Forgiveness and Lack of Process

The question of forgiveness comes up frequently in retreats and other programs I give. At one point or another, someone raise the challenge that forgiveness poses for us.

We frequently pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and we are familiar with Jesus’ response to Peter when the latter asks how often we have to forgive our brother. Yet we struggle, finding it difficult to forgive.

Earlier this week, when the question came up during our last Lent retreat gathering at the law school, I shared that a priest once suggested to me that he thought lawyers had a particular difficulty with forgiveness because those involved in the law tend to be overly concerned with justice. And forgiveness often offends our notions of justice…we feel like we are letting the offending party off the hook.

Mark Osler suggested a different reason lawyers might have difficulty with forgiveness and I think there is something to his point. He thinks it is less the lawyerly concern with justice than the lawyerly concern with process that makes forgiveness so difficult for us. Lawyers think in terms of process – some dialogue between parties leading to an outcome. As he put it, process demands, “You do something, I do something, you do something, then I forgive you.”

Forgiveness doesn’t work that way. There is no process. His example is Jesus on the cross. “Father forgive them…” No process. Nothing from the person on the other side. Just forgiveness, with no strings attached.

I think there is something to Mark’s observation. And it is a challenge.
But it is a challenge we must confront if Jesus is to be our model.