We’re drowning in it. Unforgiveness.
The folks at Harvard are right. I’ll quote Dr. Tyler VanderWeele: “Forgiving a person who has wronged you is never easy, but dwelling on those events and reliving them over and over can fill your mind with negative thoughts and suppressed anger. Yet, when you learn to forgive, you are no longer trapped by the past actions of others and can finally feel free.”
This really matters. I mean, really matters! In Christ, you and I are called to forgive. Our new nature in Jesus enables it. We’re to be pursuers of peace on earth. And, where there is no peace, you and I are called to bring agape love.
I’d like to tell you a story from Spain. There was a father and his son who, over the course of their lives, had become extremely bitter toward each other. After years of verbal battles, the son finally left home angry, never to return. The father began to search for his son, but he was unable to find him anywhere. After months of frantic searching, the father came to the end of his resources, and sat down in a coffee shop in utter desperation. Suddenly the man had an idea. The father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. It said simply this: “Dear Paco: Please meet me in front of the men’s clothing shop at 2:00 p.m. on Friday. You are forgiven. I love you. Your father.” That Friday, at 2:00 in the afternoon, 800 Pacos showed up. All of those men were searching for forgiveness, and love, from their dads.
We’re wired for love. We all mess up, and we all mess up terribly. We all need forgiveness, from God and from others. Ephesians 4:32 is packed with punch in this regard. As new creations in Christ, our disposition toward others is to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Why? Because we’ve been forgiven! When you forgive, and when I forgive, we are expressing the very heart of God!
Forgiveness is not excusing. Forgiveness is not forgetting (though we may end up forgetting). Forgiveness is not overlooking. Forgiveness may or may not result in reconciliation. And forgiveness is always undeserved. We must also understand that forgiveness is much, much more than a feeling. In fact it’s not really even about conjuring up a feeling of some kind. Forgiveness, if we are to understand it Biblically, is all about sincerely committing ourselves to a promise: a promise never to hold this offense against the offender. Never again. In that profound sense, we set the offender free.
But, when we forgive, it also sets us free! You see, friends, forgiveness does not erase the past – after all, you and I don’t even have the power to do that – but forgiveness chooses to look upon the past with grace. Lewis B. Smedes used to say it like this: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
I’ll get brutally honest now. I want to tell you what most often imprisons me in unforgiveness. It’s my desire to control. In my sin, I can live under the illusion – and it is just that – that I can hold my offender hostage by keeping the offense alive. Nonsense! Any feeling I ever have of superiority – and that’s what it is! – will shipwreck my capacity to forgive. Any attempt to justify my unforgiveness will do the same kind of damage to my soul. If I’m ever going to forgive, I have to die to the illusion of control. Perhaps you can relate. But here’s the cool part: when I forgive, my vision is clear again!
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Jesus couldn’t have been more clear. By His words, and by His life.
We are without excuse.