Tuesday, March 07, 2006

“Love Means That For Me You Shall Never Die”

JennySome things are not meant to be forgiven. One of them is the murder of your child. We are hard-wired to protect our offspring and when they die at the hands of murderous thugs our overwhelming sorrow and loss learns to move in tandem with an implacable hatred for those who love death so much that they would randomly and enthusiastically kill your child.

Now comes an Anglican vicar, the Rev. Julie Nicholson, whose daughter was one of the fifty people whose lives were snatched away by a group of indoctrinated thugs. The vicar is stepping down from her position as priest in charge of a church in Bristol. She says she finds it—

…very difficult for me to stand behind an altar and celebrate the Eucharist and lead people in words of peace and reconciliation and forgiveness when I feel very far from that myself.

Well, of course it’s difficult. In fact, if you’re a sentient being, it’s damned nigh impossible. That’s why we have the death penalty in the U.S., and why they would have it in Europe if the elitists hadn’t rammed through its abolition. The polls are very clear: most Europeans are in favor of death as the only solution for those who spread death in their wake.

The Rev. Nicholson is a priest. As such she is a mediator, a witness. She is not an über-Christian whose ordination somehow lifts her above her flock. “The priesthood of the baptized” is a bit of tarnished theology by now, but it served its purpose: to bring the priest back down to eye level.

The Rev. Nicholson says she has struggled greatly with her inability to forgive her daughter’s killer and has read many books in these last months on forgiveness. They don’t help; she remains in awe of those who can say “I forgive…”

Her awe is misplaced and her spiritual director ought to be saying as much. Wisely, she has reflected on the scene of Mary at the foot of the cross, watching her Son’s agonizing death. She has noticed that “forgiveness doesn’t come into it at all.” She’s absolutely right: Jesus asked His Father to forgive his killers, but He never asked for the strength to forgive them Himself. Even Jesus had, so to speak, a Higher Power at that point, One to Whom He could surrender his suffering. We are never told that Mary forgave anything, including perhaps even her Son’s choice to do what He did.

Part of the problem of liberal Christianity, and of the thoughtlessly liberal secular bastard it spawned, is that everything is supposed to be forgivable.

No, it’s not.

The human brain is hardwired in such a way that we will kill those who threaten to harm us or ours. Sadly, pacifists have been selectively bred so that condescending compassion trumps all, even predatory killers. Even horrific murders fall before the all-powerful rubrics of politically correct thinking… or rather, feeling. None of these people actually think anymore.

Ms. Nicholson will remain a priest, working with a group of young people associated with music. Her work will serve to embody her daughter’s love of music. When Jenny died, she was in the midst of her musical studies and now her mother will continue them in a different way.

We can only hope for Jenny’s mother that she continue to hate these killers with the full, white-hot hatred they deserve. It is the fire of such hatred against evil that ensures the survival of good in the world.

If you are not willing to hate those who kill your children, what would you be willing to live for?

Hat tip: The Corner.


Nancy Reyes said...

no, I wouldn't be able to forgive someone who killed my child. But as a doctor, I know that my patients who have been harmed by another need to forgive, or the hatred will destroy their souls, emotions, and eventually their bodies...
Forgiving is a decision...NOT an emotion. When the feeling of hatred bubbles up, you don't think you are evil and resign your job; and you don't repress the emotion and say you forgive, and let the hatred bubble inside. you go to the Lord and say: Lord, change my heart. Emotions can be healed, but it is not easy...FInally, the decision to forgive is not the same as not feeling any emotion, nor is it giving evil people a "get out of jail free" card.
It is asking God to see the one who did this terrible thing as he sees them, and knowing that since you did terrible things and he has forgiven you, that you too need the grace to forgive another...but the first step is to ask for the grace of forgiveness...
We Catholics are a bit better off, because when we are really really pissed at God, we can go to Mary and say: Mary, you lost a son too. I am pissed at God, help me to learn to forgive...

Always On Watch said...

This is a heart-breaking story. Rev. Nicholson loses her beautiful daughter and now feels unworthy herself.

Of course she cannot forgive the atrocity committed!

Good point here: Jesus asked His Father to forgive his killers, but He never asked for the strength to forgive them Himself.

Dymphna said...

