Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fringe: On the limits of forgiveness

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." (Matthew 18:21-22)
Grace and mercy...two sides of the same coin. A part of God's character that we love we we are conscious of our own need, but that doesn't look so attractive when someone has wronged us.

"Why do I have to love them anyway?"

"Why do I have to forgive her?"

"He doesn't deserve it...not this time!"

The concept of forgiveness is one most of us treasure, because we want to be forgiven for our mistakes. We even see that it's only fair for us to forgive others if we want some leeway for ourselves. But aren't there limits? Aren't there trespasses so big that I can't overlook them?

Fringe is my favorite show on the air right now. Probably my second favorite all time show. In last week's episode, there was a powerful scene on forgiveness. Before watching it (for those of you who aren't fans), here is the context:

(Spoiler Note: If you are behind on the show, you may want to stop reading here!)

The two characters in this scene are Walter and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is recognized by Walter as his wife...but not really. She is another version of his wife from a parallel universe. In the scene, they both know this. Elizabeth's son Peter was kidnapped as a child by this Walter after his own version of Peter had died from an illness. He had found a cure for the disease and was trying to bring her Peter over to our side to save him. In the process, they fell into a lake and Peter drowned. So both of their sons have died, and Walter is clearly responsible for Elizabeth's son's death. And if that's not enough to challenge the limits of forgiveness, Walter has endangered our very existence by messing with the nature of the universe. I know that's alot to absorb; hopefully it's just the right amount for you grasp the power of this scene:

So much in this scene!

"I asked for a sign of forgiveness and I got none. There is no absolution for me."

"I forgive you, Walter. And if I can, God can."

  • God's love for us is so great and so powerful that his grace and mercy extend without limit. There is nothing you can do to change that. If you will return home to him and accept his forgiveness, it's there for the taking. Elizabeth is simply saying that God's forgiveness extends so far beyond ours that if she forgives him, of course God can!
  • So what is the limit of forgiveness for us? Do you think you could forgive what Elizabeth forgave? It seems like alot to ask. How big is the offense that it is unforgivable to you? Or how many times can someone wrong you before you say, "Enough!" This scene challenges me. But not as much as the Scripture at the top of this post. And not as much as the parable Jesus tells to illustrate his point (Matthew 18:23-35when he teaches that our debt to God is so great that nothing we're asked to forgive is even in the ball park.
Walter responded to Elizabeth's (and God's) forgiveness by deciding to help with the crisis at hand. (What crisis? Watch the show!) Mercy should always inspire one to action. But that's not up to us. Our lot is to forgive, no matter what the response.

Father, it's so hard to forgive some things. Or to forgive someone who keeps wronging me over and over. But I know my offenses to you are infinitely greater than anything you're asking me to forgive. Thank you for that forgiveness. Help me to respond in kind with my neighbor. Amen.

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