The quote attributed to Pope Frances saying, “God always forgives, man sometimes forgives, but nature never forgives…” seems very apropos today. The whole concept of forgiveness is a rather celestial one. From debt forgiveness to nature’s revenge, what can we take away from this assessment? How do we direct our lives toward forgiveness and being forgiven in a world born of both natural and super-natural truth?
For me, nature has been a rather simple affair. Like the Holy Father, I have found the natural world to be awesome…though not without some terrible characteristics. This year’s bountiful garden may produce wonderful fruits and vegetables, but weeds grow fast, spread their seeds wide, and poison ivy never gets friendly.
For the past several summers, I have made the same mistake. At some point in late summer, I forget the tortures of past experience, and I step into a poison ivy patch or cut down what I consider some harmless vegetation, and I end up with miserable itching for weeks. Is there a statue of limitations on my experiences? Yet, as the memory of my suffering decreases, so my reckless boldness increases.
When I look back on history, I see the same trend. I read about debt crises of the past and I wonder that humanity could fall into the same terrible pattern again and again. Though the momentary crises with Greece may be passed, the problem of world debt is not. Like poison ivy, it is born of the same truth, a reflection of indisputable reality. And reality will take care of itself. Looking at the looming social security crises, I can almost feel the creeping itch of poison seeping into our system. Debts will have to be paid, sometime, by someone.
Yet, Greece’s debt was partially forgiven. As Pope Frances reminds us – men can forgive. We have the power to do so, but we cannot totally eradicate reality. That is the province of God. Only God can forgive our debts so that they are totally wiped clean.
It seems a generous thing to forgive as God forgives. In fact, we are commanded to do so by God Himself. Yet, I do not believe God intends us to forget reality altogether. There is a reason He made nature as predictable as it is. There is a reason why He made us a combination of natural and supernatural reality. We are not yet fully alive to the supernatural world. We have limits. If you doubt this – time and death will have their shared wisdom to impart.
So though nature can be awesome and beautiful, it is also a powerful teacher. It is a part of a complete reality which reminds us of something we might like to forget: we are not God.
As we steward our planet, spend our money, choose our next president, forgive our friends and enemies, it might be wise to keep nature’s limits and poison ivy’s wrath in mind.