A Scriptural Reasoning Event on Forgiveness

Forgiveness @ LIFC - 3 of 10Exploring Forgiveness: a meeting of the North London Abrahamic Texts Group

November 2015

“It is hard to swallow forgiveness because it is the head of wisdom and the fruit of knowledge”

Dr. Shomil

Earlier this month contemplation, laughter and even friendly disagreement flowed through a gathering of Jews, Christians and Muslims – some adult, some student –  as they came together in friendship to discuss the very complex subject of Forgiveness.

This was a special meeting of the The North London Abrahamic Texts group hosted by London Inter Faith Centre and organised to open its new community programme of events, ‘Exploring Forgiveness’.

The texts that morning included prayers from the Liberal Jewish Machzor Ruach Chadashah; stories and prayer from the Bible and Surahs from the Koran.  They were chosen by presenters, formal representatives or devoted followers, to guide our conversation.

Opening our discussion, a student from Al Zahra very beautifully sung a Surah in Arabic. This traditional and melodic reading the Koran has harmonies that reflect the content of the narrative and is intended to evoke remembrance of God.  Although the Arabic was unfamiliar to us, the devotion echoed a quality universal to all.

Lively conversation followed each presentation as different themes emerged adding another thread, and another to the melting-pot of what it might mean to be forgiving and forgiven.  Two themes that emerged most strongly were forgiveness as a human experience and forgiveness in relation to God.

“In the Shia tradition we have Imams who we can ask to pray on our behalf to God because they are closer to God, but one would never know until the day of judgment [whether a sin was forgiven or not. ….]”

 “A Rabbi is the head of a particular community in a Synagogue, but there is no intermediary between the individual and God so if we want to ask God for Forgiveness, we do it personally on a one to one”.

 “For Catholics  …. symbolism is tremendously important for us and you can see this played out in, for example, the Catholic practice of personal confession.  A person confesses to a priest, but the priest would be taught to understand that forgiveness is from God, not from him; that he is a symbol or an icon of God and the Church..”

Forgiveness @ LIFC - 9 of 10

In another conversation one person wondered allowed, ‘Whose business is forgiveness?   Could we, failing to find capacity within ourselves, leave forgiveness for what we have done and for what has been done to us, wholly up to God?  For many this was a whole-hearted no!  And from the flow of comment and conversation it emerged that all three religious offered or suggested a very human engagement with forgiveness – glimpses of which follow:  Within Catholic church, and returning to the symbols of Priest and Church, our Christian presenter spoke of the need to ‘enflesh’ the experience of being truly forgiving through real deeds and words with those who we have harmed, or have harmed us.   In Sharia Law, we heard that the victim of a crime can be offered three choices; to be paid blood money, to treat the perpetrator in the same way, or to offer forgiveness to the perpetrator.  While in the Jewish tradition, we heard of a very particular responsibility articulated in the tradition of ‘Tikkun Olam’, of trying to heal or repair the world by saying or doing things at the very human level.

From the texts we also wandered into the terrain of our own experience and the challenges of forgiveness  …

“I have a problem with the concept of forgiving somebody for something if they have not apologised.”

 “I will never forgive her.  I just cannot do it; it would seem weak; it would seem a betrayal”

 “You can have a sense of having forgiven someone, then realise that you need to forgive again – which says something about the journey and purpose of forgiving.’

 “The person who benefits most from forgiveness is you, yourself”

 “..we do get a kind of reward if we genuinely and authentically forgive a person, but maybe it is the prompting of our conscience that is willing us, whispering to us to go face what it is we don’t want to.  It [offers] a kind of liberation for us, but it is also good for that relationship and for the good of the world in general.

 “… my sense is that because of the richness and grace of God to us, then we should show such grace to others..”

We reached no conclusions and our conversations raised many more questions, but the gathering opened doorways to one another’s traditions and experiences – and our shared humanity.

 

You can find the texts discussed in the group by following this link and looking under the heading of forgiveness.

Exploring forgiveness: more in the series …

Between the 8th – 18th February 2016, the London Inter Faith Centre will be hosting the acclaimed Forgiveness Project exhibition; a collection of extraordinary personal stories from ordinary people who have been harmed, or caused harm, and considered forgiveness along the journey to healing and constructing a positive future.  The stories come from around the world, are told by people of faith or no faith and include a myriad response to how, or not, forgiveness has been part of their journey.