what if forgiveness is not wanted?

Heather and I were discussing my thoughts from the last entry, and she pointed out that sometimes people seem to want to go through the process of "paying for their sins." I remember reading something like this in Dostoyevsky (in Crime and Punishment, I think) but then it seemed like a matter of piety, a way of feeling the pain of the crime. It didn't seem likely or even understandable in our culture. In the context of a community, though, I suppose there might be other reasons for wrongdoers wanting to go through the society's process of punishment or repayment.

Some people might feel reassured that, even if they cannot control their own wrong inclinations, their community can set them right, and has an established process to accomplish this. The wrongdoer, like the others in society that I wrote about before, could find security in a social structure that seems to be able to control evil (including their own).

But maybe the more likely appeal comes from the desire to atone, "pay for our sins." Recognizing that we have done wrong, we may want to be able to set it right ourselves. Former convicts speak of having "done their time." It offers a way to feel that we have paid our debt, and so no longer carry the guilt or no longer owe anyone for the wrong we did them. There may be something good in this desire. But I don't think society can decide what we owe or tell us when we have paid up. There's even the phrase "paid my debt to society"—but is the wrongdoer's debt really to society?

Jesus' words about forgiveness make it clear that God, not society, decides the nature of evil and what is owed. And his parables (such as "the unmerciful servant") show that we cannot repay all we owe, or set right our wrongdoing ourselves. That's why forgiveness is necessary, and such a tremendous relief. But it will leave us with the sense that we have been given a gift; we did not work our way back out of our hole, we were lifted out. That's not what some people want. They want what society offers, the false sense that we paid off everything we broke.

Jesus had a very different understanding of how our sins were paid for.