Friday, September 13, 2002

Peter Nixon has some comments about the Pope's prayer of forgiveness for the terrorists. Go read them, and then come back and read this response.

One problem for many people is they forget that "and forget" is appended to "forgive" because there is nothing fundamental to forgiveness that requires forgetting. They are two separate acts. And forgiveness does not preclude punishment: hence the penance at the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I can freely offer forgiveness of Osama and still desire his punishment-by-daisy-cutter--especially since he has not repented of his sins. I can forgive a murderer and still hope his death sentence is carried out (if I believe in capital punishment) because that is what justice commands--true, retributive justice, that is, which is really the essential kind. (CS Lewis has a tremendous essay on this subject in "God in the Dock" that I've been emaning to blog for a few weeks. Perhaps this weekend.)

There is nothing strange in this; it has been the belief of Christians for many centuries. What is an aberration is the modern disconnect between forgiveness and penance. If I steal $1 million and go to a priest to confess, he will forgive me, instruct me to return the money, and to turn myself over to the authorities. I will still have to be punished by civil authority, even after the sin has been wiped clean from my soul. In fact, as a truly repentant Christian, I ought to *desire* to be punished by civil authority.

Additionally, as you touched on, if the America author means that I have no ability to forgive a person who has not harmed me, then he is correct. Only Christ can forgive the sins of a second party against a third. But that literal truth does not excuse me from adopting a forgiving attitude towards those who have sinned and repented, for I *can* otherwise surely still hold the second's sins to the third against the second. (Sorry, that's confusing, but I think you will understand if you read it slowly.)

There really is no alternative to forgiving the terrorists. But they still must be punished, and perhaps killed, to meet the demands of justice, and it is not Christian at all to suggest otherwise.


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