Must the queen forgive?
In Episode Two, Season Two, of Netflix’s The Crown, Queen Elizabeth faces a dilemma. We find her seated across from Evangelist Billy Graham, struggling with the sins of her uncle (and resigned King). She asks, “Is there anything unforgivable?”
I sat, full of anticipation, waiting for Graham’s answer.
Forgiveness—I want it.
Forgiveness—I find it hard to offer.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about it. Don’t misunderstand. I struggle with forgiving people. I bruise easily. I just have spent time thinking about it.
As The Crown’s script rolled on, I winced at the words they put into the mouth of the man representing that saintly evangelist. I was expecting him, rather than giving a pat answer, to ask a question. Most trained pastors know that the queen’s question, charged with emotion, is best responded to with a question.
HRHEiiR, gripped with angst, needed a question, not an answer. A question to aid her in thinking through her situation. A question to unlock her dilemma.
She, like many, is stuck. She is stuck thinking she needs to forgive her rotten uncle – which she does need to do – but she is confusing what forgiveness looks like with the request that her uncle has made to be welcomed back into the fold, and given a position of notoriety.
What if Graham’s character had said, “Your royal highness, I can see this is not a theoretical matter. I am sorry for your pain. Might I ask, if you do in fact forgive this person, what does that forgiveness look like in your mind?”
Here lies the rub. The queen believes that her forgiveness is demonstrated by reconciling with her uncle, and indeed restoring him to a position of prominence.
My friends, please hear me: forgiveness & reconciliation are two different things.
We can forgive. We must forgive. Even without someone asking us for forgiveness. Jesus did from the cross. I know it is not easy. (For thoughts on forgiveness, click here.)
But the queen’s uncle is asking for reconciliation / restoration — that is a different matter.
Reconciliation starts with the guilty party acknowledging his or her guilt. That moves to repentance. It starts with admitting you have made a mistake, and then committing to “turn around your ways” (the meaning of the word repentance). Hear me: this is the beginning of the process.
Additional steps, such as restitution, may be necessary. Then there is the tough work of reconciling… getting the offender, and those offended, to join the process of working through it all.
All of this takes place upstream of restoration. To “restore” someone to a place, or position (in our family, business, church, society, etc) — requires careful consideration.
Restoration may harm the person. How? By prematurely putting them in a situation that is too much for them to handle. They're not ready for responsibility, temptation, etc. Fully restoring them might need to take time, for their sake.
But even if they are ready... even if restoration doesn't harm them, but in fact even benefits them, it might not be beneficial for the larger group. The group might not be ready yet, because It hurts too much, or they're afraid, or need time to build trust again... and if the harm done was especially heinous, they may never be ready again.
In this episode of The Crown, it is this latter situation, that of the larger group, which must be considered. Indeed, the queen does take into account the concern of the larger group — The United Kingdom. However, she is haunted by her decision, thinking somehow that she is un-Forgiving and therefore un-Christian.