I don’t know what it’s like to have people take my children away at gunpoint from our village and to have my son forced into violent warfare and my daughter sold as a sex slave.
I don’t know what it is like to have my parents betray me to the government secret police because of my religion and held without trial for years and years.
I think that any time someone preaches on the topic of forgiveness, there is more than one person who wonders, sometimes angrily, how forgiveness is even an option for people who have had such atrocities foisted upon them.
How dare we even suggest that Nazis in Germany deserve to be forgiven for the killing of 6 million Jews?
What right do we have to think that rebels in Darfur deserve forgiveness for what they have done to families and children in their already war-torn country?
How does someone have the audacity to believe that someone’s closest relatives should be forgiven for a betrayal that would lead to imprisonment in a Chinese prison for years on end?
Hard to answer those questions. Especially since I have never gone through what those people went through.
And a huge part of me is very sympathetic to those arguments. When I hear it with my ears and see it through my eyes, I don’t see the fairness of it. In fact, the injustice of it becomes almost overwhelming.
And yet, when I look at the Scriptures, which I have said that I believe to be the record of God’s revelation… I seem to find a different story. In Matthew 6- The Sermon on the Mount; in the story of the Good Samaritan; at the table of purpose in Psalm 23… I seem to find a view that says “deserve” doesn’t have anything to do with offering forgiveness.
And when I think about it, it the “undeservingness” of forgiveness that actually makes it worth something.
So how do we reconcile these two seemingly incompatible ideas?
Maybe it is too much for some of us to start off forgiving the acts of genocide.
Maybe we need to start working on something closer to home.
Can we come to a place where we forgive the Al Qaeda terrorists who murdered 3000 Americans 10 years ago? If not, try closer. Can we forgive those terrible Republicans who are trying to steal the welfare of old ladies and little kids or those evil Democrats who want to ban God from the world and abort all those little kids? If not, try closer.
Can we forgive our coworker or boss who makes our lives a living hell day after day in the work place? If not, try closer.
Can we even forgive a family member who has hurt us so deeply that it seems the wound will never scar over?
As I think about it, I imagine for some it might be easier to forgive the faceless terrorist than it is to forgive the loved one who broke our heart.
So no matter what the hurt imposed upon us, I suppose that forgiveness is usually a tough thing to muster up inside of us.
But I am reminded of the greatest crime in history. The greatest betrayal ever committed in the world. And as the Lord God of Heaven was placed upon a crucifixion tree and the whole of humanity stood below him guilty as sin and as undeserving as anyone has ever been, his words were…
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
And if there can be forgiveness even in the midst of that, there can be forgiveness anywhere.
Forgiveness for others. But also forgiveness for ourselves. I think it is so important that we are honest with ourselves when it comes to this. Is there something or many things that we have hidden deep within our hearts for which we have never forgiven ourselves?
Is there something that sits on you and weighs you down, something that constantly tells you a story about yourself that is false and destructive?
Find that. Root it out. Know that until you are able to forgive yourself, you can never really forgive others.
Something we don’t often think about is the idea that maybe some of us need to come to a place where we forgive God for something.
Blasphemy! I know.
But I think that a lot of times, we blame God for all the hurt and pain and struggles of lives. Not everybody but enough. We cannot reconcile in our hearts how a good and loving God can allow things to happen to us. And we are taught that we dare not question God or get mad at God, so we shove those feelings down and lock them up and they fester and rot until that blame turns into hate.
I believe with my whole heart that God is big enough to handle it.
I believe with my whole heart that God would rather us be angry and honest than subservient and false.
Scripture shows us over and over again that God can deal with angry. God can deal with honest.
Who in your life needs to be forgiven? God, others, yourself?
And bear in mind that forgiveness is not a happy good time wiping clean of the slate.
Our actions still have consequences.
When David, a person after God’s own heart, made choices that led not only to adultery but to cold blooded murder, the Lord sent Nathan to show him his sin.
And David repented.
And David was forgiven.
But the consequences remained and his mistakes affected him, his wife, and his son.
So it’s not a matter of having to choose between justice and forgiveness. They are not mutually exclusive in any way.
And it seems to me that of all the attributes of the Kingdom of God, forgiveness appears to be as essential as it gets.
If we are serious about emulating our example and serious about that Kingdom being here on earth as it is in heaven, then we must be a people of forgiveness.
But not just giving forgiveness to others, but also seeking forgiveness for ourselves.
Christ tells us in Matthew 5 that if we are about to give an offering to God and we remember that someone has a beef with us, we need to leave that line immediately and try to make things right with that person.
This is how important Christ thought receiving forgiveness was. Leave your offering. Seek out the person you have wronged. Try to set things straight. Put your pride and ego aside and repair your relationship.
We talk a lot about giving forgiveness but it seems to be important to also seek it out. To give people the opportunity to forgive.
It is a humbling thing to ask for forgiveness. And we do not like to be humble. We want to think that we are somehow more deserving of forgiveness than those who have hurt us, than those who have betrayed us.
But we have all owed a debt. A debt that we could not pay. Do we actually think that our debt is less important or less valuable than someone else’s debt?
Don’t be fooled. Don’t believe the false story that would have us be an unforgiving people. That would have us be a people who don’t believe that we need forgiveness from others.
Think about the cost of forgiveness this week. Think about what it means to offer it and receive it.