“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven. . .”
The bad dreams don’t stop. She returns. “Daddy,” she says, “I need someone with skin.”Don’t we all.
I treasure two unforgettable novels about forgiveness.The first is Oscar Hijuelos’s Mr. Ives Christmas, the story of a man whose precious son was murdered on the steps of a New York City cathedral for a ten dollar bill. Deep shadows stretch over Mr. Ives’s life after the senseless slaying, haunted as he is by God’s seeming indifference and his own roiling hate. Yet, astonishingly, by the end of the novel, Mr. Ives forgives the murderer.
And there’s Frederick Manfred’s Lord Grizzly, a book I read years ago, an old prairie saga. Hugh Glass, a fur-trapper, is mortally wounded following a skirmish with Sioux warriors and left for dead. But he doesn’t die. He stays alive, his fevered resolution to live nourished by his desire for revenge. He literally crawls back to health and eventually locates those who deserted him. But when he does, he doesn’t pull a knife or gun. Miraculously, he forgives.Neither novel ever won a Pulitzer. You’d have to hunt for both of them—Lord Grizzly is long out-of-print. They aren’t classics; they aren’t read in classrooms, not even mine. But those two characters, characters with skin, come to mind with the colossal trumpet fanfare of first line of Psalm 32: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven.”
The focus of the verse is on having been forgiven, my soul as recipient of God’s forgiveness. Hugh Glass and Mr. Ives stay with me, not because they were recipients of forgiveness but because, amazingly, they forgave the underserving others.You might say I’m that little girl. I need somebody with skin. God is, after all, God; his blinding divinity makes such incredible behavior—forgiveness—somehow less astounding. I can believe it of him, but I’m stunned by Mr. Ives.
I am forgiven. I live in the grace of his blood shed for my sins. I know that. Honestly, I do. I’ve never really doubted his love for me or the reality of my destiny in his loving and forgiving hands.But this line about forgiveness—this absolutely central line of the Christian faith—is somehow made more astonishing when the very idea is given flesh, when a war-torn mountain man sheds his hate like last year’s hides.
I need something with skin.Don’t we all. Maybe that’s why God almighty, the great forgiver, sent his son to us to pull on a suit of human flesh. That’s how we get it. That’s how we learn. We need something with skin.