Image by Leonard John Matthews via FlickrI sometimes think that some of us Christians have a misguided notion about God's mercy and forgiveness that reminds me of the "cheap grace" criticized by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian martyr executed by the Nazis. That misguided notion of mercy and forgiveness seems to boil down to this: "Hey, I did really bad things; but now I am forgiven, so forget about it." Mercy requires true sorrow and contrition for serious misdeeds. Such true sorrow is demonstrated by an eagerness to face the consequences and compensate and mitigate for the results of our serious misdeeds. Otherwise, we are still acting as irresponsibly as we did when we first committed the misdeeds.
The Wall Street Journal has an article on the political ideology of the Tea Party movement that reminds me of this need to emphasize and embrace the real consequences of our actions (note: I am certainly not endorsing any particular political movement; nor am I a member of any political movement, but am merely citing an article containing an interesting moral insight regardless of the related political content):
"For every action, there is an equal and morally commensurate reaction. Kindness, honesty, and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit, and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering."
Yes, you may have embezzled $500,000, and been forgiven; but don't expect to be hired as the bookkeeper for your local parish. Yes, you may have engaged in some form of child abuse and been forgiven even for something so wickedly and horribly awful and heinous; but don't expect to be hired as the director of a kindergarten. Yes, you may have been a member of organized crime for years and been forgiven; but don't expect to be hired as the local police chief or director of the FBI. Yes, you may have been lived outside of marriage with many sexual partners, one after another, over the years and surely been forgiven; but don't expect an eager and thoughtful marriage proposal from everyone who knows or should be told about your past.
As Benedict XVI said not too long ago about the sex abuse scandal, forgiveness does not substitute for justice. The truly contrite would be the first to spontaneously tell you that truth. The truly contrite and forgiven take responsibility and accept the consequences. That unflinching, responsible attitude is the best proof of our genuine contrition and sorrow for past misdeeds. We don't expect others to irrationally become amnesiacs. The aftermath is something to seriously consider the next time that we are tempted to engage in serious wrong.