When was the last time you actually learned something from a fortune cookie?
Never? That's what I thought. The most we usually hope for is a chuckle, usually because we've added the phrase "in bed" to the end of the fortune. However, last night Beve and I took my younger brother, BB, to the recently oft frequented (by our clan) Chinese buffet here in town. Beve and BB stuffed their faces (and stomachs) and I managed a fair showing, and when the check was returned along with it were the three requisite fortune cookies. This is an odd custom, of course, created for tourists--not in ancient China, but in the last century, to give a feel of antiquity. I haven't traveled to China, but have been told on fairly good authority that these triangular cookies with papers inside do not appear at the end of meals there.
Anyway, I didn't even intend to take a fortune cookie last night. They are bland in the best of times, if you ask me, and go down only with good strong tea. But after BB (whose real initials are actually DC) took and read his fortune and Beve was calculating the tip (did you know you don't need to tip as much at a buffet as you do at a full-service restaurant?), I grabbed another cookie, bent the cookie in half, and read the fortune:
"Forgive the action, forget the intent."
Stopped cold, kind of shuddered a moment and re-read it slowly, as though through water. Or maybe Lecto Divino, the slow, divine, illuminating reading aloud with God the Spirit.
FORGIVE THE ACTION, FORGET THE INTENT.
Seriously. I stuffed the fortune into my pants pocket so that I could think about it later, because it's just about the most profound 'fortune' I've ever read. Don't you think?
Right there in 'The Wonderful' (which is the actual name of the restaurant), came a moment of clarity. And the clarity that followed later with God was like the proverbial LIGHT going off over my head. Or should I say Light of the World going on inside me.
Here's the thought: We followers of Jesus struggle and struggle with the issue of forgiveness. "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." It's part of what Jesus teaches when the disciples ask Him to teach them to pray. And we pray it. We know He's forgiven us. His blood was shed for it. Our very lives are beholden to that shed blood. He forgave and re-gave us LIFE. We live past whatever we were, into who we are NOW in Him. That's the gospel. And in light of so great a forgiveness as this, we are told to forgive those who sin against us. Exactly in this way. Perhaps we won't be asked to lay down our lives on behalf of those who wronged us, but we are asked to give our rights up for those who hurt us.
But the nagging, always present question, the one so often asked, it must be like a well-worn rut in the path of prayer, is "How do we forget what X has done to me?" Or we might actually confirm it as a statement of fact, "I can forgive Y, but I'll never forget what she did..." I have heard such statements. I fear I've heard them roll off my own tongue more than once in my life. Perhaps more than once in the last year. Sigh. And even as I've said them or asked God such things, I've felt the deep pit in my soul because there's an inherently sour note to such an idea. Is it really forgiveness at all, said a small voice in my spirit (or Spirit?), if I do hold onto the memory of the wrong?
It was all this buffet of responses that I brought to that table last night when I opened that fortune cookie.
"Forgive the action, forget the intent."
Isn't motive the core issue in every sin?
How often have I questioned--and held onto--the intent of another's action, long after I claimed to have forgiven the actual behavior? Isn't this the very substance of the problem of forgetfulness? I think the answer is very often, indeed. I think almost every time I claim I cannot forget, it's because I do not trust the motive of another's actions. I believe there was some malevolent intent behind the action which possibly--probably--could rise up and hurt me again, placing me on my guard against that person. Destroying relationship. And, no matter what the other person says, I do not necessarily trust a person when they tell me they did not intend to hurt me. I allow their actions to speak, rather than their intent.
Likewise, unfortunately, I too claimed, "But I didn't mean to..." as an excuse against hurting another, and then have expected that to mitigate the offense. I expect others to take my word at face value, to forgive me on the basis of my intent, yet I do not forgive them on the basis of theirs. And, if others are like me (as I suspect they are!), they also struggle to forget what they believe to have been my intent, no matter what I say.
This is why it's difficult for us to forgive and forget. And why this fortune cookie is so profound. Forgive the action, forget the intent.
Perhaps, the two are the same. Perhaps we must forgive the intent and forget the action. Or perhaps, ultimately, it doesn't matter. What does matter cannot be found on any fortune cookie in a Chinese restaurant, but must be found in the blood of the one who forgave both the intent and action of the worst of us. Of each of us. Previous to our needing that forgiveness. And asks us to live in that. To practice that.
And it seems to me that where we fall short is that even when we ask Him to help us to forgive our neighbor, or family member, or mate, we don't ask Him to help us move the memory of that hurt into a place where it will not rise up and haunt us again. We don't need to forget a past sin-against-us, as long as remembering does not make us continue to hold onto that hurt. Maybe asking Him to help us forget the intent of that sin is as good a place as any to begin to really forgive.
At least a place to begin.
But perhaps also a place to end.
Forgive the action, forget the intent.