Forgiveness is horribly dear; it entails relinquishing a precious moral asset. But unless we forgive, and so long as we hold on to our grudges, or to any creaturely treasure, for that matter, we are tethered to Earth, and unfit for Heaven.
Someone has injured you. Under the Law of this world, therefore, you have a claim upon him. It is a moral asset, and it can be gauged in sheerly economic terms (human relationships are moral projects, through and through; this is why economics, the study of the Law of the Household, is the science of the moral sentiments). You can even come to a legal agreement with the person who has injured you, that his payment to you of a sufficient sum of money will discharge forever the moral debt he owes you on account of the injury he has done to you.
But the legal agreement of satisfaction is merely nominal. It can never truly suffice to wipe the slate clean. Say for example that your old friend Harald has inadvertently cut off your left foot. He didn’t mean to do it, he wasn’t being negligent, it was just one of those things. Despite all that, he is at fault: he knows it, you know it, and the law knows it. You know you shouldn’t resent him for the injury, but you just do, and you can’t not. Now you might agree together that if he paid you $1 million, you’d call it square, and no hard feelings. He pays the money, you shake hands on the deal, and everyone is a stand up guy about it thenceforth. Well and good.
But there is no sum of money that can quite compensate for the damage Harald has done to you. That’s the thing that bugs the hell out of you. Even if we had a way to regrow your foot, as good as new, there is no way that Harald could make it so that you had not suffered the agonies and inconveniences that the inadvertent amputation imposed upon you. No matter how much money Harald paid you, no matter what anyone did for you, there is no way to make the fact of the amputation, together with all the suffering attendant thereto, simply go away as if it had never been. The amputation is an ineluctable fact, and there are not enough ontological resources in the entire universe to make things all better, in respect thereto.
So even though you and Harald are square in the eyes of the Law, de facto there can be no such thing. Harald owes you, forever.
Unless you forgive him that debt. This can happen between true friends. They get drunk together, they get pissed at each other, they scream at each other, they fight, they fall down weeping. Then, they laugh at how ridiculous and tragic, how silly and stupid the whole thing is. They rise up, closer and more dear to each other than ever. Such reconciliations of the spirit are more precious than gold. There is nothing finer, nothing nobler in the world than when we forgive those who have injured us.
We used to read a book to our children when they were very young, a product of the Sesame Street complex that has done so much to injure our civilization, even as it civilizes our young. In the book, Ernie is given charge of the cafe for the day, and in the process he stupidly smashes the teapot that the proprietor – I forget his name, a kindly old man – has told him to take special care about, it being very precious to him, having belonged to his dead wife. Ernie is terrified at what will happen, but being a good egg at bottom, he confesses his crime in fear and trembling. The proprietor takes a moment to process this information, and then – he forgives Ernie. He says, “My friend Ernie is more important to me than some old teapot.”
Now you can call me a sentimental old sap till the cows come home, and you’d be right, but these words – “more important to me than some old teapot” – never failed to choke me up a bit. For they told my children that while they could certainly hurt me, and despite the very real costs that I or they might have to pay as a result, I loved them, and they were more important to me than anything but the Truth (the Truth being Himself, of course, the only means by which they could be important to me in the first place). And this was simply true. My children heard me choke up when I read that line, and so they learned that it was true. Thus they learned how they ought to treat each other.
Such is the forgiveness you offer Harald after you’ve beat each other up and become friends again, fast and true, despite the silly business about your foot. Hell, you’d have lost that foot sooner or later anyway. Harald will be your friend forever.
Grudges are moral claims upon the universe. They are just like money, or riches of any kind. If you let your life be about the grudges, or any other sort of riches, you will be attached to the world. You will be worshiping an idol. And you will be a slave to your idol.
Are you angry at the wife who divorced you, the husband who disappointed you, the children who moved away and neglected you? Are you bitter about what happened at work, pissed off at that guy in the car this morning? Are you spending a lot of your life feeling beleaguered and angry at moslems, Jews, the US Government, liberals, feminists, the UN, or busybodies?
Do you see how these feelings are *killing* you?
So long as we turn these things over and over in our minds, nursing them and worrying about them, they have dominion over us. So doing, we give them power to dispose of our inner world as they see fit.
To the extent that hatred and anger suffuses your day, you are enslaved to the objects of your hatred and anger. The greater your outrage, the greater their power to outrage.
Their power will end when we learn at last to laugh at them, and to love them, the silly old things. Nothing so challenges Satan as our laughter at the pathetic foolishness of his rebellion against God. Rebellion? Against *God*? Are you kidding me?
Think about it for a sec. We trads get all huffy about liberalism, and gosh we enjoy it, but just think about it. Liberals propose to reconfigure Man. Riiight. Have you *ever* heard anything so risible? Hell, it’s not even funny, it’s just pathetic and sad. I mean, this is like the kooky guy in the neighbourhood who thinks the Martians are in charge of the water supply, and walks about wearing a billboard, right? It’s nuts. Why do we let this bother us? Why do we think about it for more than a moment or two? Why aren’t’ we saying to ourselves, “OK, right, that’s absurd, I’m out of here, better things to do.” Sure, they’re in charge, but … let’s just all decide we aren’t going to live in the asylum anymore, OK?
If we are going to live into the organic society, the True society, the orthogonal, righteous society, the very first thing we are going to have to do is shake from off our feet the dust of the towns that do not welcome us. We need to just move on. Leave the dead to bury the dead – the poor old fools. Let’s us get out into the fresh air. Until we do, we’ll just be mewling about in the rooms they have soiled.
We cannot do this, cannot get out of the unclean world they have built for themselves, unless we can get over our grudges. It’s the only way to be magnanimous – literally, “great of life.” It’s the only way to be noble. Rise above.
If you can’t do this, you doom yourself to involvement in the coils of this world. You prevent yourself from living into the Kingdom, where the King himself smiles down from his throne. That’s already happening, you know. The only thing that is preventing you from stepping into his realm, this very minute, is your attachment to the moral assets you have amassed in this rotten old world. If you could just stop thinking about what it is that you own, net net, and what you are owed – the two expressions are coterminous – you could get on with living. You could stop being a banker, period full stop, and start being a fell and fearsome knight.
Don’t squander those assets, to be sure. Use them. But not for their cash value; not for what you might get for them in sale, not for what enjoyments their sale might buy you. What have you, really, to do with such things as can be accomplished with them? Are you not about something altogether larger, and nobler, in whose service alone they, or such pleasures as they might buy, can have any true and lasting value? Do not, then, let yourself be about your assets. No living and life-giving business can afford to be about its financial statement. Be about your purposes, which are alone the things in virtue of which assets have any value to begin with.
What is your Quest? Let everything fall into place under that heading. Let go everything that does not fit. This includes grudges. Call upon those who owe you, and forgive them. No investment you might make can so liberate and enlarge you, or them; nothing, in the end, can so ennoble you, and clean your heart; nothing can so fit you for your true Calling.
Which, after all, is waiting for you. It’s right outside, the adventure of a lifetime. Harald is already out there, saddled up. What, are you letting your bum foot hold you back? What’s the hold up?
Don’t think I’m preaching to you. I’m preaching to myself.