Saturday, February 01, 2014

Think of Vengeance Find Forgiveness

Dear reader, if you have ever been victim to a heinous crime such as theft, adultery, slander or another deliberate cruelty perhaps you have struggled in your heart to forgive such an act.  The injury feels fresh, our enemy who would harm us almost seems to gloat in their evil.  But what factors play into our inability to forgive, when the Saints suffered so much and forgave so readily?

In my opinion, one of the chief roots of the problem is that we are convinced that we ourselves would never commit an evil act like that.  Who would steal from a friend or commit adultery with another person's spouse?  It is what gives us confidence when we say with passion that the most heinously wicked (like pedophiles) should be shot or hanged.  Perhaps our indignation only really gets going when we see liturgical abuse, and our feelings of piety and righteous zeal become inflamed as we condemn the other and proclaim that we would never perform such and such an irreverent act in the house of God?

So I place before you the following considerations for either dealing with forgiving others now or to remember the next time you are grievously offended.

Remember always human weaknesses, passions and our disordered appetites.  Many people (probably most) do not think that they will commit the sins that they later wind up committing. If you have ever had the misfortune to commit a mortal sin then you are capable of turning your back completely on God; if you have not, then consider the Saints of the Church who at some point lost grace through sin (like King David). You should have pity on fellow men who fall as many times they fall from weakness and not malice. We must identify the real enemy and apply our hatred there. Sin oftentimes is instigated from the suggestion of the author of lies, the serpent, the devil. Do not hesitate to increase your hatred against him.

The next thing to consider is that only the grace of God preserves us from falling into sin, whether they be big or small.   Grace that inclines a person to do a good act or resist a temptation  is called preventive grace, when he is performing a good act it is called concomitant grace and when he has completed it subsequent grace.  It is true that our free will must choose to cooperate with His grace, but without His grace we could never choose good, because we would neither feel inclined nor be able to resist evil.  We are all capable of falling into the most grievous and outrageous sins.

Finally, and most importantly, realize that those who have greatly injured us - barring they repent - will burn in Hell for all eternity. No matter how much you dislike them or how greatly they had hurt you, could you imagine them being shoved into an oven set to 800 degrees, followed by the burning of flesh, terrible screams and complete pain?  Perhaps you are very mad or greatly hurt? How many minutes would you extract your vengeance on them in it? One minute, one hour, one day?  I say it would take a matter of minutes, perhaps seconds, of suffering before even an angry heart would be filled with pity. This is a very poor comparison to the very fires of Hell that burn the damned day and night.   (To learn more about what Hell is like, check out The Torments of Hell on audiobook, free)

In order for our enemies to be forgiven by God they will have to feel remorse (including for their offenses against you), confess their sin (or be baptized if they have not yet been) and resolve - with the help of God's grace - to never commit those sins again.

Repentance from those coming from sin can be quite bitter, and real sorrow is like a sword through the heart; that is the medicine God will demand if they are to be forgiven. Without this, they will surly go to Hell.

When we considerable the most holy and terrible vengeance of God, it not only become easy to forgive but also to pray for our enemies, lest they perish in the eternal fires of Hell.


Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the Amish parents who immediately forgave the bomber who killed their schoolchildren. On PBS last week I heard one father say he's glad he doesn't have to take the place of God when the bomber faces his judgment (if he doesn't repent, of course). How sad that many "candy-cane-Catholics" don't believe in Hell anymore.

Q said...

This reminds me of a question I have, can we really forgive until they ask forgiveness? Yes, we do not hold on to the bitterness or wish evil on the person, but I shall give an example.

My brother steals money from me. I forgive him as soon as I discover it. He will continue to steal from me. Christ sais to forgive seventy times seven times. But this helps no one. I cannot help but to think that forgiving him, as it would be to forgive the bomber mentioned by Anonymous at 3:22 AM, is only really forgiving in that sense when they first ask for it, genuinely. Then, if we do it again, they ask pardon again, we forgive again, always. Am I wrong?

Boniface said...

On the Cross, Christ forgave His killers despite the fact that they in no way were sorry for their sin or knew what they were doing. The purpose of forgiving our enemies is not so much for the sake of our enemies as much as for our own sake - that we may put away bitterness and love with God's love. That's why Christ says, "If a man take your cape, give him your tunic as well." From the point of view of forgiveness, it is neither here nor there whether the man takes our tunic again - the point is that we exercise forgiveness. Thus, while we should not go out of our way to let people use us, if we are offended against, our forgiveness ought to be unconditional, just like Christ's death for us was not merited.

