Thursday, July 18, 2019

Forgiving the Unforgivable

How do you forgive the unforgivable? Someone murders a family member. A drunk driver slams into your car, and you’re in a wheelchair the rest of your life. A trusted friend molests your child. A member of your church who works as an investment counselor persuades you to put your life savings in his hands, and he loses it all. One of your best friends spreads rumors (all untrue) about you that result in your being ostracized by all your other friends. 

You could pick any one of the above, and call it "unforgivable." And sadly most of have personal scenarios that are equally grievous. How could you possibly forgive a person who has done any of these? How can you forgive the unforgivable?

The short answer is, some things are not forgivable, not humanly speaking. Not in the strength of our own will.

And yet, we who follow Christ are called to forgive. Jesus said so: And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25). In the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 5), He taught us to say, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 

But how do you forgive? 

This is not an academic question for me. And though I’ve been a pastor for a long time, I’ve been struggling with forgiveness even longer. Many years ago, right after I began dating Dionne, I discovered my future father-in-law was a child molester, and that his chief victim was the girl I'd fallen in love with. Forgiveness for me has been a hard road to travel, and a long one. 

I hope to do several blog posts on the subject, but for this one I'll try to share one of the main things I've learned.

In the New Testament, our English “to forgive” comes mainly from two Greek words. Charizomai, emphasizes that forgiveness is a gift. The word “grace,” charis, is at the heart of this verb. The other word, aphiemi, means to let go, to send away. It emphasizes releasing something, giving it up, letting  it go. 

Forgiveness, I think, is a gift you give to someone who has hurt or offended you. It’s grace, totally unmerited. And the way you give that gift is by releasing the offence and the offender to God. 

There are many reasons why I don’t want to forgive. But for me they are all trumped by two more compelling reasons to forgive: one, my Jesus, who has died in my place for my sins, commands it. And two, my bitterness and hatred and desire for justice (revenge?) is too heavy for me to carry. Its weight distorts and poisons my life and the lives of those around me. I’ve learned to give this ugliness and pain to the Lord. I've come to trust that He will take it and deal with it in perfect love, holiness, justice, and wisdom.

For me the first movement of forgiveness is not toward the one who hurt me but toward the One who hurt for me. Unless and until I can trust Almighty God with my life, including the pain and injustice and heartaches, I cannot forgive.