Monday, November 7, 2016
“The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.” ― Marianne Williamson
The first and most important thing to know about forgiveness is that for an authentic Christian it is NOT an option. Forgiveness is not a guideline, a recommendation, or a suggestion—it is absolutely mandated by Christ and failure to forgive comes with negative consequences spelled out by Christ himself. You must remember that Christ forgave those who beat Him and drove nails into his hands and feet and hung him on a cross to die—He forgave those people. When the twelve that He called personally asked Him about prayer, He taught them what we call the “Our Father” or “The Lord’s Prayer” and as soon as He had said the words, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” He warned in no uncertain terms that if we did not forgive then God would not forgive us. That’s right—we don’t forgive, God doesn’t forgive. It’s a quid pro quo, a contract between God and us. If we forgive, then and only then does God forgive. Matthew 6:15 “But if you do NOT forgive others their sins, your Father will NOT forgive your sins.” (I added the emphasis, but did I really need to?). There are other occasions when Christ laid down the law about forgiveness. When Peter asked Him how many times we should forgive, He told Peter not seven times but seventy times seven. Jewish law required that you forgive three times, so when Peter doubled that and added one, I think he was expecting a pat on the back, but Christ came back with a huge number. Matthew 18:22 “Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." Remember these folks counted on their fingers and toes, no calculators, no computers, no smart phones, not even an abacus, just what they could count making seventy times seven a huge almost infinite number. Even if Christ wasn’t speaking figuratively like I think He was, 490 times (70X7) is more times than I think any one of us has ever forgiven anyone. Christ immediately followed this exhortation to Peter with the parable of the unforgiving debtor whose own debts were forgiven, but who then refused to forgive the small debts a man owed him. The result? This is Christ speaking, “His lord was angry, and delivered him to the tormentors, until he should pay all that was due to him. So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don't each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds." See, it is NOT an option. It’s not easy either, but it must be done if you want forgiveness for yourself. We so easily slide over the second part of that line in the prayer “. . . as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It’s really simple. If we want forgiveness, we must forgive and this is a direct commandment from Christ to us with dire consequences for failure. Happily, it only applies to those who are true followers of Christ, so if you’re only an hour a week on Sunday Christian, well . . .
The second thing that every Christian needs to know about forgiveness is that it does NOT equal amnesty. Nowhere does it say that those who have transgressed won’t have negative consequences for their actions. I readily forgive my son for breaking my car window, but he will have to pay to replace it. When Ethel Kennedy flew to California to forgive the man who murdered her husband, she did not ask that he be set free. She was actually getting freedom for herself—freedom from the hatred, bitterness, and resentment that can imprison every person who is sinned against and does not forgive. Nelson Mandela said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.” He was right.
I have worked with many divorced persons and every single one of them who was able to forgive their spouse, felt a freedom and release they had never expected or never thought to feel. It is liberating to forgive, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t let the courts and the law do whatever the spouse's actions require. Yes, you must forgive if you are to be a true follower of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, but that doesn’t mean that you forget actions that should have negative consequences for those who did them. Forgiveness isn’t for the other person, it is for you. God will take care of whatever is needed. God says, “Vengeance is mine.” That means, you don’t worry about getting even, you worry about getting free of the hatred and resentment that will put you in a prison for the rest of your life. I know you can forgive because every one of you has forgiven someone at some point in your life, but every single one of you is probably still nursing hatred and resentment against someone who you need to forgive so that you can receive God’s forgiveness. That’s what’s really important, having God forgive us for our sins because we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, and God WILL forgive us, AS we forgive. No if’s and’s or but’s here, this part of Christ’s teachings is crystal clear. You remember this over the next few days, huh?