Shells from the Sands of Time/Forgive and Forget
WHOEVER first linked they twain together in "holy matrimony" knew human nature well; as forgetting is the synonyme of forgiving. Till we do forget we cannot forgive. It must be an unchristian spirit indeed that would not forgive even the most irremediable injuries, if asked to do so, coupled with an assurance of sincere regret, on the part of the aggressor. But there are some natures so Pharisaical† and mean, that their modus operandi is always to merge a lesser outrage in greater. This is sheer folly, so far as the attempts at impunity of such evil-doers are concerned; for there can be no such thing as willing martyrs where the faggot‡ and the fire are alone provided and the crown is withheld;—as to appeal to a person's generosity is one thing (and with generous natures, to appeal to it is to obtain it), but to swindle them out of it by snares and subterfuges is another, and the sure way to render oblivious impossible. For would God Himself forgive us, if, instead of asking His forgiveness in a humble and contrite spirit, we on the contrary tried to shift all the onus of our sins upon Him, saying that if He had not created us or put temptation in our way we should not have transgressed; and that therefore He must clearly perceive, that he owed us great reparation, for having allowed our sins to find us out, and bear the bitter fruit of punishment which we ourselves had planted. And yet there are many such inverse natures, so warped by false pride and low cunning, that they invariably transpose the positions, and arraing their victims for the peril they have entailed upon them, whenever detection follows crime; which is precisely the same species of inverted logic resorted to by a certain highwayman in George the First's time; who, upon finding himself for the second time in the dock at the Old Bailey, put his arms akimbo, and knitting his brows and looking the judge full in the face, said in a loud bullying voice, so that the whole court might hear it.—
"Harkee, my lord! this is the second time I have stood in this dock; if I find myself here a third time I shall bind you over to keep the peace, swearing you have put me three times in fear of my life."
But so indispensable is this Lethean process to forgiveness that with the ungratefully treacherous or the criminally weak who yield to or connive at the misdeed of others, against their own better natures, we often find,—that it is part of the inscrutable subtlety of God's chemistry of retribution that they cannot forget, and consequently cannot forgive themselves. Thus Judas flung down the thirty pieces of silver, and went out and hanged himself, thereby acting as his own judge and executioner. And Suetonius mentions that shortly after the Crucifixion, Tiberius deprived Pontius Pilate of his office, and the exprocurator retired to Vienna;1 where, falling into a profound melancholy, he committed suicide.
While then forgiveness of injuries depends so entirely upon the oblivion of them, there are some injuries so chronic, concrete, and ubiquitous, that they are incorporated with not only every source but with every channel of our existence, and therefore we must forget it, before we can forgive them. Moreover, it is an incontrovertible truth, that "Pardon to the injured doth belong;" therefor is it that evildoers, that is, aggressors, are always so implacably irate at their victims, putting their deeds into words, and inveigh amain* against that English
social, literary, and political Bogie—their "strong language," while the poor victims can but retort, with Electra in the iambics of Sophocles,
What then is to be done, since oblivion is the only seed from which forgiveness can spring, but one thing: pray to God, to give us that forgetfulness which will enable us, not merely in words, but in truth and in spirit, to forgive those who have chronically and irreparably injured us? And oh! what a blessed anchor is it, in life's most worst amongst us, to remember that even that great omnipotent God of Mercy was once also A Man of Sorrow!