‘How can I forgive when it hurts so much?’
‘I need justice God!!’
‘This whole ‘letting go’ thing is just so difficult!!’
Ever said any of those phrases or ones like them? Even in your mind? Even for a split second?
I know I have. I know I still do sometimes, in the deep dark recesses of my mind. And I would hazard a relatively strong guess that I’m not alone.
Because forgiveness is hard.
Where the rubber-meets-the-road-in-our-faith-hard.
I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that everyone liked the sound of forgiveness in principle, until they were the one who had something to forgive.
And today, I got to witness a beautiful moment of forgiveness-in-action.
A situation I won’t go into right now, where a wronged party and a repentant party met in truth and began a journey of forgiveness.
I was an observer.
But it got me thinking.
I remember wrestling through some of these issues with one of my mentors last year, wrestling with how to forgive someone and what that would look like moving forward. Questions like, ‘How can I be free?’ ‘Does forgiveness mean I have to let the same things keep happening to me?’ ‘How do you forget?’
And they gave me some really good advice, starting with what forgiveness is not.
Firstly, they reminded me that forgiveness is not excusing. We excuse a person who is not to blame. We forgive because a wrong has been committed.
Secondly, forgiveness is not giving someone permission to continue hurtful behaviours. We can be in denial, but that isn’t the same as forgiveness, it’s just an illusion that avoids the truth.
These were important things for me to understand.
Because we are forgiven by God because we are guilty and in need of His redemption. We were to blame. We had committed wrong. And God’s forgiveness means that He loves us too much to allow us to continue in our sin, so He calls us into His Truth and holiness.
That’s amazing forgiveness. Awesome grace.
But when we apply those principles it also means that forgiving others doesn’t mean we excuse their behaviour as unimportant, rather we forgive and then we choose not to remember it. It doesn’t mean we give someone permission to continue hurtful behaviour towards us, rather we make the choice to move on and let go of it, trusting that God is the One Judge who sees all things and all motives.
Jesus tells a story in Matthew 18 that helps us see the outworking of the huge challenge, real-reality of forgiveness.
I’m going to paraphrase.
There was a man living in a particular kingdom who owed his King a huge debt that he could never pay.
The debt was more than the man could ever earn, and the interest alone was worth more than all of the man’s possessions.
It was a hopeless case.
Now the King began to settle His accounts with His citizens, and when this particular man was brought before Him, there was only one option.
The man and his family must be sold to repay the debt.
The penalty was harsh.
But it was deserved.
The man heard this judgement, and in desperation he fell on his knees before the King and pleaded for his life and the life of his family. He begged that the King have compassion on him. He begged for patience. He said he would do anything to try and pay the debt back and show the King he had changed.
And so the King, who had a deep compassion on His people, took pity on the man.
He didn’t just give the man a chance to repay his debt.
He completely cancelled the man’s debt and declared him free to go.
But this man, instead of going out rejoicing and thankful, went straight to find a fellow citizen of the kingdom who owed him just three month’s salary.
When he found him, he grabbed the man by the throat and began to choke him in anger at this unpaid debt. He shouted that his money should be repaid and be repaid immediately.
The man heard this request, and in desperation he fell on his knees before his fellow citizen and pleaded for more time. He begged that the man have compassion on him. He begged for patience. He said he would do anything to try and pay the debt back and show the man he had changed.
But the first man refused.
He hardheartedly refused.
He went and had his old friend thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.
And when some mutual friends saw this occurrence, they were distressed and went and told the King what had happened.
And the King was furious.
He called the first man in and called him wicked. ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow man just as I had on you?’
And this first man, who wouldn’t forgive, was thrown into the jail that he had initially escaped, until he could pay back the debt that he would never be able to afford.
And Jesus said, ‘This is how my Heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart’.
The King had forgiven a debt this first man couldn’t have repaid in a hundred lifetimes, and did so simply because he was asked to. This man, on the other hand, demanded full and immediate payment from a friend for a much smaller sum.
And this is the point.
Forgiveness isn’t easy. But it also doesn’t flow from our own human strength.
It flows from the uncomparible-gratitude of our undeserved-receipt of unending-mercy from a Father who did everything to make a way for us through the sacrifice of Jesus, and who grants us Holy Spirit to prompt us and move us to let go and move forward.
Sometimes the person who has wronged us repents. Sometimes they don’t.
So the outcome in the physical can be different.
But the challenge for us is the same.
To forgive from our hearts.
We forgive freely and choose not to remember, because Jesus forgave us freely and chooses not to remember.
I was a sinner deserving nothing but hell, when He reached down and showed me mercy.
And so therefore, I have no rights greater than the understanding that His command to forgive is central to the outworking of my faith.
And I don’t have to remember. I can choose to forget. Because Jesus is Judge. And He sees.
And that means that every sin will be paid for.
Repented of, and paid for by Jesus Himself. His blood covering the wrongs of the contrite that are brought before Him.
Or brought to light at that final judgement where He will reveal all things.
I said a few weeks ago that I was writing a spoken word peace about my testimony. Well, the whole thing isn’t ready, but I’ll finish this blog post with an excerpt that concludes a little.
And in that revelation I found there was healing
And freedom and wholeness in places left bleeding
Because in His reality there could only be healing
By One who had been there, left naked and bleeding
Left hanging there bleeding
Just so that my bleeding
Could stop outward bleeding
And find inward healing.
And I could forgive and I could let go
As one redeemed with only mercy to show
And I could move on and trust it was so
That my God had fought for me
As the One who really did see
My pain and my agony
When I was locked in the valley
And He who had rode for me
And He who had strode for me
To carry me to liberty
And into my destiny.
And into my safety.
And into His purity.
So the things that were done to me no longer bind me
And the lies that were said to me just cannot constrain me
Because what was meant to destroy me, God used to refine me
And the spilt blood of Jesus pours over my history
Restored and redeemed to be used for His glory
Which just leaves me asking,
What does the Lord require of me?
Because I’m longing for purity.
And hoping for dignity.
And pleading for mercy.