Father Ola on Forgiveness

Hey, and greetings from Sweden – Stockholm.

Today’s topic might be forgiveness. I’m not sure how the Anglican church defines today’s topic, and if you have such topics for each Sunday as we do in Sweden but the text certainly speaks about forgiveness – both the Gospel and text on the Romans. That comes quite close today for various reasons. I think it’s extremely difficult to ask for forgiveness. I’m very aware that that is a key virtue, and it’s something very attractive about people who can easily ask for forgiveness.

Often, however, I think we think of forgiving and forgiveness as a feeling that we might have, or a certain feeling that we should aim for after forgiving someone. I think that’s not necessarily the right way to look at it because feelings are very difficult, and you can’t really affect them that much. You can’t really change whatever you feel, but I think forgiveness is a decision. In many respects, I think that forgiveness is a decision, and I think it’s like, Dietrich Bonhoeffer – the German theologian who died in the last days of the second World War – he said that you should love your neighbours and if you like him as well, that’s a bonus. I think that’s the right way to look at it. You should try to forgive someone. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should like that person. Forgiveness is an act, a decision.

The reason this topic is close to me right now is because in Sweden, in Stockholm in particular, at the moment, everybody is thinking about one thing and that is ‘what is happening right now. What is going on’. Last week we had six shootings – more shootings but six dead people as a result of these shootings, and who is shooting? it’s young people? It’s sometimes 30 year-old boys, sometimes 40 year-old boys and they’re all doing it, not necessarily because they want to, but they want to be part of the gangs that is behind all this.

We have a huge gang violence problem in Stockholm, in Sweden, at the moment, and last night another guy was killed and before that night, before that someone’s mother, someone’s 60-year-old mother was killed, and she had absolutely nothing to do with these conflicts. And these conflicts between these gangs are not so much about drugs, as you would think. Of course, that’s part of it. But what it is – it’s a spiral. It’s a feedback loop of revenge about honour. Someone has done something and then they have to pay, and then that person has to pay, and it goes on and on. But this is where forgiveness would enter the picture.

Sometimes, Christianity is blamed for perhaps, through missionaries, starting conflicts, I’m not really sure, but I’m sure that that’s happened, So certainly, the critique of the works of the missionaries of … you hear that often, but I think also, and that this is quite important – I feel that it’s has happened quite a few times that Christianity has come in, swept through a people, a culture, and that has ended these sometimes generations long conflicts,

The nature of those conflicts of revenge that goes on and on is the logic of an eye for an eye which, of course, is something we, as Christians, recognise from the Old Testament. An eye for an eye, and it is some kind of Justice in that, of course, but I think it’s what we see now happening between these gangs in Sweden. It is exactly that – an eye for an eye, and that is going spiralling out of hand, and people are quite afraid of that, and we have a lot of things to be a bit worried about in Sweden at the moment which I won’t go into but, so I feel that forgiveness and what Jesus says. How many times should you forgive – seven times? What is it? Is it seven or seventy times seven? I don’t know I read it before, but I forgot.

Anyway, the message is clear: you should forgive – try and forgive over and over again, and it is slightly easier if you think about forgiveness, not as a particular feeling that you’re supposed to feel, but rather a decision not to say that thing you wanted to say not to do that thing that you wanted to do so dearly because you felt your honour had been broken or your you’ve been disrespected.

Anyway. Therse’s a couple of thoughts right from the top of my head at the moment, and I wish you all a happy Sunday. See you later.

Frist broadcast on The Sunday Eucharist – September 17th, 2023

Leave a Reply