3 Compassion, Accountability, and Forgiveness

Robert Wheeler:  In the discussion of this past weekend some issues were raised about unconditional love, forgiveness and sin. The question was whether, under my definition of unconditional love, there can be any meaning of forgiveness. It IS a problem of definition. A few years ago, my brother, Richard, referred me to a book titled Philosophy in the Flesh, by Lakoff and Johnson. It posited the problem, as the authors saw it, of philosophy, and I would also say theology, treating ideas as though they were objects like any other physical thing that we can manipulate. I see a number of religious ideas as subject to that problem. I have been asked what I have meant by certain statements. Indulge me to explain my meaning of my statements concerning compassion by starting with definitions.
Sin: “anything that separates us from the love of God” (thank you, Dr. Nida)
Compassion: “the ability to see, to be sensitive to, and to share the joy as well is suffering of another”
Forgiveness: “a gift we give ourselves to restore us to a relationship with another”
Accountability: “a just, dispassionate adjustment of accounts through rational, generally accepted practices ”
And finally, one of my favorites, Righteousness: “a dynamic of right relationships, and not a ‘thing’ to be possessed.”
From my view, Jesus, the “love of God,” and “the kingdom that is at hand,” have everything to do with right relationships; and meaningful relationships are compassionate ones.
Albert Schweitzer was once asked about his notion of “respect for life:” do you use antibiotics? “Yes I do, but I do not use them lightly.” Elsewhere he has been quoted, “By having a reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world. By practicing reverence for life we become good, deep, and alive.” . . .

Forgetting has nothing to do with forgiveness. Forgiveness and accountability are two separate matters. That is the reason that we can “discipline” our children and still unconditionally love them (which does not have to be a negative action, and must not be destructive). After we have disciplined our own children, do we go about looking for other children to discipline? No. They are not our responsibility although it may be our responsibility to protect other helpless persons that we see harmed with no power to protect themselves. Even that has some limits of social responsibility. This is what I meant when I suggested that the only person who has the right to decide whether their sexual orientation or how they act upon it is sin or not, is good or bad, or is right or wrong is that person and the one with whom they are in relationship.

 

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3 Compassion, Accountability, and Forgiveness

2 On Compassion and Forgiveness

[Someone responded by asking what was “unconditional and unrestrained compassion,”  and what, then, would be the purpose of forgiveness?]

Robert Wheeler: I wasn’t expecting a question, but, I suppose as a Wheeler kid, I welcome it. It challenges me to examine what I have said. I think that today it is, perhaps has always been, socially acceptable to reserve our love for family, community, or nation and to withhold it from those viewed as outsiders or otherwise different from ourselves.  As members of that society, I believe that is probably applicable to Christians as well. It is always difficult to know the source of the ideas that we come to “alone.” I know that Tolstoy, a century ago, noted that established Christianity, even then, sanitized Jesus command to love and to give “all you have” to the poor, or to whomever your needy neighbor is. Tolstoy criticized the organized church, in all its forms and flavors of that time, of suggesting that Jesus didn’t really mean what he demanded. What I find interesting about modern Christianity is that it is politically popular for it to demand a literal reading of the Bible, even if it conflicts with science, reason, experience, or even other parts of the Bible; but it treats the commands of Jesus as metaphorical, not to be taken literally. I think that is what I mean by “unconditional and unrestrained compassion.” Love and compassion are unlimited “commodities,” unlike natural resources such as oil, gas, coal, even time.  It seems that mom and dad are an example for us kids of unconditional and unrestrained compassion: their love has been all that we kids needed and more, it knew no boundaries and it was given unconditionally.

I am sure that I derived some level of this conviction from the compassionate messages of Marcus Borg, Dominic Crossan, Karen Armstrong, even Eric Fromm, and especially from Mom and Dad. I think that “unconditional and unrestrained compassion” is a milder form of the former Episcopalian Bishop, John Shelby Spong, who suggested that a Christian “love wastefully.”

SMS:  The individual who thinks they need to forgive someone else because of a lifestyle choice seems rather pompous to me. It is our job to love one another and leave the validity of others choices up to God! He is the parent/judge we are the children! Could our judging the choices made by others be interpreted as “tattling”?  Don’t worry about the “sliver” and another person side until you have managed to remove the “log” from your own.

TB: there are some sick puppies out there, and I see a few of them up close and personal in a prison daily. If you allow them the freedom to determine “good or bad, right or wrong, sin or not,” with a religious stamp of approval, you are giving them a license to wreak havoc on the rest of the world.

SMS:  I don’t have a problem with holding people responsible for their actions. As a matter of fact, I believe very strongly that they SHOULD be held accountable. I am not validating any actions, I am just saying it is not our place to “judge” the act. I also believe the instance to which Rob was referring is not a criminal act!

 

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2 On Compassion and Forgiveness