One of the big problems I have with Christianity is that it distorts people’s view of forgiveness and cheapens the concept of redemption. I was talking to a Christian the other day and we got into a conversation about this. Interestingly enough, the Christian implied that Christianity had the monopoly on both these concepts.
It is the view of Christianity as I understand it that if you do something wrong to someone, you have to be genuinely remorseful and ask God for forgiveness. Then poof, all is forgiven because Jesus died for everyone’s sins. So as long as you believe in him and his supernatural sacrifice and you are genuinely remorseful, then you are good to go. Some Christians don’t even accept the genuinely remorseful part, but I think a good number do and I want to be as fair to their position as possible.
The way I see it, real forgiveness and redemption doesn’t come from God; it comes from those that were wronged whenever possible. So is you kill someone for example, you can’t obviously be forgiven by the person you killed, but you can be forgiven by their loved ones. Of course that is very hard. If someone killed one of my loved ones, I wouldn’t be so quick to forgive and that’s the point. Earning forgiveness from other people is hard. It takes real effort and one may not even be successful. Yet, it is the journey to earn that forgiveness which leads to real redemption.
Not only that, but it makes sense in every way. If you harm someone, you should apologize to them not some imaginary deity. The person you harmed has to forgive you. If you hurt someone and then asked an uninvolved third party for forgiveness, then you really haven’t accomplished much.
Forgiveness and redemption can’t be granted by reciting some magic words or through some sort of blood ritual. That’s a cheat. It’s easy to ask a God for forgiveness and then consider yourself redeemed. We ask people for forgiveness not because it is easy, but because it is hard. It mean really working to earn that redemption and knowing that no matter how hard you work, you might not be forgiven.
The best somewhat modern example that comes to mind is Xena. Don’t laugh at my pop culture reference until you hear me out. When the show first started, Xena was known as a ruthless killer. When she rode into towns, people would run and hide. But as the show went on and Xena did more and more good deeds, villagers were happy to see her and greeted her warmly. Still, despite changing the minds of random villagers, Xena still felt she had to do more good to earn the forgiveness of those she wronged and to be granted true redemption.
Now, I’m no expert in the show as I only watched it occasionally on lazy Saturdays. But I am guessing that there were probably episodes in which she came face to face with the loved ones of people she killed. Typically in shows like this the hero has to struggle to earn the forgiveness of that person and on TV it usually works out for them. In real life it might not. But that is the risk and the burden that is carried but those who genuinely seek redemption.