Wednesday, 8 July 2015
The Prodigal Father (4): the Ways of Compassion
Recently, I have written about the Henri Nouwen’s striving to aspire to be like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal Son describes his exploration of the parable which was initiated by his encounter with the painting by Rembrandt based on the parable.
Nouwen saw that what it meant for him to aspire to be like God the father was to be compassionate. Nouwen states that the most radical statement Jesus made was, “Be compassionate as your father is compassionate”. He acknowledges that this is in no way easy for him. To do this you must live a life that is based on cooperation rather than competition—which, of course, is truly radical in today’s culture. However, he identifies three ways to a truly compassionate fatherhood. These ways of compassion are; grief, forgiveness, and generosity. Last week I explored the first way; grief. Today I will explore the second way; forgiveness.
As Nouwen notes, “Forgiveness from the heart is very, very difficult. It is next to impossible. Jesus said to his disciples: ‘when your brother wrongs you seven times a day and comes back to you and says ‘I am sorry,’ you must forgive him.’” The words are certainly easier than change in heart which is required to truly forgive. We are trained as children to say we forgive even when we don’t feel it or believe it. When the parents say to the child ‘say you are sorry’ the child may say it to placate the parent but he or she probably is only sorry that they were caught in the wrongdoing.
A few years ago I read about one person’s struggle with forgiveness that illustrates how hard it is to truly forgive. An Anglican priest in England, resigned her holy orders because she found that as hard as she tried she was unable to forgive, to truly forgive, the drunk driver who had killed her child. She believed that as a Christian and a priest she was called to forgive that person and was unable to do it. This shows us that true forgiveness is not cheap or easy. It is more than just say the words. To truly mean it is a long hard journey.
As Nouwen notes, “God’s forgiveness is unconditional; it comes from a heart that does not demand anything for itself, a heart that is completely empty of self-seeking. It is this forgiveness that I have to practice in my daily life.” Fortunately God’s forgiveness is there for us unconditionally when we fail to do likewise. Thanks be to God.