Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Sin, Responsibility and Forgiveness

Gianna Volonte

RELG 390

Research Paper #2

Prof. Mahallati

October 11, 2019

            Recall from my last paper that I concluded, through evidence in the Christian and Islamic stories of the Fall of Adam and Eve, that there was the possibility of an unproductive relationship between responsibility and forgiveness.  While I would like to explore this thesis further, I have found that my most recent research actually supports the counterargument to the claim of an unproductive relationship between responsibility and forgiveness.  Therefore, in this paper, I will propose that the institutions of forgiveness, provided by Christian and Islam traditions, have proved useful in encouraging responsibility of one’s actions.  In order to do so, I will look strictly at the roll of repentance in earthly and divine forgiveness and thought. 

            Repentance can be loosely defined as an apology or admittance of one’s wrongs typically followed by asking for forgiveness.  Though it seems like a simple act, repentance actually carries severe weight and is incredibly influential to the positive or negative growth of a relationship.  Not only does repentance demonstrate guilt and mindfulness but it is also “the mould which gives the spirit of love its shape.” [1]On another note, in a religious context, repentance is understood as a foundational building block to the establishment of a relationship with God, and further, “the responsibilities of repentance include demonstrating genuine remorse and making a sincere effort to repair a breach created between the parties involved.”[2]  In repenting, followers express respect and a desire to be close with God, for “repentance means that you should turn from everything but God.”[3]  It is important to note, as well, that repentance is not a one-time action.  It is something that needs to be repeated constantly with the same legitimacy and honesty as the last repentance.  

We can find the importance of repentance in the following reading of Moucarry, “repentance is the best deed as no deed is acceptable without it.” [4]  The argument Moucarry is presenting falls back on the fact that humans are inherently sinful creatures who need to constantly work towards building their relationship with God. This quote, after thorough reflection, can be understood in the simple statement of think before you do.   Composing yourself as a forgiving or self-aware person is therefore composing yourself as someone capable of repenting genuinely and purposefully.  It was for this reason that God “made it necessary for everyone to repent. He disclosed to everyone how degrading sin is, and in doing so made them all guilty of negligence.”[5]Therefore, instead of letting humans live in misery, guilt, and evil, He gave them the choice to repent; and in doing so He created conditions such that humans would also have the chance to learn from their mistakes and grow in their relationship with Him and with each other.  

Though there are many conditions for repentance throughout the Bible and the Qur’an, I am going to focus on a select three; punishment, acceptance, and acknowledgment.  I could dedicate an entire paper to the specificities of punishment but for the purpose of this assignment I would just like to acknowledge that, “God’s pardon is granted to the thief who repents afterhe has been punished.”[6]  Under this condition then, punishment must be had, whether legally or divinely, and then the sinner can ask for forgiveness.  If the events occur out of this order, not only will God notgrant forgiveness, but the repentance will lack legitimacy. For in experiencing a punishment, no matter the degree, the sinner becomes more aware of the consequences of their actions and their levels of guilt peak. Such an experience would not be capable if it were not for punishment.  More so, we can scrutinize the role of acceptance in repenting, this role being, “we cannot call on God, the Father of all men, if there are any men whom we refuse to treat as brothers, since all men are created in God’s image.”[7]  I would like to draw emphasis to the usage of “any” and “all”. This standard of love traverses all borders, all oceans, and all barriers, and is literally a universal condition for asking for forgiveness from God.  It states, in other words, you cannot ask for or receive divine forgiveness until, you, yourself, are willing to love and accept all men as your brother and as God’s people.  With the acceptance of this condition, the last point I would like to bring to attention is acknowledgement, specifically acknowledgement of the sin or wrongdoing. “This acknowledged disappointment with one’s actions to an offended party is important to repairing a relational breach, and demonstrates a willingness to accept ownership by the person responsible for harm.” [8]  The role of acknowledgement is imperative when it comes to relationship building and fortification. Whether that relationship be earthly or divine, acknowledgement of a wrongdoing demonstrates vulnerability and a willingness to make up for one’s faults further encouraging forgiveness from the other party.  By these three rolls, not only is repentance possible, but also forgiveness for the action and a chance to grow within the relationship of the transgressor and the transgressed.  

Though in the future I would like to explore the idea of an unhealthy relationship between responsibility and forgiveness, it is important to acknowledge and discuss, the possibility of a healthy relationship.  By following the conditions laid out in this paper, a sinner earns the opportunity to better themselves and the world around them while strengthening their bonds between the earthly and divine realms.  

[1]Chawatt Moucarry, The Search for Forgiveness: Pardon and Punishment is Islam and Christianity, 199.

[2]Cam Caldwell, Repentance and Continuous Improvement: Ethical Implications for the Modern Leader, Journal of Business Ethics, Vol, 102, No. 3, (September 2011), 476

[3]Moucarry, The Search for Forgiveness: Pardon and Punishment is Islam and Christianity, 201.

[4]Moucarry, 199.

[5]Moucarry, 200.

[6]Moucarry, 277.

[7]John Hick, Christianity and Other Religions: Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions, (1965), 85.

[8]Caldwell, Repentance and Continuous Improvement: Ethical Implications for the Modern Leader, Journal of Business Ethics, 477

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