Forgiveness is a very important issue in the Bible, especially in the words of Jesus. Generally, Christian theology's take on forgiveness has stressed how God manages to forgive us of our sins. Being forgiven by God, then supposedly makes one a righteous warrior, doing battle against evil human adversaries in God's name. This kind of mindset places little or no emphasis on our forgiving one another and is everywhere evident in so called evangelical politics.
Clearly, Jesus admonished the Jews of his day to embrace a very profound form of forgiveness. His prescribed antidote to the poison found in the Tree of Knowledge was to practice extreme forgiveness, incomprehensible forgiveness as far as most professed believers in Christ are concerned, myself included for the most part.
In reality, the Old Testament call to love one's neighbor or fellowman (Deut 6:4-5 and Lev 19:18) foreshadowed the teaching of Jesus on forgiveness. Undoubtedly OT Jews wanted to limited the scope of their neighbors to those they considered friends, but the text itself does not make that distinction. Jesus' call to forgive others leaves no doubt as to its scope; it includes even those we might choose to call unfriendly, unworthy, and even dangerous.
As I grapple with the extent of forgiveness proposed by Jesus, I wonder about how we develop enemies in the first place. In our society, with its theology of relentless conflict between good and evil, we actually strive to identify and thereby create enemies. In fact, our culture and its institutions are all predicated on this idea that some folks are good and our friends and the rest bad and therefore enemies. In this atmosphere, we seem to reverence those among us who take it upon themselves to help us identify who the enemies are. Not knowing the enemy is bad, so those who call attention to them are deemed good and rightly respected. Consequently, our world is full of preachers, pundits, and politicians who claim celebrity status through their dedication to finger pointing and calling our attention to the enemy.
I strongly suspect we actually create enemies just by deciding to label others as unworthy, dangerous, or deluded, thus guaranteeing subsequent ill will. How many times has my snap judgment of another generated an adversarial relationship without cause? More than I'd like to admit, I suspect. Enemy hunting and suppression is great fun, apparently. If you think not, just pay attention to what we enjoy as entertainment, from action movies to violent video games and talk radio.
As far as God is concerned, it amazes me that He could remotely have an enemy. An omnipotent God cannot be threatened by anyone or anything. Is the threat of harm not necessary before one can be an enemy? How can man harm God. Mankind can oppose the will of God, in some sense, but how can that opposition ever subvert that Will?
I suspect that the answer to the incomprehensible forgiveness of Jesus lies in this question of how we develop enemies in the first place. It's generally assumed that we don't create enemies, but rather that others just decide spontaneously or irrationally to do us harm. The age old story says that some folks are just plain bad; they don't need a reason or motivation for ill will and hurtful behavior. It's a convenient explanation for why we have enemies, but is it true?
If I decided to quit listening to the professional fear mongers and self proclaimed guardians of my well being, I would probably experience a great reduction in enemies. What would happen to my state of mind and general mental health if I ceased labeling people as enemies? Could I note misguided thinking and poor behavior without labeling the perpetrators as evil themselves and therefore unworthy? That psychological shift is the real message of the Bible story, particularly that of Jesus. Our fixation on a need for divine forgiveness has misdirected us from the paramount need to be forgiving of one another.