I’m working on forgiving everyone for everything, forgiving conservatives for their dogmatic and incorrect simplicities about politics and religion, forgiving liberals for being the same way about various individual beliefs, forgiving everyone who can’t see their way to a vision of the future that matters, where people live to end poverty and live to end conflict. Maybe it is the inevitable future anyway. I just wish I could imagine it coming in 100 years instead of 500 years, if even then.
I have a slogan that I find helpful, “People only do what they know how to do.” It’s a variation on the words of Jesus on the cross, according to Luke 23: 34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” That’s a difficult saying. People do have some idea what they do, but the idea is people don’t know the complete perspective of what they do, not enough to be held to account, at least for the crucifixion of Jesus, in the mind of Jesus. I'm using "know" more narrowly in what helps me, just what a person knows within himself or herself.
Now what’s difficult is who knows the dividing line between where people know enough about their sins to be punished and not? OK, God does. I’m not God. No matter how much God is my close personal friend, it’s not efficient to pray about absolutely everything that hurts me, and have Him say, “Forgive this, but that’s unforgivable. They were so cold and calculating about that one,” the way some human friend might.
So one way to be efficient is to forgive everything, but how hard that can be. Consider the lynch mob mentality on cable TV and talk radio when it comes to pedophiles and sadistic murderers. There the most prevalent attitude is what they did should be done to them. Who knows? Maybe in the end, God balances all of His books that way, like some Twilight Zone episode with its ironic twists. Of course He wouldn’t just limit Himself to people who are scum, but also the people who call them scum. Again that is something of God, and I’m not God. What do I do?
Thinking and praying about this led me to the idea that people do know a lot about what they do, but they find ways to justify it, whether to justify it as good or as something they are entitled to do anyway. So people have their theologies, which whether liberal or conservative or even atheistic, are riddled with problems, but people don’t want to hear about it. They just believe what works for them. People only do what they know how to do, from defending themselves to pushing their ideas. If they don’t know how it hurts others, even hurts themselves, that’s part of why they do that. If they do know they’re hurting others, they have reasons in them that make that OK, to save others from hell, whatever.
Whose fault is it that people don’t know better? Human nature is what it is. Evolutionary psychologists can discuss how nature made us so rigid and caused us to fill in holes in information with whatever fits, without being able to see the arbitrariness of that. They also show how we all have an innate morality, including that it’s wrong to hurt people, unless something goes wrong with our biology or what we learn. So people all do what their nature lead them to do, even those who bellow how much better they are than that.
Still it seems that at times we do make a choice. But if we never see the choice that frees us from our humanity, how can that be our fault? I’m sure any conservative who reads that sees himself or herself as having made the right choice, a choice to go to heaven, a choice for the right politics. Yet I see every conservative as both having made the wrong choice and being unable to listen to many, many objections that say their choice is the wrong choice. It’s not so bad. Liberals don’t listen, either. And atheists are even worse.
Few know anything about living in the Spirit, not as a list of qualities, such as in Galatians 5, but as a life that is beyond such a list, that adds all the benefits of the Spirit that Paul didn’t happen to write, like honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. I don’t know if everyone is forgiven by God for that. That’s up to God. I just know how I can forgive people for how that hurts me, how that deprives me of a church that knows much of anything about God, how it forces me to give so much of myself to clients whom almost everyone neglects, despite their precious theologies. I forgive that because people only can do what they know how to do. And they don’t know how to be better, or they would be.
God can’t make them better in an instant. That’s what He tells me. I believe Him. I was hung up on that for a long time. “They’re Your church. Why don’t You fix them?” God assures me they don’t listen to Him any better than to anyone else. They just listen to each other, the half-blind leading the half-blind. One has to live in the Spirit first. Then the words of God can come to someone. It’s going to be some time before we’re ready for that on a large scale.
Meanwhile I forgive everyone everything that they do to me. Now what they do to my clients or to God is a different story, but I suppose God will work with me on that, too. Don’t count on absolutely everything being forgiven. That’s the preview I’ve gotten.