Tantumblogo said...

Boniface, you post so much gold. I'm sorry, I keep ripping off your posts.

Thank you for this, and for so many of your posts. They are a blessing!

Charlotte B said...

I first wanted to say that although I only started commenting recently, I have followed your blog closely for a long time and I think you make wonderful posts containing many hidden Catholic gems and food for thought.

The same applies for this post as well. However in this particular post, I did feel that there was a certain element that is perhaps missing.

You said that the chief reason behind refusal to forgive can be ".. that we are convinced that we ourselves would never commit an evil act like that."

I am not sure this is a fault. It can be a valid position to hold that we would never disown our faith for an example. Or that we will never commit adultery. One could say at this point that we owe it to God's Grace. Yes of course, but it would be wrong to say that God doesn't give us sufficient Grace to overcome any temptation. So it is true that if we 'will' to always please him, plead for his Grace, and strive to avoid what is evil, God will certainly give us the Grace we need to live a holy life. In other words, it is possible to say that one will not commit a particular sin in the future. In fact, I would think it necessary to clearly hold such convictions when one renews their baptismal promises.

So I am not sure that following that assumption is safe.

I would like to add that, in my personal opinion (might be wrong too), one of reasons for refusing to forgive is perhaps the desire for justice. Some do erroneously frame forgiveness with forgetting justice. So it can seem impossible for some people to forgive given the grave harm that had been done to them, to their loved ones or to society through a person's actions.

To elaborate, in this faulty notion of forgiveness, it would appear that a spouse should continue to show affection to ones unrepentant and unfaithful spouse. This is completely unjust. The faithful spouse is only called to will the good of the spouse i.e. love. Willing the good of the other spouse can necessitate not showing affection toward them which is further justified by justice. It can also necessitate perhaps harshly pointing out that what they are doing is destroying the family. Does this mean that the faithful spouse has not forgiven the unfaithful spouse? Not necessarily. The faithful spouse can forgive ones unfaithful spouse but still be, by today's societies standards, harsh in her treatment of her unfaithful spouse. The harsh treatment is for the sake of "waking up" the sinner and the methods are justified because it is Just!

But in saying that "we should remember that the particular sinner who committed that particular sin could have well been us", I think we move more toward encouraging the erroneous sense of "forgiveness" where justice is thrown out of the picture. I personally feel that removing justice from this equation has been one of the primary reasons why we have ended up today with a fluffy looking Christianity. We have largely forgotten that justice demands and allows us for the sake of the good of the sinner and society to treat the sinner "harshly" (while still having forgiven the sinner).

This is not to say that you intended to say anything opposite to what I just said. It's only that one could read your post and easily take that position.

I could of course be wrong but I thought it best to raise these points for your consideration and I hope you will not be offended.

God bless!

Noah Moerbeek said...

Charlotte B ,
Thank you for your comment.

I said that ".. that we are convinced that we ourselves would never commit an evil act like that is one of the Chief Reasons, implying that it was one of several not the only chief reason why we fail to forgive others. I do believe their are other chief or principle reasons, they just where not the ones I wanted to speak about in the blog post.

You said that it is a valid position to hold that we would never disown our faith. Such a statement reminds me of the Apostle Peter saying such a thing. “Peter saith to him: Why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thee. Jesus answered him: Wilt thou lay down thy life for me? Amen, amen I say to thee, the cock shall not crow, till thou deny me thrice.” John 13 37:38
It is also interesting to note, that Christ said that he had prayed for peter Luke 22:32. The problem with asserting that we would never commit that evil act is the presumption that we will always cooperate with Gods Grace, surely he will provide sufficient grace but we do not know if we will be faithful to it.

As to your second point
For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. Matt 7:2

Then came Peter unto him and said: Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith to him: I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times. Matt 18: 21-22

But if thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink. For, doing this, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Romans 12:20

Saint Monica had a very unfaithful and abusive spouse. Yet, she treated him with affection, she forgive him, treated him with kindness and eventually won his conversion. She even instructed other housewives to do the same even if their husbands beat them. I don’t think that a wife raising an objection that bad behavior is destroying a family would be considered harsh by anyones standards (but who knows with how wussy everything has become).

It was St Paul who said “This is a statement that can be trusted and deserves complete acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and I am the foremost sinner.” 1 Timothy 15 It is in that spirit that I said we should remember that we could have committed the very same sin when forgiving our brother.

I hope I have addressed your concerns.

Charlotte B said...

