Sometimes we need to learn how to forgive God—but not because He needs it.
One of my favorite books is The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, and a big part of that favoritism is rooted in my love of Molly Grue, a woman with sorrows and strength and hard-won wisdom. When she first meets the unicorn of the book’s title, she is the harried companion of a crude and mildly delusional Robin Hood wannabe. Her life is on a dead-end track.
When she sees the unicorn, first she does her best to curtsy to the immortal, pure, otherworldly creature before her. Then, “Molly sprang up, red from hairline to throat hollow. ‘Where have you been?’ she cried. ‘Damn you, where have you been?’”1
Schmendrick, the unicorn’s human
“Where have you been?” Before the whiteness and the shining horn, Molly shrank to a shrilling beetle[. . . .] Molly laughed with her lips flat. “And what good is it to me that you’re here now? Where were you twenty years ago, ten years ago? How dare you, how dare you
cometo me now, when I am this?” With a flap of her handshe summed herself up: barren face, desert eyes, and yellowing heart. “I wish you had never come, why do you come now?” The tears began to slide down the sides of her nose.
The unicorn made no reply, and Schmendrick said, “She is the last. She is the last unicorn in the world.”
“She would be.” Molly sniffed. “It would be the last unicorn in the world that came to Molly Grue.”2
Then, Molly Grue does something unthinkable. Up to that point in the novel, it’s been made abundantly clear that only virgin women touch unicorns, and even then, only when they spend time enticing the unicorn to them. People do not approach unicorns; they do not touch unicorns unless the unicorns decide they want to be touched.
She reached up then to lay her hand on the unicorn’s cheek; but both of them flinched a little, and the touch came to rest on the swift, shivering place under the jaw. Molly said, “It’s all right. I forgive you.”3 (emphasis added)
Schmendrick, who is fully in awe of the unicorn, loses his mind a little bit: “Unicorns are not to be forgiven.”4
Part of what I love about The Last Unicorn is that it can be read in many ways. This particular scene has resonated with me in different ways at different times, but recently it struck me as a good display of what it looks like to forgive God.
Forgiving the Divine
Now, a lot of people might say, like Schmendrick, that God is not to be forgiven. And in some ways, they’re right: God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. He is perfect; He is a divine parent who “know[s] how to give good gifts to [His] children”5; He has a plan for us. So really, chances are He has things well in hand and, if we knew the whole story, we’d get that He’s on our side.
But that doesn’t mean we never need to forgive Him. Sometimes forgiveness means letting go of resentments that are unearned, but we have nonetheless bestowed on others. And we shovel a heap-ton of resentments at our Heavenly Father’s feet.
- Where are you?
- Why did you let this happen?
- Why do you allow so much pain?
- Why didn’t you stop me from making this choice?
- Why don’t you punish this person?
- Why don’t you answer me?
- Why didn’t you rescue me sooner?
- Why do you come to me now, when I am this?
The list of grievances we can hurl at Him is limited only by our perspectives. And sometimes, that list requires forgiveness (and a perspective shift). Forgiveness in this situation isn’t about ameliorating a wrong: chances are, once we have time to look carefully and with a wider perspective, we’ll eventually see the love in God’s actions.
In my own life, among the wreckage of things I’ve seen fall apart, I’ve also seen the loving respect Heavenly Father has for my agency and for the agency of those around me. I’ve felt deep love for people who make terrible choices. I’ve known that certain people weren’t ready to hear the answer I knew they needed to learn eventually.
If I can see, feel, and know those things in my limited capacity for loving, knowing, and perceiving, then surely God is still loving, knowing, and looking out for us in every situation of our lives.
I believe in God, and I believe He loves me, and I don’t believe He has ever done anything in my life that required forgiveness. But I have still had to forgive Him.
Accepting Him as He Is
Sometimes forgiveness means looking at someone and accepting that they aren’t always what you wish they’d be. Sometimes forgiveness means letting go of what you expected or wanted. Sometimes it means embracing what is actually in front of you.
In Isaiah chapter 55, the Lord says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”6 We can’t fully understand the love and perspective our Father has. His ways are not our ways. So what we think should happen and what actually should happen are likely to be very different. But if we can remember that He loves us and He has a plan, we might find it in our hearts to heal the breach we see between what we want God to give us and what He actually gives us.
This forgiveness isn’t about God—it’s about us. It’s about forgiving God for not being what we wish He would be. We let go of the what ifs, the if
And that forgiveness can heal us.
Power in Forgiveness
After Molly Grue forgives the unicorn, her dead-end life opens up. She journeys with the unicorn to the sea, advises a prince, walks through time, and witnesses great works. And throughout the story, she is the only human to touch the unicorn. Even Prince Lír, who transforms his life to draw near to the unicorn and who the unicorn, in turn, transforms for, never actually touches her. Only Molly Grue, who is definitely no virgin maiden, comes that close to the purity, the eternity, and the near-perfection of the unicorn.
When we let go of our resentments, we can draw closer to God than ever before. When we seek to gain a greater understanding of God as He is, we understand more of the divine plan than any distant, heartless study could teach us. Forgiveness is love, and when we love God more, our intimacy with him grows. Our internal transformation can open up our lives to possibilities, to power, and
Sometimes we may not think this intimacy is for us. We may be, like Molly Grue, barren faced, desert eyed, and yellow hearted. We may think like Schmendrick does when he’s taken aback by the unicorn’s acceptance of Molly’s forgiveness and her touch:
“Unicorns are for beginnings,” [Schmendrick] said, “for innocence and purity, for newness. Unicorns are for young girls.”
Molly was stroking the unicorn’s throat as timidly as though she were blind. She dried her grimy tears on the white mane. “You don’t know much about unicorns,” she said.7
When we think God is not for us, when He is too late in our lives, when our hearts are too yellow or raw or broken for Him, we show that we don’t know much about God. We’re telling God He can’t love us, can’t heal us, can’t possibly know us in all our darkness and sorrow.
And we’re wrong. We need to let go of what we’ve decided God is—someone only for the pure and the new and young, or whatever traits we don’t have that we decide He values most—and accept Him for what He is: all-knowing,all-loving, all-merciful, and all-just. And then we can touch the hands of God, which are always outstretched to us, and let Him walk beside us—just as He’s always wanted.
- Beagle, Peter S. The Last Unicorn. New York: ROC, 2008, pg. 96.
- Beagle 97
- Beagle 97–98
- Beagle 98
- Matthew 7:11
- Isaiah 55:8–9
- Beagle 98