patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Monday, January 30, 2012

it's a lesson in something

We don’t have TV in our house because, if we did, I’d be watching it all the time and never get anything done. That’s the only way I’ve ever been able to do self control: 100% avoidance.

Anyway, we do have a television, which my husband and I use to watch movie videos. And, recently, the first season of a TV show we watched while out in California visiting my dad: The Good Wife. In the episode we watched last night, “Boom,” a pastor praises the eponymous heroine—a cuckolded wife who stays by her (imprisoned) man—for the Christianness of her behavior:
“I’ve respected the way you’ve stood by your husband,” Pastor Isaiah tells her. “It’s a lesson in Christian forbearance.”
“Well, it’s a lesson in something,” she responds.
I was struck by this word forbearance, clearly intended as a synonym for forgiveness, although it’s not a word I’d ever use for that. Forbearance is a decidedly different word to me. Not so much about genuine the acceptance of another’s repentance and resultant relinquishment of rancor or hate that I call “forgiveness” but rather something more like having the stamina to put up with something unbearably noxious. Although the Good Wife is probably not a Christian—she rolls her eyes at husband's newfound faith and mocks the Good Pastor at every opportunity (Might this foreshadow some future misdeed on Pastor Isaiah's part? If so, don't tell me! We're not there yet.)—the “Christian forbearance” Pastor Isaiah so admires seems to be that she can stand to stay with her creep of a husband after learning the increasingly salacious details of his adulterous exploits.

Anyway, I felt that the fictional pastor, here, was clearly initiating a scriptural discussion with me, so I went to the Bible to find out where all this forbearance business was coming from.

According to The NIV Exhaustive Concordance, the word is used only once in my usual translation: in Paul’s letter to the Roman church, where he writes that “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (3:25-26). The Greek word in the passage—ἀνοχή, anochē—is used only twice in the entire New Testament, translated here as forbearance and in Romans 2:4 as tolerance" and in both cases praising God for not punishing believers for sins committed before their conversion to faith.

Not much to go on here, so I decided the Good Pastor—and, his seeming sexism notwithstanding, he is a refreshingly “good” guy for a preacher in the popular media—must be using another translation. The word had a King Jamesian feel to it, so I tried the KJV. There, too, the word only appeared twice, for the same Greek word, exclusively in reference to God.

In a few of the other translations I looked at, ἀνοχή in these two passages is traslated as righteousness.

The word forbearance is, in short, rare in scripture and only ever occurs in reference to God’s not punishing us for sins we committed before coming to faith. I find it curious, then, and disturbing, that this fictional TV pastor (speaking for many, I reckon) not only uses the term prescriptively for humans but seems to understand this business of forbearing to be synonymous with unconditional forgiveness: staying with an adulterous spouse who would probably never even have repented had he not been publically outed. In other words, a “good wife” will forgive her man and stay with him no matter what. (I was going to say a “good spouse,” but I don’t think the expression “good husband” connotes anything like forbearance.)

"What," the pastor later in the episode sermonizes, "does Christian forbearance mean?"

What indeed? What is this perplexing feat of forbearance so esteemed over real forgiveness, the kind accompanied by honesty and occasioned by genuine repentance?

Surely it's a lesson in something. I'm just not sure what.