Monday, August 02, 2010

The Evolution of Forgiveness

'If Cain's killer is punished seven times, then Lamech's killer will be punished seventy seven times.' (Gen 4:24)

In one of civilizations earliest ever narratives, violence escalates rapidly. Whenever someone was wronged vengeance was sought with blood being spilt on a greater and greater scale. Peace on earth would be attained by pounding the opposition into submission. The threat, 'If you attack me, I'll attack back seventy seven times worse,' was meant to be a deterrent against violence.
It didn't work.
Before long, according to the account, 'the human heart was only evil all the time.' (Gen 6:5)

Hence, the destruction of the world in the not-so cute and cuddly story of Noah which parents now read to toddlers at bed-time.
Terrifying stuff.

After the flood, humanity is given a second chance to flourish. This time around Yahweh (aka God) introduces some foundational values for what to do when you are wronged: 'Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound and bruise for bruise.' (Ex. 21:23-25)

Do you remember the classic computer game Pong? 'An eye for an eye' is a bit like a never ending game of Pong, where attacks simply bounce back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. To us this may still seem like a hopelessly bloody approach but in the evolution of humankind this was a highly progressive and radical concept. It stopped violence escalating.

That the new advice was so counter-cultural is demonstrated by just how challenging the new society found it to adhere to. Set three centuries later, the story of sex-driven Samson (of Delilah fame) is a prime example.

Samson is humiliated at a party; he kills 30 men.
Samson's wife is taken by his best man; he uses 300 foxes, tied together by their tails, to burn down his enemy's crops.
Samson's wife and father are burnt to death; he kills 1000 men with a donkey's jawbone. (Judg. 14-15)

The tale is savage and barbaric.
'Eye for an eye' has clearly not yet seeped into the fabric of society.

'You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you don't stand up against an evil person. If a person slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek as well.' (Matt 5:38-39)

If 'eye for an eye' was difficult enough then this takes the challenge to a whole new level.
But this really is the only way to bring peace to earth.
Because this really is the only way to break the unending rally of Pong.
Don't hit back.
Concede a goal.

Forgiveness: in the evolution of humankind this was a highly progressive and radical concept.

And how many times should you forgive?
Alluding to one of civilizations earliest ever narratives, rabbi Jesus answers, 'Not seven, but seventy seven times.' (Matt. 18:22)

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