Boinky-- I don't understand this sentence: no, I wouldn't be able to forgive someone who killed my child. But as a doctor, I know that my patients who have been harmed by another need to forgive, or the hatred will destroy their souls, emotions, and eventually their bodies...

are you saying that you could not do what you prescribe for your patients?

The long road of grief at the death of a child calls into question all of one's assumptions and there are times that hatred can be used in service of healing because it galvanizes the forces of life, rather than just allowing one to be pulled under the strong rip tides of sorrow.

The cognitive dissonance this priest experiences while celebrating the Eucharist suggests that eventually she will pull through this. But IMHO it will take longer if she leaves the field.

Forgiveness is *both* a decision and an emotion. It involves the whole person--psyche, soma, and spirit. It is never merely one part of the Self which has been thrown into that state of being.

I don't agree that we ask the Lord to change our heart in such a dark place. We simply surrender to His Presence because what we feel is so overwhelming as to be beyond words. It is lead, heavy beyond bearing.

When my daughter died I knew that while her death was "accidental" it was also aided and abetted by the person she was with, who took some of the methadone she had been prescribed for unrelenting migraines (she was allergic/intolerant to opiates in most forms). He was simply "partying" with my daughter's drugs and thus she ended up taking more than she would have...I believe she simply lost track and that he failed to protect her from her impaired condition. He was young and strong; she couldn't survive the challenge to her liver...as the autopsy showed subsequently.

Do I hate this man? I cannot say for sure. Seeing him causes in me the deepest revulsion I've ever felt. And that revulsion is from the very core of Self. I could no more "decide" not to be revulsed than I could fly...just because I want to flap my arms and take off doesn't make it possible.

One of the most dangerous tendencies in our culture is the rush to forgiveness; when I saw parents saying that at Columbine I was appalled. Those kids were barely in the ground, but the adults had to keep up with the politically correct emoting expected of them.

Hatred is lively. Premature forgiveness is far more corrosive than that.

Grace is simply that: grace. It is a gift and there is nothing we can do or say to earn it. If it comes, it comes. If it doesn't, we learn to live in the desert. Not thinking it deserved, but simply what it is...

...not all dark nights of the soul are accessible. Not all of them heal...

I am a Catholic; or was. Only left because staying married to a person with many, many problems was no longer possible. And taking the easy way out --annulment(which was offr=erred to me)-- seemed to be a message to my children that their lives weren't *as* legitimate as others. But having been raised by nuns, I am Catholic to the bone. Hell, I never even sang a hymn in English until middle school.

OTOH, I do believe in the efficacy of intervention and the communion of saints, if one defines "belief"
as a practice I use frequently. But God gets my wrath along with all my other emotions because sometimes, from my limited perspective He most certainly does deserve all of who I am.

If God is love then God is changed in our relationship, too. He, in love with his creation, is moved by it. Move is change...along with Whitehead and the process theologians, I believe that love is on-going, dynamic and chaotically open-ended.

Dymphna said...

One more thing: forgiveness is indeed a cornerstone of Western culture. This priest is not seeking revenge, she is simply immersed in her hatred, which is giving her the strength to go on.

When Jesus said we should turn the other cheek, he was making reference to Jewish law, which says we do not seek revenge. He was not saying we should lie down in front of bulldozers.

Rev Nicholson is not seeking revenge. She is seeking solace and she can no longer find it in celebrating the Eucharist so she's moved to doing something that embodies what her daughter lived for.

And perhaps, in time, she can be a force for good in changing the lethally multi-culti atmosphere that has brought Britain to its knees. Britain is a good example of forgiveness and tolerance carried to a toxic extreme.

Dymphna said...

all right a4g...you, as usual, can say in fewer words what I was lamely trying to get across.

So how come as an atheist you can understand something from the inside like that?

The Hound of Heaven is chasing you, man. Better keep running.

X said...

What history we have from that period records that Nenevah was destroyed 70 or so years after Jonah's visit. Their eventual punishment was still meted out, but their repentance presumably granted that generation a reprieve. Consider it in a spiritual context and it becaomes clear that the city, collectively was corrupted, even if individuals repented. Can we be certain they all were genuine? It's doubtful. But, as god said to Abram, back when that was his name, if there's only one who is for him in a place, he holds off his wrath.

