God is not a Mathematician. He is a Poet
Now, what do I mean by that? Before you rush to a conclusion, I ask that you please place my claim within a theoretical context. In simple terms, I think that God's action and response to human hubris, to our flaws, our sins, are not calculated, abstract and objective in their make-up. Instead, they are spontaneous, subjective, personal, hearty, and compassionate in their revelation. I am looking at this assertion from the theoretical framework of the Enlightenment versus Romanticism. To put it in a rather simplistic way, the former view life from a cold and calculated window while the latter sees it generally from a subjective and spontaneous vista. I think God's approach to human failures, to the enormous debt incurred by our sins, is better understood when we see him in the mold of a poet rather than a mathematician. Only the mind frame and subjective heart of a poet will instruct an offended person to "forgive not seven times, but seventy-seven times" (Matthew 18:22).
Peter wanted Jesus to clarify how far or deep forgiveness should go. Be mindful that Peter is coming from a worldview where revenge, a calculated payback, or counter-punching sensibility held sway. In that world, you hit back when someone hits you. There is no room for turning the other cheek or letting go of the offense, even if the guilty begs for forgiveness. Our modern world is no different from that world. We want to hurt back who hurts us; we want revenge. That is what many of us would do.
Joyfully, there are instances contrary to the norm to inspire us. I was still studying for my doctorate at the University of South Carolina in 2015 when the news broke that a young man walked into the historic AME Church in Charleston and gunned down nine of her members sharing the Word of God with him. Reactions from family members of those who lost their lives in the hate crime showed me the possibility of a Christ-like response to those who inflict evil on us. "I forgive you," says Felicia Sanders, a survivor, and mother of one of the victims of the senseless shooting. At the sentencing of the shooter, instead of allowing herself to be eaten up by hate, anger, and vengeful spirit, she chose to forgive the one who brought her a lifetime loss and pain. She adds, "that's the easiest thing I have to do. But you don't want to help somebody who don't want to help themselves (sic). May God have mercy on your soul."
If only we think of God's extravagant mercy in forgiving us the debt of sin against him that we can never pay up and allow our actions to be influenced by his when we confront those who hurt us, the world will look more like the Creator intends it. Jesus says to the unforgiving servant and he says to us too, "I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?" (Matthew 18: 33). Such an act of mercy can only come from a God who is a poet, not a mathematician. So, is forgiving those who offend you the easiest thing you have to do? Is your approach that of a poet or a mathematician towards those who commit crimes against you?
As we celebrate the feasts of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and Our Lady of Sorrows this week, let us ask for the grace to carry the cross of heartfelt forgiveness and share in the liberating sorrows of Our Lady of Sorrows.
Yours in Jesus of Extravagant Mercy,
Fr. Bernard Oniwe, OP