Thursday, May 26, 2005

Father, forgive them...

I recently wrote that even though I questioned the literal resurrection of Jesus, I wanted to believe that the biblical stories of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection could have valuable symbolic meaning. An example of this is the verse from Luke 23:24 where Jesus is close to death on the cross but nevertheless beseeches God to have mercy on his Roman and Jewish persecutors: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

To me this story is the highest expression of love and wisdom. It doesn’t really matter to me whether the story is literally true or apocryphal. It represents a level of consciousness far beyond what most of us could ever hope to attain but toward which we should all strive. For it seems profoundly true to me that those who hurt others without just cause do so out of a fundamental lack of empathy or understanding of the injustice and suffering they’re inflicting, and that the proper attitude to harbor with respect to people afflicted by such deficiency is one of unconditional empathy, compassion, love, mercy, and forgiveness. Not only does it feel better to love than to hate, but also a society filled with people who love rather than hate defective souls seems more likely to raise fewer defective souls who commit hurtful acts.

To love these individuals doesn’t have to mean letting them walk away from their destructive acts without facing any consequences. But it does mean that those consequences are imposed without hateful vindictiveness that damages the punisher and society as a whole as much if not more as it does the punished. Whether Jesus actually felt this way and said those words or not, my heart-of-hearts tells me that this is the way to be and draws inspiration from the biblical passage I cited. What I find terribly curious is that most people who call themselves Christian and espouse belief in the literal meaning of New Testament Jesus stories seldom manifest or even aspire to manifest this kind of loving wisdom. How truly Christian are these ‘true-believers’?

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