Almost everyone agrees that such comments are ‘just not cricket’ in any respectful society. However, it has triggered debate about whether it is right to punish someone for historic errors of judgement. Even the Prime Minister (who has his own history of offensive public comments) weighed in sympathetically, suggesting that Robinson’s suspension was “over the top”.
I wonder: Did you ever say or do something really stupid as a teenager? Perhaps the dictionary should define a “teenager” in part as: ‘an immature person with a tendency to do or say foolish things’. Social media didn’t exist when I grew up – thank God! It would have been a dangerous platform to parade my arrogance, pontificate my ignorance and present my foolishness.
So as we think about Ollie Robinson’s suspension, I cannot help but recall the words of Jesus: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Likewise, the psalmist reflects: “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, who could stand?” It’s reassuring that I’m not the only person who suffers from “HPTFTU: the human propensity to [mess] things up” – Francis Spufford’s pointed contemporary definition of “sin”. Daily I am in need of forgiveness – just ask my wife and kids!
However, we live in a secular society that is in danger of forgetting about the power of repentance, redemption and forgiveness. Instead, we see people cancelled for historic mistakes and hear the normalisation of demands for reparations, retribution and revenge in public discourse. Social commentators David Brooks and Jonathan Sacks lament that although we believe in sin, we no longer believe in a source of divine forgiveness.
The point is this: We have all sinned – and we all need mercy. That’s why Jesus teaches us to pray “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us”. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to like them or trust them or be best friends with them… it doesn’t mean that you don’t exercise your legal rights and involve the authorities to deal with illegal or unjust activity - but it does mean you stop holding it over them, dreaming that you will make them hurt like you were hurt or feel what you felt, or rejoicing when misfortune happens to them… instead forgiveness leaves justice in God’s hands.
The New Testament tells us about how God has made a way to justly deal with sin and while mercifully forgiving sinners – and it’s through the cross of Jesus Christ, where divine justice and mercy meet. The bible summarises: “For God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
We can only forgive the unforgivable in others if we experience God's forgiveness for the unforgivable in ourselves. Remembering that might help us to be more merciful and more forgiving of others for their faults and failures.
Rev David Nixon is Associate Pastor of Carrubbers Christian Centre on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile