The Good Wife has long been my favorite show on TV.1 It’s legal shenanigans are often ludicrous but always fascinating, it has some of the most well-written and well-developed characters around, and many of those characters are multi-faceted women that are the antithesis of the one-notes we usually get on network TV.
A couple of weeks ago, the title character, Alicia Florrick, has a bombshell dropped on her when Eli, a long-time associate and friend, tells her that he once did something that interfered with Alicia’s relationship with another man she loved. Eli is telling her in order to ask for her forgiveness, but until now, she didn’t even know it had happened. The situation is complicated by the fact that the other man is now dead; whatever might have been now never will be.
Alicia, in a wave of cold fury, slowly moves the drink she poured him from his side of the table to hers, and then tells him to get out of her house. He is shocked at her reaction2 and thus is not only slow to move but also tries to get her to discuss it. She methodically gets some plates out of the cabinet, separates the good ones from the plain ones,3 and proceeds to throw the plain ones at the wall in his general direction. Eli suddenly discovers he can move a lot faster and gets the heck out of Dodge.
At the end of last week’s episode, Eli’s twenty-something daughter Marisa, who is also friends with Alicia, goes to visit her and tries to bridge the gap.
“He didn’t have to tell you. You wouldn’t have known. No one would have. You look like you want to tell me something. What?”
“It hurt me.”
“He knows that.”
“Then he can’t expect anything more of me, it would be unfair for him to expect anything more.”
“Call him up and say, ‘You’re forgiven, I need some time to deal with you, but you’re forgiven.'”
The Rest of Us
Alicia was brought up short by a reality that we all face at one time or another — forgiveness sounds like a great idea, but like a lot of great ideas, implementation of said idea is a lot, a lot, harder than it looks. Her hurt and pain and heartache have made it impossible for her to see a world in which Eli could be forgiven, by her, the now dead Will, or anyone else.
As a Christian, it has been a fascinating story arc. What would I do in similar circumstances? What have I done in similar circumstances? Given that the whole basis for our relationship with Jesus is that we’re forgiven everything, why do we find passing on that forgiveness so difficult? Why, e.g., is the reaction of the Sandy Hook community the rare exception rather than the rule among followers of Christ?
One reason is that we have a poorly developed sense of proportion — we either vastly underestimate the value of the forgiveness we’ve received, or we overestimate the value of the offense against us. “I am a good person,” we say, “he/she is a bad person as evidenced by this (whatever it is). He/she has to pay!”
Jesus knew that is our tendency. When Peter asked how often he should forgive, and in the question tried to simultaneously brag on how pious he was and limit his future obligation, Jesus told him a story. A story I suspect made Peter and the others listening very uncomfortable.
In the story, a man owing the king several billion dollars is about to be sold into debt slavery with his entire family. He begs the king for time to pay (several billion dollars, remember), and the king does him one better and forgives the entire debt. The man promptly goes out and throws a friend of his, who owed him only a few thousand dollars, in jail. In other words, what he was owed was pennies compared to what he had been forgiven. He had a bad sense of proportion. The king found his lack of forgiveness disturbing, and sold him into slavery after all.
Jesus’ point wasn’t that the first man was bad and the second man was good. Or that one was less good than the other. His point was that our offenses against God completely overwhelm any offenses that might occur against us, and since God has, through Jesus, forgiven us all of our offenses against Him, then a proper sense of proportion demands that we forgive others, whatever their offense against us. Jesus’ closing words should give us all pause: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive others from your heart.”
Another reason is that we don’t practice forgiveness very well in the small things, so when forgiveness is needed in the big things, we’re ill-prepared. Most of us either don’t realize this or don’t realize the need, but a forgiving spirit is developed like a muscle, and like a muscle that isn’t used very often, it will fail when given too large a task. If we spend our day constantly taking offense, it’s a good bet we have a poorly developed forgiveness muscle.
Perhaps the greatest impediment is that we’ve misunderstood who forgiveness is for. We think it’s for the offender, and that if they haven’t asked for it, or don’t seem like they want it, or haven’t shown the proper penance, then we don’t need to grant it. This is again a lack of understanding of what we’ve been given — Rom 5:8 tells us “while we were sinners, Christ died for us.” Forgiveness is for us, it releases us from bitterness, it frees us to move on with our lives, it allows us to pass on a small portion of that which has been extended to us.
Alicia hurts, and uses that hurt as a reason not to forgive. In doing so she’s missed the one thing that can begin to heal the hurt, that can help her move forward. It’s not time that heals all wounds4, it’s forgiveness. If we allow time to pass without forgiving, we don’t heal, we grow bitter. More time, more bitterness.
Jesus offers an alternative. “I have come that you might have life, and that more abundantly.” That life is found in forgiveness — our own that He gave us, and what we pass on to others. Only then can we have what He has offered. Only then can we can have what Alicia is missing.
A good life.5
- At times it has been the best show on TV.↩
- His incredulity is hilarious, one because it’s so Eli, and two, because it’s so real — a man completely underestimating a woman’s reaction to something he says.↩
- Eli’s incredulity turns to wonderment and curiousity, and ever the clueless male, he doesn’t recognize what is about to, literally, come at him.↩
- Most cliché’s have a basis in truth. This one doesn’t.↩
- Which is not the same as an easy life, or a rich life, or a free from pain life.↩