I don't have children - we're waiting a year - but I know I'd have a hard time forgiving someone who killed any children I might have. But... I think, eventually, I'd be able to do it. That wouldn't make me like them or want to see them, nor would it change any pursuit of justice against them. Forgiveness, for a large part, rests on repentence. It's possible for me to keep forgiving someone but it doesn't make any difference if they refuse to acknowledge their sins. The same with God, I believe, who forgives unconditionally inasmuch as we have to then repent and acknowledge our sins. Forgiveness is an act of giving away your hatred and anger; in the christian context, you give that anger to God and he deals with it. Anything else is a matter for the courts.

Incidentally the act of turning the other cheek isn't to do with jewish law, but from the social role that slapping played in life. The words Jesus use indicate that was speaking specifically about being bakc-handed which, in that culture, was a statement of dominance by the person doing the beating. Turning the other cheek forced them to hit you again with the same had, but with an open palm, forcing them to acknowledge your equality and humanity.

William Zeranski said...

Just pondering, with no satire or sarcasm intended, but:

“How does one forgive the Devil?”

Dymphna said...


Good point! I wonder what C.S. Lewis would answer.


Judaism in that period was a theocracy, therefore it's probably not possible to separate the social from religious practice. As cultures mature, that does happen, however...

Uncle P--

Your practice of fasting and prayer sounds spot on. It's one that has fallen out of use, but the combination does change one at some cellular level.

OTOH, revenge is differentiated from hatred for me. I have no desire to seek revenge on my daughter's "helper." I just want to avoid him and to attempt to undo the damage he has wreaked in her children's lives.

Revenge is a waste of time for me...though when I was younger that wasn't always so.

Dymphna said...

Texas violinist--

"Perversion" is a strong word. It's one of those words which continue to fragment Christianity -- when one person decided another's belief system is perverted what you have is a vying for power to see who has the "correct" interpretation.

One does not let someone else live rent free in their heads when, as in this case, the murderer has actually invaded the space in our heart formerly occupied by our beloved child.

Have you ever lost a child as the result of someone blowing them up? Have you talked to any of the parents of those people who died in 9/11?

Those "shithead maniacs" as you call them don't own a piece of her. In fact, the opposite is true: they irretrievibly obliterated a piece of her and by doing so, invaded her soul. Now she's trying to figure out how to continue on without that beloved piece of herself whilst maintaining her sanity and faith.

If my view is perverted, sir, yours is sadly simplistic.

airforcewife said...

Can forgiveness be separate from justice? I'm not sure that it can. And not necessarily the justice that we each would mete out of our own volition to those who harm us, because justice involves more than just "hitting someone back."

I can't help but think that Rev. Nicholson's dilemma might in part be due to our society's inability to embrace what is good and shun what is evil. Yes, yes, there have been numerous cries of how terrible the act that took her daughter was... but... And that's the problem - there seems to always be a "but" that tries to point the blame of the act back on the victims. Not personally, but as a collective.

The experiences I've had with mil-spouses who have lost their beloved (while a different proposition than the Rev. because there was a lot more choice involved in the matter) is that those who believe that justice will be done do not suffer as much from the poisonous hate.

From those who have served with those who have died (we had one funeral last week my husband attended), there is indeed anger, but it is not "white hot." It is more of a need for justice. Not vengeance, but justice. That justice is not just to "even the scales" for those who have gone before, but to prevent those who might be harmed in the future.

Megan said...

I believe that you can forgive someone who harms you, or your relatives/friends, and at the same time expect that justice will be served. Of course, this would be difficult...it's a matter of recognizing that someone must be accountable for their actions and that includes accepting consequences.

Forgiveness for me isn't about the perpetrator. It is about the victim and the person doing the forgiving. Is there anything that I couldn't forgive? Probably ... and I'm sure the loss of a child would inspire incredible rage, pain, sorrow, and the inability to forgive. But I also think that would eat at me, to my detriment.

The 'peaceniks' drive me nuts. A recent radio interview included a woman working for a group trying to get rid of the death penalty. Her logic was so convoluted and wishy washy. I could hardly listen to her w/o getting angry. The man she said didn't deserve to die had RAPED and MURDERED A 12 YEAR OLD GIRL!!! How does such a monster NOT deserve death? It defies logic.

Muslihoon said...

