Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"Why Can't I Just Forgive Him?"

Doris was truly wronged by someone very close to her. He not only hurt her, but himself as well. She says that she has tried to forgive him, but still she is so hurt, and angry, and she’s wondering, “Why can’t I forgive him?”

Doris probably has forgiven him. Two things to remember: 1. Forgiving, for the Christian, is not an option. And 2. Although I realize that most of the people reading this are not pointy-eared half-Vulcans, forgiveness does not at all require feelings.

Christian, help your self out by taking the hard line. Forgiveness is not an option for us. Most Americans learn from a very early age, what is often called “The Lord’s Prayer.” In the Bible, right after this, Jesus says:

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Matthew 6:14,15

Where would we be without God’s forgiveness? Maybe you do better than I do. But one day soon, you’ll want His forgiveness. If you have not forgiven someone, your prayer life will be hindered. Those who don’t forgive, God likens to that wretch in the parable of “the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:23-35).” Jesus’ warning to those who do not forgive, when they have been forgiven all, is very clear. Forgiveness is not an option.

I guess what makes it seem like an option, is again the whole “feelings” thing. If we’d look at forgiveness more as a legal term, we’d do much better. But, because most of us are not true Vulcans, feelings are usually involved in situations requiring our forgiveness. Feelings, if trusted, can make us think we have not forgiven someone whom we may actually have indeed forgiven. What is forgiveness to us? Our sin was awful!

“For the wages of sin is death…”

If someone appears before God, outside of Christ, they have a debt that is going to be excruciating to pay! We need Jesus. Our debt, that we could never pay, Jesus paid in full for all of us.

“…but the gift of God is eternal life thorough Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 6:23

I doubt that our minds can really fathom how profoundly we’ve abused our free will, and how horrible sin is. When we can look at it from God’s perspective, and keep our eyes on what He has done for us, then we may come at forgiveness a lot easier, than if we focus on our hurt and on those who sinned against us, while trying to muster up forgiveness for them.

You can forgive anyone, if you have the Holy Spirit. Are you trusting Christ for the forgiveness of your sins? Look at what Jesus said as soon as He started imparting the Holy Spirit to His followers:

“…Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
John 20:21-23

Forgiving is the first thing that He talks about when imparting to us, the Holy Spirit. In Christ, we now have the power to forgive. God expects us to use this power. The only ones I guess, who don’t need to forgive others, are those who themselves will never need to be forgiven. I've yet to stone an adultress. You?

One day in Xinjiang, a man just outside our campus, punched me while I was carrying our baby. I couldn’t put the baby down. I had no clue why, and didn't know the man. But honestly, he almost hit the baby’s head! Others around him held him back, and I took the baby to a safe place. Then I returned, not knowing what I would do. I’d never been hit before. Not as an adult anyway. Crazy!

I didn’t see him, and for days I had trouble sleeping. Wrestling with my thoughts of what I would do if I saw him. I was upset still. I don’t recall the punch harming me physically. But you know; we were not created to suffer punches. We were created for fellowship in the Garden of Eden. We weren’t even designed to take insults and slights much less punches! But this ain’t the Garden!

A few nights afterwards, God opened my eyes, reminding me of His love, and my wonderful eternity with Him. I also was to consider this angry man, living in a Muslim region, inside a Communist country. What about hell? Who would tell this man about the saving blood of Jesus? There was no church there, no Billy Graham on TV, no Bible in his language even! I couldn’t “not forgive” him, but neither could I find him.

As weeks passed, the incident often came to mind. When it did, this anger would show up with the recollection. Why was I angry if I forgave him? Even months later, if you’d asked me, “did you ever forgive that guy?” I couldn’t have said. I wasn’t sure, because I was going by my feelings, instead of my decision. My mouth said yes, but my emotions said “not sure.” In my heart, he owed me nothing. He never would have to apologize, or say he was sorry, (or let me give him free hits, or a public wedgie!). He owed me nothing! I’d forgiven him.

Would I be doing this 7 times 70 for the rest of my life? “Honestly, you are fine Tom! The baby’s fine, Tom. Get over it!!!” For peace I would just declare to the heavenly realm, “I have forgiven this man! He owes me nothing!”

Summer came and we traveled south, 4 days away by bus. While there, we visited friends from our school! As is a wonderful custom in Xinjiang, they brought us to their homes, and overfed us Polo and Laghman (Polo is a rice and lamb dish, and Laghman is a homemade, long noodle, lamb and pepper dish). We had wonderful friends in Xinjiang, and hospitality is huge there!

While walking around the market with our friends one day, some more folk from our school saw us, and came over to say hi. One young man had a scar over his right eye. Immediately, I flashed back to that incident, months before. That man had a bandage over his right eye! This was that guy! I knew it! He was avoiding eye contact. And then what came out of my mouth really surprised me! Actually happy he was okay, I said, “Hey, I see your eye is doing better now!”

I was sincerely not upset at all! Despite months battling negative feelings, when I actually saw the man, nothing but happiness that he was okay. I remembered only his wound. Indeed, forgiveness had happened! Jesus had indeed meant what he said about our ability to forgive!

That day in the market, the young man told me that he was indeed the guy that hit me that day. He explained that he was drunk. Apparently, “I was drunk” was his apology. Ha! But it was a nice meeting, and as if for the first time.

Weeks later, back at school, at his invitation, I visited the young man’s dorm, and was able to explain what Jesus has done for him and mankind. I am so glad that God worked it out that way! Had I seen this man the day after he’d hit me, I doubt I’d have been reading to him from the gospel of Mark, explaining about God’s love.

Forgiveness is something that we do by faith. We forgive because God tells us to forgive one another. That is just obedience.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Ephesians 4:32

Feelings are not a good measure for whether or not we’ve forgiven someone. Since that incident, if I have to forgive someone, I just do it. If Satan brings up the wound, I’m quicker now to just say, “Ah, but that is forgiven. They don’t owe me a thing.” And I’m free to think better things.

Debt collectors have no peace. Spiritually speaking, God has so much more exciting things for us to do! Our riches are in Heaven. Yeah, I suppose I could have shaken an apology out of that guy who hit me. But hey, I got to sow some spiritual seed instead! And what if we meet him in Heaven one day?!? I think I’ll pray for him right now!

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Colossians 3:13

Instead of saying, “I can’t forgive them,” the true child of God can say, “I forgive them. God will heal me up, and they owe me no debt.” We can do this!

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by His own glory and goodness.”
2 Peter 1:3

1 comment:

Cathey said...

Thank you Tom for writing my husband Charles while he's in prison. I wrestled with unforgivness, really with the "feelings" part. Charles lead me in prayer and God has redeemed my past.