Forgiveness is surrendering your right to revenge.
The Lord has been pressing this truth on my heart over the past week. It’s not an original thought but stood out to me from one of my many textbooks (I’ll eventually have time to figure out exactly which one .
Life is painful. That is reality. Given that fact we have two options;
1) Lock our hearts away, refuse intimacy and live in idealistic isolation;
The poet, Carl Sandburg, captures this idea in his poem “The Fence”. He tells the story of a wealthy family determined to keep life’s difficult realities at arm’s length. They construct an impenetrable, iron fence to retain control over their circumstances. Despite their illusion of control there are three realities they cannot curb. The closing lines read;
“Passing through the bars and over the steel points will go nothing except Death and the Rain and To-morrow”.
Life is painful. That is reality. The second response is;
2) Love freely. Live as an avenue of God’s healing grace. Forgive much;
A man (after my own heart) approached Jesus to clarify which, of all the commandments, he should prioritize most highly. What was the bottom line? Jesus’ words, quoted here from Luke 10:27, clarify what should ultimately capture the interest, energy and dedication of his followers;
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Life is painful. That is reality.
Now technically, we as believers, are only given ONE option in how to live. Scripture, Jesus’ life and church history are replete with the commands, standards and examples of sacrificial love and grace-infused community. We are to be Christ incarnate to the people in our lives; we are to embody truth and grace, healing and confrontation, mercy and justice. Relationships are to be pliable, durable, authentic, and able to withstand conflict, confession and criticism. They should be forums to give and receive grace; living, breathing, active grace.
Anyone overwhelmed? Me too.
Central Park is far from Eden. Our self-centered world values competition, self-promotion, manipulation, and individual success stories. Our pleasures, pastimes and values are subjective, often immoral and rarely beneficial. Our standard, our aim and our Model remains the same but our world has changed drastically.
C.S. Lewis captures the struggle to live in hope-filled love far more eloquently than I have. His words, describing selfish love, call to mind Dante’s Inferno. Interestingly, Dante’s ninth and final circle of hell is not ablaze with fire but is conceived as a lake of ice – frozen, isolated, alone.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
There are so many aspects of this truth that I could emphasize here; the need for self-awareness in love, the crucial element of healthy boundaries and freedom to say “no”, the dual roles of silence and confrontation, the need for personal healing and proper understanding of one’s spiritual identity. However, building on the foundation just laid, I want to emphasize the crucial role of forgiveness. If we are to adhere to the lifestyle commanded by God and modeled by Christ (as well as avoid the isolated pitfalls of fear, selfishness and idealism) we must be able to forgive.
In other words; when we live engaged in relationships we WILL find ourselves regularly needing to forgive.
Is this hard? At times, excruciatingly. Must we do it? Yes. However, for personal application purposes, my question has been, “how do I know when I have forgiven a person, an offense or, in many cases, both”?
Very few of us keep an axe in our closet, waiting for the ideal moment to harm those who have hurt us. However, I believe many of us are guilty of slanting stories a certain way, publicly criticizing those who have hurt us, refusing to support our “enemies” and creating disunity in the body. Additionally, we know the content of our hearts. All signs of a lack of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is surrendering your right to revenge
We paralyze ourselves when we refuse to forgive, when we demand an apology in order to move past an offense, when we rehearse heated, confrontations in our minds, mentally replay hurts or frustrations and wish painful consequences for our offenders.We lessen our emotional energy to love, cloud our thinking with thoughts of revenge and weaken our life-giving intimacy with our Lord.
I have many issues with Catherine Ponder’s worldview; however, I fully agree with this thought;
“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free”
The lifestyle of courageous love, healing grace and future hope that we are called too will never be possible if we remain trapped by past hurts, alienated from fellow believers, resistant to vulnerable relationships, angry fearful, bitter or resentful. It takes great humility to forgive and immense grace to trust again. This is an intrinsically Christian process, it cannot be otherwise. In some ways this is fundamentally an issue of trust. Do we believe God sees our hearts, cares about our hurts and will bring justice on his terms? I’m passionate about this topic because I believe many (including myself) are in danger of being trapped in hurt; refusing to forgive. This attitude keeps the past fully in the present until resolution comes.We truly are desperately, irrevocably in need of God’s grace, Christ’s healing and the Holy Spirit’s conviction to live this way.
What we are called too is beautiful – a life of unity, community and love. Where we are called to create it, an earth consumed with itself, is counter-cultural, discouraging and often openly antagonistic.Will we achieve Eden on earth? No. Must we strive anyway? Yes, and, by the grace of God, there are moments of Eden along the way that encourage us to continue in light of our future hope.
I want to close with two crucial truths that must supplement that discussion just presented;
1) Forgiveness is a process. I do not want, in any way, to undermine the pain of legitimate hurts. My heart aches for those living with the realities of pain, abuse, insecurity, anger, fear, rejection and addiction. Wounds leave scars. However, there is a significant difference between being a wounded healer and simply being wounded.The necessity of forgiveness is not negated by significant pain but I believe the process of forgiveness is proportional, in depth and length of time, to the hurt inflicted. Allow yourself to grieve the death of dreams, the loss of relationships, the absence of desire, the pain of addiction, the weight of sin. There is a time when every tear will be wiped away but it is not in this lifetime. Don’t rush the process, allow yourself to experience the loss, but always prioritize forgiveness in the midst of your grief.
2) Boundaries are Biblical. We are not to be foolish with our affections, hearts, Spiritual gifts or love. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean full restoration to prior relationship..We need to be wise as serpents; honestly assessing the health of our relationships, realizing those we will love best from a distance, and innocent as doves; always willing to love with purity, honesty and grace – free from resentment, bitterness and desire for revenge. We are called to live sacrificially, with intentional laying down of rights and sacrificial gifts; not as victims – available to anyone’s manipulative agenda.
God, give us the courage and self-awareness to fully forgive that nothing may inhibit our ability to live as avenues of healing grace to one another.