We are going through a whole lot of changes right now. We are moving away from people we dearly love to start over across the continent. Beside the emotions of loss a move of this magnitude brings, and we are facing some other side issues that leave us feeling abused, betrayed and stomped on. Although that is very difficult experience, it is not without some positive things. I’m learning about forgiveness. Here are the top five things I’m learning.
The first thing I’ve learned about forgiveness is that I can’t forgive. There is a tape in my head that plays the hurt, betrayal and ache over and over. It happens in the strangest moments, prompted by things totally unconnected to the pain. I’m going along, doing normal everyday stuff, and it blindsides me. All the emotions run over me as if the event is happening again in this very moment. Just when I think I have a handle on life, it swings out of control.
It reminds me of when Jesus told His disciples in Mark 10 that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a person holding on to status or security to get into heaven. He continues by saying with people it is impossible. Every day, I live with impossibility. Fortunately, the verse does not end there, for Jesus concludes that it is not impossible with God. He says with God, all things are possible.
The second thing I’ve learned about forgiveness is that God can forgive. Psalm 130:3-5 says, “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope.” This Christmas I am realizing anew the wonder of Immanuel, God with us. When I came to Christ, He placed His Holy Spirit in me, it was not just to get me to heaven when I die, but to indwell, empower, and live through me. He is all of God, the God, who as the prophet Micah declared, pardons iniquity, passes over rebellious acts and does not retain His anger forever because He delights in unchanging love. And being all of God, He wants to live out through all of me. That means that since God forgives, He can forgive through me. As God loves in spite of wrong doing, He can love through me under those circumstances as well.
Third, I’ve learned that forgiveness isn’t a once and it’s done proposition. The writer of Lamentations tells us in chapter 3 that “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” When I spent time with a friend in Austria a few years ago, we did a study of the word grace in the Scriptures. I discovered that the translation of the word lovingkindness in German is grace. Grace is unmerited favor, a gift of something you don’t deserve. God is always giving, always compassionate, not just now, but at the start of each day more grace and compassion is poured out. This means that every morning God pours out a new ability for me to give the gift of forgiveness, no matter what blindsides me. Every day He pours out His ability to love in and through me. It doesn’t run out, but keeps flowing, no matter how often the offense rises up to sting all over again.
Fourth, forgiveness isn’t about me or those who hurt me, but about God and His faithfulness. Those same verses in Lamentations conclude with, “Great is Your faithfulness.” God is always faithful. He is not always faithful to what I think is fair or right for me or convenient. He is always fair to Himself, always doing exactly what He says He will do. He is always loving, always knows the big picture and always sees beyond today to what is for my good and His glory. He never leaves me alone but comforts, teaches, purifies or grows me to be more like Jesus.
Last, forgiveness is the only viable option. If you’ve ever prayed the Lord’s Prayer, you remember the phrase “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” As if that phrase is not drastic enough, Jesus continued after that prayer to tell His disciples that if we forgive others their willful sins against us, God will forgive us, but if we don’t forgive, God will not forgive us. Paul carries this through in Colossians three when he tells us to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience—all things that are tested when others abuse us. He goes on to say we are to bear graciously with each other and to willingly forgive—and here’s the clincher—just as the Lord has forgiven us.
How did God forgive me? It cost Jesus Christ His life. He shed His blood on the cross so I could be forgiven. I must be willing to go that far in forgiving others.
I’ve always loved the story of Joseph and how after his brothers mocked him, threw him in a pit, sold him as a slave, he still forgave them. Not only did he forgive them but he told them “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present outcome, that many people would be kept alive.” Joseph recognized that God saw the big picture and never once took his hand off of him. Was it comfortable? No. Did stress ever fill his life? Probably. Did he ever have to fight for peace? Probably. Did things ever seem out of control? Often. But Joseph knew God. Joseph didn’t make this statement the day after his brothers sold him into slavery. He didn’t make it the day he was thrown in prison under a trumped up charge by Potiphar’s wife. But at the time his brothers feared for his revenge, Joseph was at peace. By then he more than knew God was with him, he had experienced His presence and understood some of God’s plan.
This Christmas, my prayer is that Immanuel may pour His life through me in freshness each day, and that at the end of the battle, I will be able to marvel at the outcome as Joseph did, knowing that God’s purpose and plan was larger than my own.