The other day I had the privilege of gathering with a group of pastors to watch and discuss the movie Calvary. The basic plot of the film revolves around a week in the life of a parish priest serving a small village on the coast of Ireland. At a pivotal scene in the movie, the following conversation takes place between Father James and his daughter:
Father James Lavelle: I think there’s too much talk about sins and not enough about virtues.
Fiona Lavelle: What would be your number one?
Father James Lavelle: I think forgiveness has been highly underrated.
If you’ve been watching the news or following the internet streams of current events, you may come to the same conclusion as that priest – we talk about sin too much and forgiveness not enough. We can quickly and easily make a mental list of all the wrongs we have suffered, all the offenses we’ve witnessed and all the transgressions we’ve committed. I fear that the church often defines people by their sin (past or present): ‘he cheated on his wife’, ‘she was hooked on heroin’ or ‘those parents aren’t married’. Is it possible to change the discussion and begin listing virtues instead of vices? Can’t we say, ‘she remains committed to her marriage despite their difficulties’ or ‘he has been clean and sober for 1,000 days’?
Perhaps it is easier to remember the offense and become calloused by sin. It may be easier, but not better; easier, but not right. If we understand forgiveness – a financial term before it became a spiritual term – we know that it means that we no longer demand payment of a debt; that our right for recompense is cancelled. In light of scripture, we also know that our debt has been cancelled (since another fully paid for it in full) and therefore we ought to be gracious in extending the forgiveness that was fully extended to us.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
Ursula Ward, whose son, Odin Lloyd, was murdered nearly two years ago, understands the difference between what is easy and what is good. Earlier this week, she was in a Fall River court house giving testimony. Toward the end of her victim impact statement before the judge who presided over her son’s killer’s trial she said, “I forgive the hands of the people who had a hand in my son’s murder, even before or after.” Her testimony forces me to pray for two things: first, that the Lord spares me from enduring the kind of suffering Ms. Ward is experiencing; and second, that if that cup could not pass, that I would have the faith and fortitude to forgive.
Will you imagine with me how much better life would be if we just chose to talk about sin less and forgiveness more? I know that the wages of sin is death and I know that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, His son. Lord, allow us, before we pass judgment with our words, to pass on grace with our demeanor.