn’t find a way to justify our doing the same if our lives or those of our family were being threatened.
Similarly in daily life, when someone betrays us or our trust we must remember the good things they have done in the past. We are then dealing with a weak and unreliable human being not an evil figure in a video game of our fantasy who we can blast off the screen. Many of the young Russian conscripts tremble on a knife-edge of conscience as they decide to obey and fight or be punished as examples to others. The trenches of the First World War showed many examples of this. War spreads injustice like a pandemic in full spate. We are all polluted by it.
Once the balance of the universe has been upset with one act of injustice many innocent, ordinary people are forced to do things against their conscience. Injustice clouds our moral vison. But the process of forgiveness releases insight, wisdom and compassion which alone can restore the clarity of charity. There is no greater teacher of this than Jesus.
Lenten Reflections 2022