Forgiveness is what love looks like when you don’t feel like it. That’s a paraphrase of something Wendell Berry once said.
To put that a different way, forgiveness is the kind of love that we give imperfect things. Things that aren’t always so likable. And since everything—simply everything—in this world is imperfect, it’s the only kind of love we can give in this life.
Loving is what makes us truly happy in this flawed world. And so I’m going to borrow the phrase “sober happiness” from Richard Rohr. It’s the kind of happiness we can have on planet earth, because it arises from the kind of love that Jesus commended to us.
The world is good and it is flawed. We nurture each other and we hurt each other. Delight and misery reside alongside each other. Both bring tears to our eyes of very different sorts. This world fills our heart and breaks it at the same time. This is sober happiness.
Jesus teaches us that when we forgive this person or that person for the wounds they’ve caused us, we’re taking a step toward something much broader and deeper. We’re inching our way toward forgiving the world for being flawed. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
After Jesus had risen from the dead, he visited his friends. He said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23)
It may sound to you as if Jesus gives us the power to say who is in and who is out, who is forgiven and who is not. I suggest a different reading. Jesus tells us to choose one of two paths: forgive or retain.
Forgiving certainly includes holding others accountable, drawing life-affirming boundaries, and reweaving tattered relationships with individuals. However, forgiving is ultimately about loving in the real world with the faith that love is the only power that can mend this world’s deep, pervasive flaw.
When we retain sins, we look for someone or something to blame. We labor under the illusion that certain individuals or groups are the problem. They are the flaw. We fix the world by eradicating them, subjugating them, or forcing them to conform to our way of being.
There’s just one problem with choosing to retain. Rohr writes, “Most frontal attacks on evil just produce another kind of evil in yourself, along with a very inflated self-image to boot, and incites a lot of push-back from those you have attacked.” (Falling Upward, 117)
The path to the kind of happiness available to us in this life is to lean into our very essence. We were created in the image of God. We fulfill our nature when we love what God loves how God loves it. God loves this flawed world. No exceptions.
Rohr writes, “Those who agree to carry and love what God loves—which is both the good and the bad—and to pay the price for its reconciliation within themselves, these are the followers of Jesus Christ. They are the leaven, the salt, the remnant, the mustard seed that God uses to transform the world. The cross, then, is a very dramatic image of what it takes to be usable for God.” (The Universal Christ, 152)
As a friend of mine once told me, love is more important than how we happen to feel about it at the time.