It’s been a long time since I actually sat down to write an article, not to mention an article about my faith. I must say I haven’t been particularly attentive to the gradual shifts that are taking place in the world though I have my eyes set upon the economy, the structural things in the economy of Singapore. Having spent more than the past 4 years being abroad, I always thought I could share some new perspective about Singapore – how things are different here or the same. And more important, how much we have come to be part of ‘the world’.
The debates of the world that sets groups of people up against each other can stem from a variety of factors and in particular, culture seem to be highlighted. While globalization is said to make the world more homogenous, the role in its ability to bring cultures together so they may clash and interact in more profound manner is understated. In the clashing of cultures, and attempt to reconcile things, I believe that we have not become more polarized but allowed ourselves to accept sub-par standards of clarity that generates even more controversy. The refusal to clarify often stems from sensitivity – political, racial, religious or whatever. And one that I would like to highlight here is our messing up of the concepts of tolerance and forgiveness.
First, we look at the concept of forgiveness, which is more or less lost in this modern world. And the reason is that we have lost the concept of sin. We no longer think about transgressions the way we do. We think of it as a single-sided thing involving a mistake – the outcome and consequences that one has to bear is solely attributed to the system in place. The one that the victim has to bear no longer is part of that picture. This very subtle shift towards self-centeredness as a whole society is probably something people have observed time and again but seemed, by and large to be praised rather than resented. The ‘mistakes’ is therefore to be dealt with through the penalty of the system, a punishment that allows you to ‘pay’ for the mistake rather than to be forgiven of it. There is absolutely no mention of forgiveness in this whole cycle – the culprit doesn’t need to be forgiven by the victim, just to be released or ‘dealt with’ by the system of justice. And there is no wonder why we find that justice and forgiveness is incompatible. This is because we see punishment as diametrically opposing to forgiveness – and that if one were to consider wrong-doing a ‘sin’ then punishments are but necessary ‘sins’ against ‘sinfulness’.
Forgiveness, rather, has to do with a pardon of the deed itself that still involve a cost from the deed – not so much the punishment that is just a fraction of the true costs, designed to attempt to pass on the cost the deed creates back to the perpetuator. Of course, God and all of us realize this merely serves to multiply the fallen-ness in the world when this punishment is not meted out by God. Only God, who is able to renew and restore, can also channel His wrath righteously at the perpetuator. Not even the victim, bearing just part of the cost of the deed (as God bears the other part) can be qualified to take revenge, having no means whatsoever to restore his state through his revenge. Vengeance therefore, can only be of the Lord’s. As victims, what we can offer on our part is only ‘forgiveness’ and that is to bear that cost inflicted upon ourselves and carry it no further. As culprits/sinners, all we can do is to ask for forgiveness, from the victims and from God Himself.
By now you might have realized that what we have always thought forgiveness is, or involves, is tolerance. But it isn’t. We can think of tolerance as something that has elements of overlap with forgiveness but misses the mark. I would say one could capture their relationship with a Venn diagram where the overlapping part involves the bearing of costs of the deed. What does not overlap that is in Tolerance, is that of being indifferent to the deed itself as a matter of principle. Forgiveness, on the other hand, by virtue of its necessity having arisen from the presence of a ‘sin’, will have to involve rejecting the deed. It would require that the deed in itself be considered morally wrong. Forgiveness does not allow you to ignore the evilness of the deed; rather, it fundamentally requires you to trust in and place your hopes on the repentance of the one who is forgiven. Tolerance requires nothing of that sort; rather it involves an inner stoicism that is rejected by Christians as the path to salvation. To believe one is tolerant can breed self-righteousness and that is why people who preach tolerance are themselves non-tolerant of people seen as intolerant. They might not have observed the irony but that by itself already shows that tolerance is not the lifeboat that can take us out of this mess in conflicts – whether it is about abortion or homosexuality, or Amos Yee. It is forgiveness.