I recently wrote about how human nature has a tendency to create a perpetual motion of hate. At the core of this issue lies a line. This line has a distinct appearance and location for each of us, but it always exists. And just as surely, we have the ability to choose where and when we draw this line. It’s certainly useful in many situations, and it’s even good often enough. But the problem arises when we draw it with other humans and say, “Cross this and you can no longer be forgiven.”

At times, we as onlookers see the line that was drawn by another and say, “Good for them. That’s just too far.” We might even mention that the person was a saint to put up with it for as long as they did. At other times, we–the collective public jury of society–say, “That’s being too harsh. Have a little leniency.” We might even throw in a comment or two about how that person does the same thing or worse, and thus has no right to withhold forgiveness from anyone.

First, I would assert that we should stop judging so much, but that’s a given. So, beyond that, I’d pose the query, “Where is your line?” I’ve often found myself asking in some form or another, “How much can I forgive?” As a point of clarification, I feel it’s necessary to also state that numerous others have asked themselves the same question about me on many occasions. But it’s a fair question. How much can I forgive? Alternatively, how much would I want to be forgiven? The two are inextricably linked. In fact, a certain wise man put it beautifully when he said, “For as you have been judging, so you will be judged.”

Now, if you’ve read this far and are saying that some people simply do worse things, then I feel you missed the point of my earlier link. If you’ve grasped the point, but disagree, then there’s nothing more for you to see here. Human nature is what it is. We can change our own character in each moment. We can not, however, change the reality that each moment requires a renewed effort to change. Looking back at history with clear eyes consistently reminds us of the direction our kind inevitably travels when we no longer work to change ourselves.

So with that in mind, who gets labeled unforgiven? Does the harsh abuser deserve it? Might they have suffered the same thing, only to consistently be cast aside as irreparable? Would you be pushing the cycle further? What about the intolerant? Do they fear intolerance themselves and seek to be rid of it? What about the murderer? What have they suffered that causes a devaluation of other’s lives? Is there one person somewhere out there who has no back story? Someone who just does what they do without provocation and because of pure evil in their hearts?

But please don’t mistake forgiveness with excuses. I certainly don’t intend to blur that line. Excuses seek to deflect guilt and the subsequent changes that occur when our true natures come to light. But we can’t remove guilt when wrongs are committed. We can’t simply shrug it off in the name of forgiveness. Often we have to face it and deal with it, even going through a difficult time of alteration in some instances. This is vital to proper societal growth, and to avoid it for the sake of mercy leaves us worse off and truly missing the point of grace altogether.

But forgiveness goes beyond that. Forgiveness holds your hand through any consequence. Forgiveness is there for you, just because. Forgiveness waits, ready to try again with new lessons learned and a brighter future on the horizon. Owning up to our collective nature and forgiving the past and ourselves is how we move forward and truly leave behind the mistakes of old.

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