How divine Love fosters accountability and forgiveness
It’s not always easy to own up to wrong behavior. The human tendency is to hide the truth to protect oneself from humiliation and possible punishment. Anger, resentment, or disgust on the part of others does not make it easier. Equally difficult can be choosing how to respond to wrong behavior on the part of another. We know we should forgive that person as we would want to be forgiven, but that can be a heart-rending struggle, especially if a violent act has hurt us or a loved one. See, for example, the feature article “Two mothers, a son’s death, and the struggle for forgiveness,” by Harry Bruinius, in The Christian Science Monitor Weekly, March 12, 2018.
So, what can strengthen us to be accountable for our own behavior, and also help us to forgive others, in a way that will lead to justice—and healing—for everyone?
A new avenue of thought opened up for me recently when I was praying about accountability and forgiveness. I thought of my mother’s unforgettable counsel: “If you don’t want anyone to know about it, don’t do it.” It brought to mind a childhood incident concerning my brother.
When my brother’s hockey puck sailed through a window in a neighbor’s house, he went straight to the door and apologized to the neighbor, saying that he would pay for having the window fixed—which he did, as soon as he earned the money doing odd jobs like shoveling snow. Later, when Mom heard from the neighbor about him taking responsibility for the damage and commended my brother for it, he said, “Well, my name was carved in the puck.”
The story always brings a smile to those who hear it, but as I thought about it this time, I remembered something Jesus once said to a group of his followers; he told them to “rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
That’s a remarkable statement. It affirms that God, infinite Spirit, who fills all space and is therefore always present, knows our names and what we are expressing. And that is reason for rejoicing, for Christian Science teaches what it means to have God know us spiritually. It doesn’t mean that He knows us as Barbara, or Bill, or Jane, or Harry, or that He is observing our human comings and goings. It means that our names—the true nature of each one of us as Spirit’s pure and permanently perfect spiritual reflection—are written in the consciousness of divine Love, our Father-Mother God, who always knows and loves us as the faithful expressions of His goodness. This was what Christ Jesus lived and demonstrated—the Truth that reformed sinners and healed the sick through his ministry, and is still present to love, correct, and guide every individual today.
This Christ, Truth, destroys error and sin while washing us clean of our human failings. Christ reveals our true nature as the perfect reflection of God, and this revelation is divine Love’s merciful way of correcting us, freeing us from past mistakes as well as hurts, setting us on a new path, and keeping us accountable to divine law as we go forward.
When divine Love is reflected toward another, it has a power to stir a heart that has felt bereft of love.
Feeling that we are forever held in the embrace of divine Love can bring us to tears—tears of joy that we are loved by God, and sometimes tears of anguish because we don’t feel worthy of such love. But, when it really sinks in—when we actually realize that God loves us—it can feel perfectly natural and normal for us to know and do what is right and just for everyone. This realization can even enable us—no matter how hard it may seem—to find forgiveness in our hearts for those who have hurt us. This is God’s love being reflected in us—assuring us that He will also guide others into repentance and reformation, because that’s how God’s love works in human hearts.
“And Love is reflected in love” is what Mary Baker Eddy has given in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures as the spiritual sense of the line in the Lord’s Prayer, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (p. 17). That is our real name, or nature—the active reflection of divine Love.
God’s love working in us enables us not only to express Love through right thinking and doing, but also to forgive those who have done hurtful things to us or others. And when we let God’s love be expressed in us this way, with no thought of self, we are honoring God, and we are honoring the true nature of others and ourselves. We are living up to our true nature as Love’s spiritual reflection. We are paying our debts to God and to our neighbor, and in doing so, we are witnessing to Love’s redeeming power embracing, healing, and empowering us and others. We may feel Love guiding us to report a person to the authorities when a crime has been committed, but we can do this while still cherishing that individual’s true nature as God’s reflection. And when divine Love is reflected toward another in this way, it can enable a genuine accountability in that person. When divine Love is reflected toward another, it has a power to stir a heart that has felt bereft of love to an awakening sense of worth and dignity. This can move an individual to face and own up to his or her errors, and to reform human behavior through discovering more of his or her spiritual nature.
Jesus knew that yielding to divine Love in our thoughts and deeds, and forgiving our debtors by honoring and loving them as God’s reflection, would be a daily, moment-by-moment commitment to acknowledge and act upon. But we can each rejoice that our “names are written in heaven.” This spiritual approach to accountability and forgiveness is natural—and healing—because it is divine Love’s work. And Love’s work will always triumph when our heart is open to it and we put our trust in God.