There’s a lot of talk during every presidential election about the power of the religious vote. But as people of faith, our power doesn’t come from the political vote, it comes from our power to forgive.
To illustrate the responsible use of forgiveness, allow me to contrast a Biblical scene with a well-known cinematic scene.
If you watched Steven Spielberg’s 1993 movie “Schindler’s List,” it won’t be hard to remember the sadistic and ruthless death camp commandant, Amon Goeth.
In a poignant yet ludicrous scene, Commandant Goeth randomly sights Jewish prisoners through his riflescope and kills them for the tiniest infraction in their daily chores.
To stop this sadistic quest for power, Oskar Schindler cons Goeth into trying a different path to power.
“You can be such a big man,” he coaxes Goeth, “by forgiving these foolish Jews for their mistakes. Instead of shooting them, say ‘I forgive you.’ You are the great Amon Goeth! What Aryan nobility you could show!” And for the next few days, this crazed man goes about haphazardly pronouncing: “I forgive you. Ah, yes, I forgive you.”
Of course, what makes the scene ludicrous is that Goeth lacks the spiritual power to either condemn or forgive. Nevertheless, Schindler’s point is profound — the power to forgive is the ultimate power.
Contrast Schindler’s story to the Biblical story found in Mark (Chapter 2) of a paralyzed man whose friends scheme to get him through an impassable crowd so Jesus can heal him.
At first, the crowds prove impenetrable, but his determined friends take him to the rooftop just above where Jesus is speaking. They cut a hole in the roof and lower the paralytic to the feet of Jesus.
Impressed by the bold belief of the friends, Jesus says a startling thing to the paralytic. “Friend, I forgive your sins.”
Jesus’ critics find his pronouncement as ludicrous as moviegoers found Goeth’s statement. They ask the crowd, “Who does he (Jesus) think he is? That’s blasphemous talk! God, and only God, can forgive sins.”
Jesus’ response was to ask his critics, “Which is simpler: to say ‘I forgive your sins,’ or to say ‘Get up and start walking’?” The syntax of the question implies the answer — forgiveness is much harder.
This is what I mean about using the power of forgiveness responsibly.
Obviously, the Nazi commandant uses the power of forgiveness irresponsibly. He uses the power to increase his own importance and to create an obligation or a sense of indebtedness.
There are times when we all do this. Of course we don’t use a gun. We use money or security or love to create indebtedness to ourselves. We forgive only so we can get what we need. That is the irresponsible use of forgiveness.
The forgiveness Jesus portrayed was a forgiveness that bestowed the power to heal and to restore.
How did the story end? I like the way The Message puts it: “Just so it’s clear that I’m ... authorized to do either ...” He spoke directly to the paraplegic: “Get up. Take your bedroll and go home.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, he did it.
Then the passage says: “The people rubbed their eyes, incredulous. ... Awestruck, they said, ‘We’ve never seen anything like that!’ ”
Such is the power of genuine for-giveness and it gets my vote every time.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of “No Small Miracles.” You can call him at 321-549-2500, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit his website thechaplain.net or write him at P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759.