Friday, May 27, 2005

A God Who Forgives

"Forgiveness – the act of excusing or pardoning others in spite of their slights, shortcomings, and errors. As a theological term, forgiveness refers to God’s pardon of the sins of human beings."

At some point in our lives we’ve all been in the position of wanting forgiveness or being asked for forgiveness. Sometimes we give it, sometimes we withhold it, sometimes we receive it, and sometimes it is withheld from us.

In fact, I’d even be daring enough to say that one or two of you reading this article has had an act perpetrated against you that you find hard to forgive and just about impossible to forget. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that the perpetrator is probably lucky that the old eye-for-an-eye adage is no longer enforced, or they’d be utilizing a seeing-eye-dog, right about now.

But maybe you’ve been one of the lucky ones who made it through childhood without any major league traumatic experiences, but you just love to hold a grudge. If asked why you weren’t speaking to the grudgee, you probably couldn’t even say, because all you recall, is that somewhere, someway, somehow, and/or at some time, they hurt your feelings.

But for those of us who didn’t escape the trauma, how do you forgive the unforgivable? I mean, how do you forgive someone for taking, by force, that which you didn’t offer? How do you forgive the resultant self-hatred? How do you deal with the fact that the one who was supposed to protect you, instead violated you? How do you forgive the loss of hope? Or muffle the incessant refrain of “Why me…Lord?”

How do you forgive the husband or boyfriend who uses you as a punching bag, because he loves you, and you just keep on doing things to make him mad? How do you forgive the parents who abandoned you to the mercies of the state; The resultant bouncing around from foster home to foster home, where more often than not the foster parents cared more about the paycheck they received than your welfare?

How do you forgive the furtive gropings and invasion of your person you endured while being told it’s because I love you, but don’t tell anyone, because it’s too special to share so it’s our little secret? How do you forgive the best friend who should have had your back, but while you were working overtime to pay the bills, she was working overtime on your man?

How do you deal with these injustices?

May I suggest to you that it is possible to forgive what seems unforgivable? Am I denying the fact that you were hurt? No. Am I negating your pain? Never! But what I want to propose to you today, is that weeping may endure for a night, but joy will come in the morning! I know, beautiful prose! But what does it mean, really? I’m so glad you asked.

It means that your pain has a time limit, a season if you will, and a purpose under heaven. I’ll even go so far as to say that the catalyst for the cessation of pain is directly tied up in forgiveness. In order for you to move on to the next step, which is healing, you need to give the gift of forgiveness to the offender and most importantly, to yourself.

In my struggle to work towards forgiveness, I read and re-read Jesus’ last moments on the cross. I imagined there was some pain but I couldn’t quite empathize. The passion of Christ, I was told, which came out last year around Easter, did an excellent job of portraying His agony. I never did get to see it, because I’m a bit squeamish. But I just couldn’t let it go. After some rooting around on the web, I found this article which delineates the medical complaints of Jesus on the cross:

I don’t know about you but when I’m in pain, I’m short tempered (which means I’m less than my usual tactful self, even a little mean spirited, sort of that "misery loves company" mindset). I want to be alone, by myself. No hovering, no fussing, just thinking about no one else but me. Just a little bit short of a pity party.

After reading the true nature of Jesus’ injuries, and the fact that He refused the combination of gall and myrrh, which would have served to dull His pain, I found His fortitude and lack of vindictiveness uncommon. As I re-read the scriptures describing His last moments on the cross, I marveled at how He took time out to say “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

So, again I pose the question. How do you forgive the unforgivable? Or maybe I should ask. Is it really that hard to forgive? Or are you holding onto your hurt, out of habit? Might you just be holding on, because it’s all you’ve known for five, ten, fifteen or maybe even twenty years?

Has it become like a familiar companion? You know exactly what to expect from it. It won’t ever disappoint you; it’s there when you need it. As a reason not to try something new, or when you need a scapegoat for every thing that has ever gone wrong in your life. It’s there beside you as you watch the world go by, saying “if only”, “when I,” or “I could have.” Stunted, unmoving, crippled by your memories.

How do you forgive the unforgivable?

May I suggest that you follow the example of A God who forgives? One who has and will never ask of us, what He hasn't done Himself, for He was fully God, yet fully man. He experienced every bit of agonizing pain the cross-offered, but still, His love for us superseded that of His pain, while He took time out to see to our forgiveness.