I disagree her inability to forgive makes her unfit to serve. When she serves in persona Christis, which is what various Churches believe the priest is, she represents God but it would be utterly ridiculous to claim that she must be just like Him. We're all sinners, and yet a sinner represents God: he/she is not expected to be perfect.

As such, she ought to ask God for the strength to forgive and for God to pardon her if she is unable to forgive. But the fact she cannot forgive should in no way invalidate her position.

Indeed, Christian Churches have traditionally held that rites are valid regardless of the celebrant's worthiness thereof. If a priest sins, his rites are still valid. God cannot be blocked by one who serves as His vessel, filthy though it may be (and indeed, as long as it is through a human, it will be a filthy vessel).

Furthermore, I hold that there is a fundamental difference between forgiveness and excuse. The Lord has, indeed, commanded us to forgive, but never has He said we are to excuse another in their sin. The Lord has condemned sin, and so should we. From Scripture we can see that the Lord is adamantly opposed to the reign of sin, and so we must be just as adamantly opposed to the reign of any regime of sin, including Islamic terrorism. I would go so far as to say that for a Christian to excuse Islamic terrorism would be to utterly pervert the essence of good and evil. What is good, we must call good. What is evil, we must call evil. And as fellow Christians united in a common bond of faith, it is incumbent on us - especially those of us in positions of leadership - to unequivocally and clearly condemn and abjure sin and evil.

Mr. Spog said...

Interesting and important discussion. I happened to be reading a major writer from the Rev. Nicholson's own Anglican church, William Temple (d. 1944?), not long ago. His view is that the purpose of forgiveness is the restoration of fellowship and that there is no commandment to forgive anyone who has not genuinely repented of his actions (though ideally one should always be ready to encourage such repentance with friendly overtures). I think this is more or less the prevailing Christian view as well, among those Christians who have bothered to study what their own authorities say on the matter(?). Apparently, Anglican priests are now ignorant of such basics.

(Temple also says that forgiveness does not abolish debts, at least from the point of view of the offender. If I have harmed a friend, I will want to make good the damage, if possible, once I am restored to fellowship with him, even more than I would if I was not restored to fellowship.)

Also, it seems obvious that one cannot forgive someone for harm inflicted on someone else, such as one's child—only for one's own loss. (Though to a Christian I suppose death itself should not be a great misfortune.)

Dymphna said...

Mr. Spog:

You hit the theological nail right on its head:
the purpose of forgiveness is the restoration of fellowship and that there is no commandment to forgive anyone who has not genuinely repented of his actions.

Forgiveness on any other basis is a kind of spiritual arrogance which is, paradoxically, also spineless.

Jesus was a mensch. A mensch forgives in very specific instances of mutual reconciliation and the murderers of this girl had no intention of ever reconciling with any hated kafir. That was the whole point of the bombing. Not to reconcile, but to obliterate.

For years I could not forgive my former husband for what he did to me. I prayed for it, but I could not will it and I could not feel it. I just wanted it so I could be free of his malign experience. Then, amazingly, one morning I woke up and realized I had been a participant, a volunteer in the victim/perpetrator domestic terrorism. So there was nothing to forgive if I didn't forgive myself first. Seeing it that way made it simply melt away...forgiveness was moot.

...of course, I must still deal with the pain of my children's hurts in this. I accept responsibility but it is hard.

Forgiveness may be the most mis-understood of human interactions. It is certainly not simple.

erico said...

I like to think I can handle myself pretty well in this world. I can suffer its slings and arrows. But you take away my son, and I fear that all would be lost.

Nobody ever told me that when a child is born, your heart is taken from its fortification and is placed in a small, vulnerable person whose safey you cannot guarantee. Now I am vulnerable, too, because I love.

I have screamed at God pre-emptively, tempted Him, I have doubted His existence in the face of evil, I have called Him down, demanded, and then begged, for an answer, knowing quite consciously that in the world that I know there will be no great light opening up in the heavens (though others have received miracles).

A parent's worst fear; for me only imagined, feared, for some here, lived.

If there were no heaven, we would have to invent it to cope with this deep need to go on loving, remembering.

I would like to say softly, May the God of Life be with you and one day reunite you with your loved ones.

"No the circle, won't be broken, by and by Lord, by and by"