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“Forgiveness, can you imagine?”
I think about this line from the musical Hamilton quite frequently. My biggest issue with it is the implication that our society cannot comprehend forgiveness.
The line appears in the song “It’s Quiet Uptown” which tells the story of how Alexander Hamilton and his wife Eliza reconcile their marriage after the death of their son Philip. Alexander previously had a torrid affair and publicized it to avoid being convicted of embezzling government funds, which obviously made his wife angry and led to Alexander’s exile to the dog house. In their grief, they are able to turn to each other and push away the unimaginable, but only after Eliza forgives Alexander for his infidelity.
In modern times, Alexander and Eliza probably would have gotten a divorce. Since women weren’t allowed to divorce their husbands in the 17-1800s, Eliza just lived through the embarrassment of Alexander’s affair. But eventually she put herself back in the narrative and forgave him.
What Lin Manuel Miranda’s lyrics tell me is that he doesn’t understand how Alexander could be forgiven for his transgressions. What society’s reaction to the song tells me is that no one really understands forgiveness, so much so that it is UNIMAGINABLE!!!
“Forgiveness, can you imagine?”
Now if you are as much of a fan of the musical as I am, you probably know that the use of the word “unimaginable” in that song is most often referring to grieving the death of their son. But in that one line, when the ensemble sings “can you imagine?” it’s in direct response to the notion of forgiveness. Somehow, the culture and ideals of today found their way into a musical about the start of the United States in the late 1700s, where forgiveness is unimaginable.
Since when does society not understand forgiveness? Since when is it impossible to imagine forgiving someone who has wronged you??
Gosh, I think back to my childhood. My siblings and I would fight, and of course someone always ended up hurt. Hurt feelings most likely, but there were instances we walked away with bruises. Whatever the case, one of us would be told to say, “I’m sorry,” but my mom never let us say “it’s okay.” Instead, we were told to say “I forgive you.” She taught my siblings and me that certain behavior was not okay, hurtful, or unacceptable… but forgivable.
“Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” – Matthew 18:21-22
Jesus goes into a parable after instructing us how often to forgive. There is a servant who owes his master a debt. After the servant pleads “be patient with me” the master is moved with compassion and doesn’t just agree to let the servant pay it back later, but FORGIVES THE DEBT ENTIRELY!!
When the servant is offered a chance to do likewise, he fails. Upon hearing of the servant’s lack of mercy the master is enraged. “Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” Jesus ends the parable by saying, “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”
God looks on us with compassion and asks us to do the same. He is saddened when we refuse to show others the kindness and mercy he offers us. Who are we to decide who is deserving of forgiveness?
You guys, I’m sick of “cancel culture.” I’m tired of people being written off, trashed, cancelled because of their mistakes. I’m annoyed that people are quick to dismiss instead of forgive. My friend, Laurie, and I talk about this a lot. One day as we discussed the latest happenings in Bachelor Nation she simply said, “cancel culture has no room for mercy.”
I feel like we walk on eggshells around each other, being careful not to offend anyone by breathing the wrong way. Obviously, there is a need in our world to call out offensive behavior, to hold people accountable for the ways they hurt others, intentionally or not. There is also a need to forgive people when they offend us.
I long to be a part of a society that teaches others why their actions or words are not okay, hurtful, and unacceptable. I long to be a part of a society that doesn’t ask how many times I need to forgive, but is moved with compassion and constantly offers unconditional mercy. I long to be a part of a society that recognizes and apologizes for their wrongdoings. I long to be a part of a society that forgives. I long to be a part of a society that chooses mercy, love, and forgiveness when it is hard.
I am completely aware that what I long for requires work and patience and a whole lot of mercy. Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible.
I do, however, think forgiveness would be easier to understand if we stopped using the phrase “it’s okay” to forgive someone. Forgiving someone who hurt you doesn’t mean you condone their actions. Forgiving someone for being offensive doesn’t mean their offensive behavior is acceptable. Forgiving someone for their past mistakes doesn’t mean they should keep making the same mistakes.
It’s time to practice forgiveness. It’s time to do some hard work and be a society that is more merciful, that is quick to forgive rather than condemn. It’s time to hold people accountable for their actions. It’s time to learn how to love others well and own up to the times when we fail. It’s time to make room for mercy. It’s time to offer people the chance to learn, grow, and change. It’s time to humbly ask for forgiveness. It’s time to forgive.
“Forgiveness. Can you imagine?”