Some ancient wisdom strikes at the very root of truth. Which is probably why we consider it so wise. Take this modern English version of a line from a lengthy poem by Alexander Pope, “To err is human, to forgive, divine.”
Succinct and simple at first glance. Now let us delve into the wisdom buried within.
First a little background. I was browsing the timeline of a simply complex man who walks alongside me on Twitter’s path. That path can be painful at times, studded as it is with uncut gems. @DaveGrigger posted a link to a post regarding forgiveness that you may choose to read.
My subsequent reading of the post referred to caused my own reflection on the nature of forgiveness. I responded with my own version of the truth:
— C.G.Ayling (@CGAyling) September 11, 2014
The only way we humans ever truly forgive, is when we forget.
Do I wish I could forgive? Of course, as forgiveness strikes me as a most worthy thing to do. Unfortunately, there is a caveat that renders forgiveness impossible for any human save a simpleton.
No, simply the truth as I see it. You see, for forgiveness to be real requires that there be no exceptions to it. True forgiveness must be absolutely unconditional. We can’t partially forgive someone. We can’t conditionally forgive someone. We can’t forgive them, with reservations and exceptions. Thus the only way we can ever truly forgive someone who has wronged us, is to completely forget they did. That requires us to be a simpleton who is completely incapable of remembering. I don’t believe such simple humans exist.
Let me use an example to try and clarify my meaning along with my understanding of what I think Alexander Pope meant. I’m unlikely to succeed, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.
Someone deliberately deceives us in order to win a contest.
We forgive them.
We enter another contest. They deceive us again, and win again.
If we are truly capable of forgiving, then there is no limit to the number of times they can repeat the wrong they do us. Do you know anyone who is capable of such forgiveness, other than a complete simpleton?
If we truly forgave them the first time they deceived us, then forgiving them again is easy. However that is not the nature of humans anywhere. Though we forgave them the first time, when they repeat their deceit we remember the first occurrence. Since we remember their treachery, we have not truly forgiven it. The most we have done is grant the wrongdoer leniency, while retaining the right to withdraw such leniency.
That is not forgiveness. Not at all.
Forgiveness is far beyond the realm of human behavior. So far beyond that it can only be in the behavior of the divine.
I’ll leave you with one last thought. Forgiving someone who has not wronged us really isn’t forgiveness at all, it is arrogance. It makes countless assumptions about whatever deed we deem worthy of forgiveness, it makes further assumptions about the person or people who were wronged, and it attempts to place us in judgment over the actions of others. What is that, save arrogance?
To forgive requires two things. First, that we are personally wronged. Second, that we completely forget. I don’t wish either of those on anyone.
Now look back on the number of words in this post. Compare them to the number of words in Alexander Pope’s poetic line, “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” Honestly, I think Alexander Pope said all I have said and more, in barely a single line…
Ancient wisdom, indeed.