After Forgiveness


“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Mark Twain.

Last Thursday evening I attended Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro at Walt Disney Concert Hall. A staple of the repertoire, it is one of the most frequently performed operas in the world. In fact, of the more than 2,415 different operas that have been performed during the 2012–13 concert season, The Marriage of Figaro clocks in at #8. (Yes, they keep stats of these sorts of things.)

It’s a lovely story, taking place within the span of one day. Four briskly-paced acts are filled to the brim with love, jealousy, infidelity, scheming, disguises, mistaken identity and broken alliances. You know, typical opera fodder. In the end, the conniving catches up to everyone and the character who is the worst offender (a cheating husband, of course) implores his wife, “Forgive me!”

“I am kinder,” she declares, “I will say, ‘Yes.’”

Everyone then gathers on stage, singing about how only love can end “this day of torment of caprices and folly.” Curtain. Applause.

It’s all sort of abrupt. Three hours and 20 minutes of “torment and folly” followed by two minutes of, “Oh, hey, everything’s going to be great, guys!” (Not a direct quote from the libretto.) That’s nice and everything, but what happens the next day… three weeks later… in six months….

Does Count Almaviva—he of the wandering eyes/hands/etc.—stay true to his Countess? Do Figaro and Susannah continue to trust one another? Do they all decide to stop dressing up as one another to try to trick their supposed lovers into making a misstep?

In our haste to assist life in its imitation of art, we can be tempted to think of forgiveness as a dénouement. Frankly, it’s easier that way. We look back on the many mistakes we’ve made, claim God’s forgiveness, and revel in the fact that we got all that “bad stuff” expunged from our record.

This is a nice feeling. While God’s forgiveness does cover everything, it’s easy to simply stay there and not progress any further. We fall in love with our own stories of redemption and ultimately end up living in a past we profess to have fled.

In the opera of our lives—the opera God is writing, not Mozart—forgiveness is a beginning. It calls us to be transformed from who we once were into what God destines us to be.

Today, our message comes to us from Jesus, post-resurrection. After His seminal act of forgiveness on the cross, He appeared to the disciples and said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” He didn’t bask in the magnitude of his recent accomplishment. He simply said, “Now it’s your turn. Your story begins here.”

For Mozart, forgiveness is an instantaneous—almost illogical—resolution. In the reality of our lives, it’s a bit more complex. Mahatma Gandhi called forgiveness “the attribute of the strong.” Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”

We may just be at the beginning of Act 1, but I believe God has a lot of exciting arias in store for us in the scenes to come.


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