Hello Noah,

(PART I of my reply)

Hello Noah,

Thank you for your reply. I would like to raise some counter-objections, if you do not mind, against what you have said in reply.

In your reply you point out the case of St. Peter as a possible example in support of your position. But I am not sure that we must interpret the case of St. Peter as ‘no one should have such a presumption of fidelity’.

I feel you might be wrong on this interpretation because one must be able to say they “won’t commit sin X”. If you cannot say such a thing with conviction, then what is the point of vows? What is the point of baptismal vows where you promise to reject Satan? Or marriage vows where you promise fidelity? Or vows of celibacy/chastity if you weren’t sure you would be able to keep it? Are people supposed to say to themselves internally “I am promising those things but I really think it is very possible I might break it just as so and so did”? How could any of the saints have said that “they would die for Christ”? Are all of these guilty of the “fault” (according to your interpretation) of St. Peter?

Also, am I to look at someone who raped a child and say “hey, that could be me in the future”? Surely at least I should know with something like that case that I would not do it????

If you want to say that looking at the upbringing of those people or something in their circumstances, I would be able to say that it’s probably understandable why they did what they did, then I agree with you (somewhat). After all, it is something related to this line of thinking that the Church has the distinctions of subjective culpability and objective culpability. So in that sense, it is possible for myself to look at certain types of sins and say “hey, I can see myself doing that” because I know I have that weakness. But at the same time, I can say about some sins that I do not have that weakness (same sex attractions or pedophilia for an example). Even with the sins I have a weakness to commit, I might have trained myself to avoid/shun occasions of that sin over a period of time and be at a point where I can say I won’t fall in to that sin. Or perhaps say “I wouldn’t put myself in such an imprudent situation as a matter of principle”. All of that should be something I should be able to say with some certainty.

Now let me address the second half of your reply.

Charlotte B said...

(Part II)

You first quote Matt 7:2. If we interpret Matt 7:2 in the sense you have described, that would mean that if I were to refrain from judging, God will have no freedom but to automatically send me to heaven. For after all, since I haven't judged, God must keep his side of the promise and not judge me, right? So it seems that your interpretation of this passage is probably not correct.

Second you quoted Matt 18:21-22. But here you make an implicit assumption that I would like to point out as incorrect. You have equated forgiveness with refraining from "harsh" treatment of the sinner. But it may well require that I treat the sinner harshly so that he will repent (or that justice is met). Even God after forgiving eternal punishment still requires penance to supply the temporal punishment for the sake of justice, no? So to put forgiveness as an obstacle for harsh treatment, especially in the case of an UNREPENTANT sinner seems incorrect.

Also, while the Corinthians most certainly forgave the sinner guilty of sexual immorality, St. Paul chastised them for not removing him from their community (in 1 Corinthians 5). From what I recall, it was because without that harsh treatment, the sinner will most likely not repent. The church imitates the same calling by St. Paul as she excommunicates, no?

Finally you quoted Romans 12:20. I think it’s also important that we look at Romans 12:21 to understand the context. Romans 12:21 in fact says

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

So this passage seems to be speaking of how we must not do evil to our enemies with which I most certainly agree.
But here it seems that you have once again equated harsh treatment with "EVIL". But as we saw in 1 Corinthians 5, harsh treatment is not always evil and in fact can be GOOD. It is justified in the case where grave harm has been done and is NECESSARY in the case of an unrepentant sinner.

As for the case of St. Monica, she chose the way of praying for her husband’s infidelity (and most likely while making it known that what he was doing was tearing the family apart). But I can imagine some cases where lack of affection and a distancing from the spouse can create a quick realization to turn back and realize s/he is losing his/her family. Of course to do such a thing, one would ideally have to have some extended family to support them and so forth which is not available to all. Also, the husband has to already care about the family life he already has to some extent for this to work. St. Monica’s advice is sound in that it applies to ANY case. But I am only pointing out that on top of the general medicine recommended by St. Monica, some families can add extra methods (harsh treatments) if appropriate and possible.

Charlotte B said...

(Part III)

On the quote to of St. Paul to Timothy, I have no disagreements with that. I am merely pointing out that sometimes it requires harsh treatment and deliberate cutting off from society to make a sinner come back.

P.S. To be honest, though I agreed with you before, I am starting to doubt whether “forgiveness without repentance” is even something that makes sense. Perhaps that is where the misunderstanding lies. I think a Christian is always willing the good of the other. This happens at all times and is covered when Christ said “Love your enemies..” (Matt 5:44). So it doesn’t make sense to say “forgive” as a redundant way of saying the same as “love your enemies”.

