Have you ever met someone who hasn’t forgiven another person who’s been dead for 15 years? Unforgiveness is rampant in the human experience, and in the Church.
Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #18 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.
Your son steals the family car and eventually calls three weeks later from three states away. Your spouse has been unfaithful. Your pastor absconds with several thousand dollars of your church’s funds. You are the focus of a slanderous attack that undermines your reputation. Your business partner finds some way to cheat you, legally, and walks away with your investment. Someone abused you in terrible ways. Your father or mother have been gone for decades, but you’re still haunted by the memory of how one or both wronged you.
The “normal” response pattern to all these circumstances might include disbelief, hurt, anger, bitterness, and maybe vengeance. Some people might even argue that such emotions are justifiable and understandable. Some claim that certain acts perpetrated against us are forever unforgiveable.
People expect a certain amount of “righteous anger.” It’s a part of our American code of individualistic ethics. Kill or be killed. Hallowed self-defense. John Wayne rides again.
But I’ve got to believe that most of us are not very good at separating “righteous anger” from unrighteous, carnal wrath. That’s why forgiveness seems like an even more unlikely response. At least with anger, righteous or otherwise, you get the satisfaction of directing your feelings toward the offender. With forgiveness you don’t even get that. You let go and walk away.
Actually, forgiveness is a rather un-human thing to do. Think about it. Forgiveness goes against the grain. If someone hurts us, why should you forgive them? What’s in it for us? Forgiveness isn’t the typically human response.
Forgiving seems too much like yielding. It smacks of injustice and weakness. It’s almost as if we’re allowing for some legitimacy in the offender’s actions. Besides, if we want to be religious about it, doesn’t the Old Testament say, “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”? Shouldn’t we retaliate? Can’t we all think of a couple of people whose teeth we’d like to knock out?
You see, forgiveness really is un-human. Forgiveness does not fit our human psyche. It’s not natural.
But then again, who said we should be natural? Being natural means that we’re following the nature we were born with and that, according to Scripture, is an evil nature, a heart that is deceitful and wicked (Jer. 17:9).
My wife and I did not teach any of our four children (now adults) to lie, but they all did sooner or later. We didn’t teach them to cheat, but they did that too. They did what comes natural. They sinned. I’ve done the same things and more. I’ve let the “natural man” control my heart and my response.
Yet we should not want to do what comes “natural.” We should be interested in the supernatural. We should allow the Spirit of God to work in our hearts to redeem the natural and make us useful for his service in the here and now. It’s only through submission to the Lord that we can do the “un-human” thing and forgive those who hurt us.
If forgiveness is un-human, unforgiveness is inhuman. Unforgiveness eats away at the spirit of the unforgiver and sometimes the unforgiven.
We describe torture, cruelty, and vicious violence as inhuman. We detest “man’s inhumanity to man” as evidenced in slavery, killing, genocide, or unlawful capture and detainment. Inhuman action is hurtful, destructive action.
Unforgiveness is inhuman because it hurts us, you or me. Unforgiveness binds and restricts. It chokes and destroys. It cruelly works emotional and spiritual violence on the soul.
Unforgiveness is to the spirit what disease is to the physical body. Unforgiveness debilitates, slowly and steadily. It begins to determine what we do and who we are.
Unforgiveness captures our future.
But unforgiveness has a remedy. We don’t have to live in spiritual and emotional ill health. Forgiveness is the remedy that frees us from the bondage of sin. Life, liberty and joy are ours to embrace.
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Our ability as Christians to forgive others is rooted entirely in the fact that God through Christ has already forgiven us. Through Christ’s shed blood we enjoy redemption, the forgiveness of sin (Col. 1:14). We are “free from” sin and “free to be” what God wants us to be.
I conclude every podcast with the powerful biblical statement, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1).
The fact of God’s forgiveness literally gives us a new lease on life.
Think with me about the ways that God’s forgiveness liberates us.
- Forgiveness frees us from rendering vengeance.
When we forgive, we leave vengeance and justice to the Lord (Rom. 12:17-21). We don’t have to become buddies with the one who hurt us, but we don’t need to retaliate either. God will bring all things to account.
- Forgiveness frees us from possibly thwarting God’s purposes.
Forgiveness frees us to acknowledge the sovereignty of God even in the hurtful things he allows to come into our lives. Esau eventually forgave Jacob for stealing his birthright, and Joseph forgave his brothers for their treachery in selling him into slavery. At the time of the offense, none of them knew that what some meant for evil, God meant for good.
- Forgiveness frees us to testify to God’s love.
Jesus forgave the wicked woman at the well, he forgave the Christian-killer Saul who became the Apostle Paul, and he forgave me. When we forgive others, contrary to human nature, we are a testimony of the grace of God. People simply cannot understand it.
In October 2006, people worldwide were amazed when Amish families forgave the man who shot ten and killed five young girls in a Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania schoolhouse, then killed himself. The families then attended his burial, hugged his widow, and donated money to her and the man’s three children, victims all. How could the Amish families do this?
In December 2014, an 11-year-old Iraqi girl, Myriam, was interviewed by Essam Nagy of Christian channel SAT-7 KIDS. In the video that eventually went globally viral and was reported on news agencies in multiple languages, she says she forgave ISIS for what they did to her hometown of Qaraqosh, Iraq, driving she and her Christian family from their home, killing others, and destroying the community. How could she do this?
In February 2015, ISIS theatrically beheaded 21 Christian men on a Libyan beach. Later, one man’s brother, and a mother of two of the men and mother-in-law to another, called the Christian channel SAT-7 to express forgiveness of the ISIS men, praying for their salvation. How could these aggrieved families do this?
Forgiveness is a supreme act of spiritual maturity. It is only possible in those who have grown in Christ to a point where his grace overwhelms their (our) grudges.
4. Forgiveness frees us to be blessed by our own acts of mercy.
Ironically, showing mercy to another person is a selfless act that is ultimately in our self-interest.Solomon told us that a gracious woman retains honor and a merciful man does good to his own soul (Prov. 11:16-17). When we are merciful, longsuffering, and forgiving, we allow God’s grace to be shed on both the forgiver and the forgivee.
Forgiveness liberates. It’s like unhooking a ball and chain from around our necks. Forgiveness frees us to enjoy the Christian life as God intended.
Jesus told his disciples to forgive unto seventy times seven (Matt. 18:21-22). In other words, our capacity to forgive should know no limits. Forgiving is not an option. It is a biblical mandate. We must forgive even if the offender is 100% wrong and even if the offenses occurred repeatedly.
Unforgiveness is a rather common part of the human condition. It’s all around us. Sometimes it’s within us.
I’ve long thought that unforgiveness is the number one sin in the Christian Church, though I cannot prove this.
Forgiveness on the other hand is all too rare, which makes it special, a light in a darkened world. Forgiveness is a way for Christians to let the Son shine in.
Well, we’ll see you again soon. For more Christian commentary, be sure to subscribe to this podcast, Discerning What Is Best, or check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s rexmrogers.com. And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.
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