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A note on forgiveness

We wrote below that the teachings of Jesus have influenced how people related to each other in Britain, imperfect though people often were and are.

Hannah Arendt points out in her book The Human Condition that Jesus introduced several radical ideas. One of them, largely unknown in his culture or in Hellenic or Roman societies, was the concept of personal forgiveness. According to Arendt most people in these societies believed that God, or the gods, might be induced to forgive them given sufficient attention and 'bling', but they had nothing to say about one person forgiving another.

Jesus found the idea of buying off God contemptible, and according to Arendt was the first person to speak about the importance of people forgiving each other. He saw this was crucial not for the person being forgiven but for the person who forgave, for the person who forgave was freed. He or she was no longer imprisoned by anger, justified though it might have been. They were able to go on with their lives without carrying the heavy stones of hate.

There must have been people who practiced forgiveness long before Jesus lived, but he made it an article of faith, and though it has been imperfectly practiced, it has always been one of the invisible strengths of British society.

The freedom and healing of forgiveness depend on people trying to treat others fairly. “Treat others as you would wish to be treated”, Jesus said. And this, too, has been an invisible strength in British society.

It appears from the accounts that describe his life that Jesus saw forgiveness as part of an exchange – the person who forgives is responding to the person who asks for forgiveness. But in almost the last act of his life, in a gesture without historical parallel, Jesus forgave those who had crucified him.

May your week be good.