So I think what “forgiveness” means in scripture is to welcome someone back in to a state they had with you before they sinned against you. This can be a level of trust, level of favor, friendship, type of relationship etc. But to welcome them back again, they must repent. I think when Christ said be ready to forgive seventy seven times, he was saying that we must forgive someone who repeatedly falls and repents and not ever stop doing that. So I think repentance might be a prerequisite for forgiveness and part of the problem in this discussion might be the imprecise definition of the term “forgiveness”. As it stands in this discussion, “forgiveness” seems to imply the same meaning as “love your enemies”. I think there is a distinction.

To address the possible objection to this from Boniface's post on this same subject above, I think Christ on the Cross was asking God the father to look at the case of those who crucified and mocked Christ in a favorable way given their lack of knowledge. I think it shows Christ is a JUST judge who takes in to account the subjective culpability. I am not sure it shows that Christ forgave before they repented for they were never guilty of a sin.

As far as Catholic teaching goes, God does not forgive a person guilty of a sin unless they repent of that sin.

Sorry for the long post as well! :)

Noah Moerbeek said...

Hi Charlotte,

I stand by my original statements and I hope to provide evidence to show at a later point with some future blog posts on the topics of

The Nature of Vows and Resolutions, Forgiveness, Judgement etc

However, I can't help but feel that we have departed from the spirit of my original article. The main point was that God will repay "Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God : for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord" Romans 12:19

When we consider the horrible fires of hell it should even fill us with fear for our enemies.

I am already in the middle of another work for the blog that we are posting tomorrow, but I will try and address some of your points in the future, I will post the links here in this thread when they are finished.

Charlotte B said...

Thank you Noah.

I of course agree with your statement that vengeance is not for us but for God. But your article and subsequent comments did make more claims than that (both explicitly and somewhat implicitly).

So that we are clear, let me restate my objections more concisely.

1. Your position that it is faulty to presume one will not commit a certain sin is incorrect.

Proof: We know this is false by counter example. The best example is the sin of a same sex act. A person can most certainly say that he/she will not willingly commit a same sex act given that they do not have same sex attractions and have an aversion to it. To deny that one cannot say such a thing is absurd.

2. To act "harshly" or make "harsh" demands of a sinner is not necessarily vengeance. It may be for the good of the sinner and for the good of those who have witnessed the sin (to mitigate scandal).

Proof: 1 Corinthians 5 where St. Paul himself asks the sinner to be treated with severity.

3. To act harshly toward a sinner is not an EVIL.

Proof: 1 Corinthians 5, 2 John 1:10

So it looks to me that you equate forgiveness with necessarily treating an unrepentant sinner in a way that he/she remains happy (or doesn't cause them to be too upset). I am not sure that is a correct definition of forgiveness.

I am looking forward to reading your reply to these objections whenever you get a chance to address them.

Thank you and God bless you!

Noah Moerbeek said...

First, my article was never about admonishing sinners, it was and is still about forgiving offenses from our own hearts, and finding ways within ourselves to pray for our enemies.

1. Wherefore he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall. 1 Corinthians 10:12

As I stated in my article it is only through the grace of God that we are able to avoid sin. Without grace, you most certainly would fall into sins of homosexuality and worst.

Do you deny that?

2. I never said to make harsh demands was evil perhaps you read that into my statements or reached that conclusion, but if you wish to be harsh with your neighbor than God shall be harsh with you.

We are exhorted to correct but in a spirit of meekness

"Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." Galatians 6:1

3.Can you find one place in any of my discussion with you where I suggested we don't make sinners upset, or admonish or correct them? It sounds like to me you have become upset over my example I brought forth of St Monica and her patience and kindness to her abusive husband.

In your reply if you still feel that I am saying things incorrect please provide a quote from the section of the article or my previous replies. I don't think I should have defend things I didn't say.

Rest assured we are in union with one another that sinners should be rebuked and corrected, but when we sinners are offended we should strive to be forgive others in our hearts immediately.

I suggest you might listen to this homily on forgiving injuries on my other website, it is from the 1800s

God Bless!

Charlotte B said...

Thanks again Noah for your reply.

Can you provide a definition of what you mean by forgiveness? Do you also subscribe as Boniface that forgiveness can happen before repentance?


1. The fact that I avoid sin by Grace of God does not in anyway make it impossible for me to say that "I will not commit sin X".

