September 11 means something to us. It raises questions about forgiveness, war and our future.
I don’t think that date meant anything particular to David Lipscomb, but on that date in 1866 Lipscomb addressed the problem of war and forgiveness (Gospel Advocate 8 [11 September 1866] 579-583). How do we forgive those who sought our lives in war? Ought we to forgive them even if they have not repented? How can we make peace with others while memories of violence, horror and hostility fills our minds?
Nathan W. Smith asked Lipscomb this series of questions: “If, then, it is true God forgives none but those who repent, does he require more of us? Does he require us to forgive those who have injured us, in word and deed, and who give no signs of repentance? Let those who think I am wrong, show it by the word of the Lord if they can. I am willing to pray for our enemies, to do good to those that hate us, and if our enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; but to forgive those who injure us, without any repentance, I am not willing to do so, unless it can be shown that my Lord requires it.” (p. 579).
Lipscomb’s fundamental response is: Yes, of course, we should. The Christian “should be possessed of that kind, forebearing [sic] and forgiving spirit that the Savior exhibited to his murderers and crucifiers, and that allows him to return no ill, to cherish no bitter, vindictive feelings, but ever to do good to our enemies, and under all circumstances return good for evil. Christ’s feelings, work, suffering for the human family while it was yet in sin and rebellion, is the model for our treatment of the impenitent sinners and offenders” (p. 582).
As Christ-followers, we forgive those who seek to crucify us just as Christ forgave his enemies. Does this apply to our own September 11 just as, according to Lipscomb, it applied to combatants in the Civil War, both north and south?
Lipscomb encouraged forbearance, making amends, healing and disengagement from worldly powers. In particular, he prays that “peace and harmony will be restored to our divided and sundered brotherhood” and “too many sacrifices cannot be made to attain this happy state.”
Forgiveness only takes one–I forgive my enemies. Reconcilation takes two–a mutual search for peace. But reconcilation cannot happen unless forgiveness comes first. That was true for Lipscomb postbellum and it is true for us post-September 11.
Below are the last couple of pages of Lipscomb response to Smith’s question (pp. 582-83).
“His full and free acceptance of the penitent, obedient believer as righteous and a coheir with himself in the honors and glories of the universe, is our pattern for the treatment of the repentant wrong-doer. Taking Christ as our model in these things as others, is the only infallible guide to right. In our country there is a class of crimes and wrongs that have been committed by professed Christians in the name of and as subjects of the world powers of earth, that are more difficult to settle than any others. Our connection with civil governments and the partizan feelings that enter into these questions, greatly embarrass them. War, strifes, politics, worldly governments are all corrupt and corrupting. War is wholesale murder and robbery. Whoever votes for, encourages, or in any manner excites war, is just as guilty for all the crimes that are legitimately the consequences of that war, as is the individual who personally commits the crimes. Again, in war, such as we have passed through, men engaged in the conflict upon each side from equally honest motives. The different teachings in political science, their surroundings, and above all, their interest, real or supposed, (for this is usually the controlling influence in politics and with nations,) led them to different courses of action. For professed Christians of one part or one section to suppose that all the honesty of sentiment or purpose was confined to their party or section, exhibits a remarkable degree of narrowminded bigotry. Men were equally honest in their views of duty on each side. And when once they entered the contest, violence, plunder and slaughter were the necessary results. The individuals then became the mere instruments in the hands of the power controlling them. So we are inclined to think that the sin was in yielding themselves instruments of an unrighteous power. So, too, we think that no individual who has himself entered the service of a world-power ought to complain of another who has merely served a different one. One these questions of difference in which, from our standpoint, both parties did wrong, the greatest forbearance should be exercised. Both parties acted as they thought best, and one party had, religiously as much right to act upon his convictions as the other. In the same neighborhood and in the same church, one had been taught to believe that the supreme authority was vested and should rest in the State. Another held, from equally satisfactory grounds, that the paramount obligation of the citizen was due the general government, and each acted on his convictions in the matter. In carrying out their convictions, each party acted as all men do when engaged in war. The wrong, we repeat again, was not in the acts that were performed, but in Christians putting themselves under the control of ungodly powers. That individual may have made excuses of their position, and taken advantage of their opportunities to exhibit a depraved and corrupted heart, and to have indulged in crimes and wreaked vengeance on those who were at their mercy, is true, and such should be dealt with according to the spirit they exhibited, yet we should be careful that no party spirit controls us in this. Yet to cherish prejudices against individuals, is not exactly fair. Forbearance, Christian forebearance, is what is needed now to allay the passions, heal the divisions and strifes, and put us in a condition that we may all be brought to see our wrongs, and that we may be prepared to avoid those difficulties in the future by keeping ourselves free from entangling alliances with the world-powers. Every one should strive to see how much of wrong he had done and make amends for it, and to see how much he can overlook and forgive in his brother. Thus peace and harmony will be restored to our divided and sundered brotherhood, and as one people in the Lord we may labor and toil and rejoice in the Lord. Too many sacrifices cannot be made to attain this happy state, provided we do not sacrifice God’s truth and God’s authority.”