As many people know, Ash Wednesday is a portal or a threshold through which the church enters into the proverbial wilderness of Lent. And . . . of course, Lent is the worship time in which the church, and the individual believers within the church, examine themselves and pray for God’s guidance as well as God’s forgiveness. We often prayerfully ask God to help lead us out of our wilderness. It is sometimes natural to forget our confession of faith with regard to Christ. Yet, the author of Hebrews reminds readers: “Let us hold fast our confession” (Hebrews 4:14).
When we confess, then we become a person who wants forgiveness—ask Lance Armstrong about what he expected when he used Oprah’s ear as a confessional booth. Even in our Lord’s Prayer we pray: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.” We love to talk about forgiveness . . . especially when we are the beneficiaries. When, however, the forgiving shoe is on the other foot; well that is a different story. We always want forgiveness, but are regularly reluctant to offer it.
In her wonderful collection of letters titled The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor this brilliant writer from Georgia remarks, “It is hard to make your adversaries real people unless you recognize yourself in them—in which case, if you don't watch out, they cease to be adversaries.” There is for all of us a frightening aspect to forgiveness.
The thing that frightens us most about forgiving another person is that the person may well cease to be our enemy—and far too often these days our enemies help us define who we are. As we approach Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season that follows it closely, may we think about what forgiveness might mean in terms of both offering it to others and receiving it as well?
Friedrich Nietzsche, crazy at the end as he may have been, noted wisely when he wrote: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster” (from Beyond Good and Evil).