I’m weaving together a lot of thoughts from this past week or so (from a wandering, late night conversation with a friend on a variety of topics; The Darjeeling Limited; chatting with my sister and family about the value of the Old Testament; Hamilton, because it’s amazing and if you haven’t listened to it, stop reading this and listen to it. RIGHT NOW. We good? Good. I may even include some Star Wars (no spoilers, don’t worry), although I’m trying to delay that for a bit and go more in depth after watching it again and when people have had more chances to see it, although you can check out my scriptural proof for lightsabers here, to whet your appetite).
Let’s start with some scripture:
“I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” Doctrine and Covenants 64:10
Yikes. All men (which I read as referring to all people, so, now that that’s out of the way). Not just the people that you’re friends with or the ones that apologize or the people that deserve it. Everybody. Every single person. That’s a pretty tall order. I haven’t had too many experiences that really tried my ability to forgive (probably because I’m just so loving and non-judgmental…), but there have been a handful (KK from Boy’s State, an incident with the SR, and maybe some petty stuff in high school—left intentionally vague so as to not incriminate those involved, in the spirit of forgiveness. I’d probably talk about it in person, so ask me sometime if you’re really curious). There were times when I would see the people involved and just feel upset. I felt the need to avoid them because I just didn’t feel pleasant and clearly had yet to fully get over what had happened. Eventually, I have been able to. Some of it was just time. Some of it was trying to see the other side and to admit my own faults. And some of it was honestly, just letting love triumph over the anger and hate that was lingering and festering within me (because we all know where those lead…).
Sure, there are great promises/warning associated with forgiveness. But I think it needs to be done in a spirit of true forgiveness, not a “yo, I forgive you because I sure need God to forgive me and if I don’t forgive you, then I’m burning in eternal hellfire” mindset. For that reason, this is my favorite verse about the relationship between us forgiving others and God forgiving us:
“And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:25
This is not framed as a “if, then” causal sort of relationship, but rather, a conditional. That our forgiveness of others frees God to forgive us. There’s a sense of cosmic Justice and Mercy working things out with the “may forgive you” phrasing. Perhaps this doesn’t really matter to others, but I think the admittedly subtle difference is an important one.
It may also be suggestive of the two-way nature of forgiveness. That even though I forgive someone, that doesn’t finish the deal. They still need to forgive themselves. There’s a sense in which you could read this as saying that by forgiving others we open ourselves up to receive the forgiveness that God is offering. There’s a state of being created by forgiving that allows us to accept others’ forgiveness.
This seems to be at work in Hamilton, during one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching moments. [Spoilers ahead, but it’s history, so it only sort of counts.]
Prior to this song (“It’s Quiet Uptown”), Hamilton had publicly confessed to an affair. The confession resulted in an estrangement from his wife (Eliza), which is attempting to be reconciled here, immediately following the death of their son Philip in a duel.
“I don’t pretend to know
The challenges we’re facing
I know there’s no replacing what we’ve lost
And you need time
But I’m not afraid
I know who I married
Just let me stay here by your side
That would be enough”
He recognizes that he’s at fault and that there are things he doesn’t understand and that due to his actions there’s a loss that cannot be repaired. But, he wants to make things right, he wants to be forgiven.
Angelica, Eliza’s sister and narrator of sorts for this song, then sings:
“There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is a grace too powerful to name
We push away what we can never understand
We push away the unimaginable
They are standing in the garden
Alexander by Eliza’s side
She takes his hand”
Alexander came as far as he could, he offered everything he had and then waited. Eliza needed to be the one to forgive, the one to take his hand. It’s a powerful moment where Alexander is helpless, unable to work his way out of the grief that he feels. The opening two lines from Angelica strike me. This idea of words being unable to reach certain moments (a particularly powerful sentiment for the musical, which has expressed repeatedly the power of words) coupled with a “grace too powerful to name.” Grace, and forgiveness, is viewed as being to powerful to name, I think suggesting that words have no power over it. It exists outside the power of the written word, it is able to do what could not be done otherwise.
This level of forgiveness and reconciliation is incredible. I don’t think that we always should re-establish relationships with those that we need to forgive, but there’s a power that comes from doing so (when it doesn’t put us in a situation of further risk). I think seeking to forgive others, ourselves, and to allow God to forgive us can let that grace too powerful to name run through us.
Christ’s example of forgiveness on the cross is one of the most powerful passages in scripture for me:
“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
I know the footnote limits this to the soldiers that physically carried out the crucifixion, but I think there’s more power if we extend it to all involved. And thus apply it to our lives. Yes, there are some malicious people that seek to hurt us, but often, I think, people are ignorant of the pain and suffering that is caused by their actions. They know not what they do. But we know. And that’s why we must forgive.
I know. And that’s why I must forgive.