During His ministry, the question was asked, how often should I forgive…7 x 7? The answer was 70 x 7. I’m sure right now someone is thinking, but if I keep forgiving, they’ll keep on doing it! Maybe, but our forgiveness is dependent on our forgiving others. Even as we go to pray, if it comes to mind that we haven’t forgiven someone, we are to stop praying and forgive, in order to avoid any hindrance to our communication with God.

Unforgiveness hinders our communication with God? It most surely does. To remain unforgiving, you have to nurse the hurt, recall it quite frequently, harden your heart. In essence you slowly poison yourself with bitterness. The bitterness acts as a wall between God and us.

Why do we need to forgive?

Two reasons:

  1. Matthew 6:14: which states “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;”
  2. Romans 6:23 states that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Which means that no matter how big or small the disobedience, the punishment is death. Right about here, we get comfortable, because we’re confident in the fact that we love God, haven’t murdered, raped, committed adultery, blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, robbed a bank, embezzled funds or run over anyone with our car. Which is all good, but don’t get too comfortable just yet. If you’ve never told a lie, been envious, run a red light, stolen a quarter from your parents, jaywalked, listened to gossip, failed to return a library book, cheated, or disobeyed God in any way; if you’ve done everything you were ever supposed to do every single time…then you have no need to forgive. But for the rest of us, the following are some practical steps towards the process of forgiveness:
  • Choice -- Decide you are going to forgive
  • Love –Allow love to continue flowing – don’t shut down or close yourself off
  • Faith -- Realize that we forgive by faith, not by feeling: Utilizing faith allows us to act as if a thing is so, in order that it may become so. In other words…you may start out faking it, but your genuine desire to act on your faith will connect you to God’s store of faith for you.
  • Obedience--We must forgive others if we don’t want to disobey God and break our fellowship with Him. As Christ forgave us without being asked we may need to forgive others who have not nor will ever ask our forgiveness. The forgiveness may be undeserved, but the reward of healing and reconciliation makes it worthwhile.
  • Forget --You must be willing to forget past hurts. Forget about it. Stop willfully calling it to mind. Or if it does come to mind consciously replace it with a good memory or find something positive you learned out of the bad memory. You may even want to print out some scriptures dealing with forgiveness like Matt. 6:14, Romans 6:23 on an index card and carry it around with you, to whip out when needed.
  • Prayer – Pray for the offender, a biggie, I know
  • Turnover -- Give the hurt to God. Resolve to let it go.

I think the hardest thing for me to get about forgiveness is that it wasn’t about me, it’s about obedience to God and in my obedience I reap the reward of being released from the yoke of my hurt. I had to realize that accepting grace meant I had to be responsible enough to show grace myself. I had to remind myself of how I felt when I discovered that no matter what I had done previously, God still loves me. Or if you can’t relate, I reminded myself that no matter what a screwup I was or still am at times, my family loves me.

Forgiveness is about passing on that kind of revelation, to others who have no concept of it themselves.

Maybe you’re on the top of someone’s feces list and you feel the weight of their unforgiveness. Or maybe you’re sitting there feeling the weight of the unforgiveness you have towards yourself, because sometimes we can be our own worst enemy.

No worries, the only sin God will not forgive is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is giving Satan credit for acts of God, accomplished by the Holy Spirit. This sin is unpardonable, not because God cannot or will not forgive such a sin but because such a hard-hearted person has placed Himself beyond the possibility of repentance and faith.

If you’re one who’s never accepted the forgiveness/salvation/justification/love of God. Trapped in the notion that you’re not worthy of forgiveness, because folks have told you repeatedly that you’re nothing, you’ve been nothing and you’ll never amount to anything and somewhere along the line, you started believing them. Or if you have accepted and got a little sidetracked and feel that you’ve tracked too far to return.

I’m here to assure you today that God is A God who forgives!

He is clear when He states that He came not for those who have their acts together but He came for the screwups, like you and I. His forgiveness is available to all who would choose to receive it.

Three steps:

1) Repent
2) believe it
3) receive it!

He meets you at the point of your need. As you step forward, He’s ready and willing to embrace you to His bosom, He’s the shepherd who will leave the whole flock undone, searching out the one mislaid sheep.

Will you come?

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