If I already have an aversion (or lack of desire) for a certain sin (a homosexual act) and pray to God for grace to avoid sin, I can very well presume that God will give me the Grace to not fall in to that particular sin. I am not even sure why you continue to debate this point.

The only reason why I should be concerned is if I truly believe that God will withhold Grace from me so that he will deliberately make me do a sinful act that I originally felt much aversion toward. That is almost Calvinist in thinking. At the least, it seems to me like your statement that "one cannot say they will not commit sin X" is to subscribe to some form of fatalism.

While its true that I cannot say "I won't commit any sins" because I have my weaknesses that even I may not know about yet, I CAN certainly say which sins I will not commit (like homosexual acts, rape, or pedophile acts)

Do you not agree?


2. While saying that you have nothing against making sinners upset, you proceed to say how "but if you wish to be harsh with your neighbor than God shall be harsh with you.". That is incorrect. Why? Because

a) by your logic, if I were to not be harsh, God CANNOT be harsh with me to keep his side of the promise. If I were to never judge, God will not judge me for the same reason. Since I know God judges (final judgement), your interpretation MUST be incorrect.

b) St. Paul (in 1 Corinthians 5)explicitly asks the Corinthians to deal with the sinner harshly.


3. Well I continue to get this impression because you keep saying that being harsh with sinners is not good because God will be harsh with the other person.

I think the problem here is perhaps lack of definitions. When I say harsh, I include scolding, ending a relationship, temporal separation from a relationship in cases like marriage, keeping them isolated, life in prison etc. These are necessary for the case of unrepentant sinners. In the case of repentant sinners, some form of restitution may rightly be demanded toward society or the person toward whom they sinned.

Now the Galatians quote seems to forbid against inordinate reaction to faults of others. That is fine. It's not like I am advocating cutting off from the community a person who said a harmless lie. Cases like adultery or disordered sex acts on the other hand are much more grave in their harm. Continuous engagement in it without repentance is not something that one can just let continue, no?

Thank you also for the link and I will listen to it when I get a bit of time this week.

Noah Moerbeek said...

", I can very well presume that God will give me the Grace to not fall in to that particular sin. I am not even sure why you continue to debate this point."

You cannot presume on anything, we hope in God that he will give us the grace and you my hope that you will be faithful to you it receive the grace. You do not know for a fact that you will be faithful.

2. Once again you are making relations that I am not to prove your point. I did not deny the general judgement. My statement that we are judged as we judge others is a reference to Matt 18 in the parable of the wicked servant explicitly teaches that we will be judged based on the mercy we show to our neighbor.

3. Where does he say treat them harshly? "And you are puffed up; and have not rather mourned, that he might be taken away from among you, that hath done this deed." 1 Cor 5 V 2. This only strengthens my articles point. That we should mourn over the sins committed against us. I don't consider not keeping company with a sinner to be harsh treatment at all.

3. We clearly mean something different by harsh. I mean cruel and severe treatment. However once again my article is not about rebuking sinners or even correcting them, but forgiving them from your heart, suffering with patience and praying for them. Their is no need to be furious when the penalty for great evils is eternal hellfire. Rather you should pray for your enemies that they be converted.

When I say forgiving from your heart, I mean not allowing the offense to be the food which our heart eats, and giving into feelings of malice, revenge, and bitterness.

I hope that I have answered your objections.

Noah Moerbeek said...

*I might add that we can feel anger over the offense given to God for the breaking of his commandments, but not because we as sinners have suffered or the offense was against us.

Boniface said...

Noah is right. There is no certainty that we won't commit a certain sin. I can say that adultery repulses me, or homosexual acts, but I cannot say with infallible certainty that I will never fall into those particular sins. By God's grace, I pray it may never be so.

Charlotte B said...

Boniface and Noah,

Sorry for the late reply.

I am not sure I accept what you say. To make this a matter of infallibility is pretty unreasonable.

Let me explain.

I for an example cannot be infallibly certain that Catholicism is the true faith. In fact, the infallibility of the Church is an article I accept by faith and reason.

So if we play the game of "I cannot be sure of this because I do not have infallibility on the matter", it is a very weak argument. Also, it is even a bigger stretch to say that therefore we should forgive on this basis.

That being said, Noah has clarified his definition of "harsh" is something far more narrower anyway. So I think what I consider as legitimate course of action against a sinner does seem to fall within Noah's understanding of acceptable action as well. So the theological reason we do what we do I think is probably not so important and perhaps we can put this discussion to rest with both sides satisfied.