Now, it certainly is understandable to answer, in cases like Judas', or bin Laden's that some people are not (and will not be) forgiven. I have to admit that I smiled when I learned of bin Laden's death. The play, however, invites us to give the same benefit of the doubt to Judas that we might give to ourselves, and to see Judas through the eyes of the ones who loved him--including the one he betrayed, Jesus.
The question we eventually must face then is not whether or not we believe a person "deserves" forgiveness; forgiveness is never deserved. Rather, we must wrestle with this thought: How open are we to forgiveness?
Can we find forgiveness for ourselves if we cannot offer it others?
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot suggests that we can, by closing ourselves to grace, forfeit our own. In my reading, this is consistent with the teachings of Jesus, who instructed his followers to pray, "forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us."
Mike Huckabee, pastor and presidential candidate declared, upon bin Laden's death: "Welcome to hell." In doing so, Huckabee implied that he himself was speaking from Hell. Perhaps there was some truth in his gaffe. Could Huckabee, by imagining a world of vengeance be creating that same world for himself?
The recent publication of "Love Wins," by Rob Bell, pastor of an evangelical mega-church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has many people re-thinking the popular understanding of hell, heaven, and our futures beyond death. What we say about these important topics informs (or illustrates) what we think about justice, reward, punishment, and forgiveness.
Bell wrestles with heaven and hell as they are presented in scripture, and finds that the images many of us have been taught are lacking. Does this make him a heretic, as many have stated? Does this mean there is no punishment for those who do evil, such as bin Laden?
These are questions we need to ask, for if we simply dismiss people to hell, we're less likely to love them--or even tolerate them. On the other hand, people like bin Laden remind us that the world is still an unforgiving place.
I personally feel like I cannot say "I forgive bin Laden," because I did not lose a friend or family member due to his actions. My forgiveness can only be offered in a general sense, and I want to be sensitive to those who have been specifically hurt by him.
At the same time, I cannot, and will not, proclaim a world where justice comes through violence or revenge. I will live my life inspired not by the injustice done to me, but by the grace shown to me. If bin Laden is in hell, I don't want to be the one welcoming him.
Three quick plugs:
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot will make you think about these things, and it is well-rooted in sound theology and history. It runs until May 22.
To think further about these issues, and to make Mom happy, you are invited us to join us at 10am at Lafayette Ave Presbyterian Church. Vernice Turner will share a monologue from The Last Days of Judas Iscariot as Henrietta Iscariot, helping us reflect on violence and betrayal through a Mother's eyes.
Finally, for a full review and discussion of "Love Wins" join us on May 14 at 10am. Brunch will be involved. Tentatively scheduled to take place at Lafayette Church, we may relocate to a more accessible space. Please RSVP so that there is enough food and we can keep up updated on the location.
See review by BRO's Grant Golden