The day after Fred Phelps, controversial leader of the hateful Westboro Baptist Church, passed away last week, a dear and wise friend of mine posted this on his Facebook timeline:
“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”
I respectfully disagree.
In my opinion, this smacks more of Nietzsche’s “will to power” than the Gospel of Jesus.
I am not a Bible scholar, and I could be wrong, but the year I spent immersed in the Psalms taught me just the opposite:
Willpower doesn’t mean much in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus isn’t looking for our best effort.
We are not meant to rend emotion from intellect — we are meant to embody both.
Forgiveness is a journey that starts with honest lament and eventually yields an eschatological faith that God is a God of justice and mercy both.
God will set right all that is wrong.
In the meantime, we live with the tension of an already-and-not-yet Kingdom and we are tasked with using our gifts in community to bring the sweet scent of heaven to earth, to be Jesus here.
In the case of Fred Phelps then, pronouncing “we forgive you” misses the point. Instead, we Christians ought to be the first to sit with anyone who was wounded by the likes of Fred Phelps and bear witness to their lament, holding the space so they can take whatever time they need to journey authentically toward healing.