Everyday Christian: recapturing the power of forgiveness
As I watched one of my boys play a cricket match over the weekend, I chatted with one of the dads for much of the time. As we talked about how our kids are growing up and the challenges they face in the big mean world of Melbourne, the conversation turned to the topic of forgiveness. This cricketing aficionado said to me with a tone of sadness, we live in a time where people no longer know how to forgive.
I agreed. One of the key ingredients for human living is forgiveness, and it’s now lost. Our societal impulse is no longer to forgive (let alone understand the other). In today’s Australia, the first to throw the stone is the victor, regardless of whether the offence is real or just perceived. Anger is the mood of today. Controlling the story line and asserting individual rights is the power play at work.
It is interesting to observe that as our self-appointed cultural adjudicators assess the merits of Christianity and move from defining her teaching as half-baked to harmful, we should not be surprised to see our society also shifting away from forgiveness.
Expressive individualism is god and politics, education, and social media are the priesthood. People and society exist to serve my interests, rather than I have a duty to love my neighbour as myself. But what good is a power play like this if we lose our soul in the process? In ditching the message of Jesus Christ, we are not gaining, we are losing. If you don’t believe me, spend a few moments on Twitter today.
I’m not suggesting that only Christians know how to forgive (and yes, some Christians need to relearn this basic good), but I am saying that it is because of this Christian message our world learned how to forgive. As we turn away, we leave behind key ingredients that keep society together.
The very nature of forgiveness is that the offending party has wronged you and shouldn’t expect a semblance of peacemaking.
There is a distinctive element in this Jesus-framed understanding of forgiveness, one that is inescapably powerful in its goodness. Forgiveness isn’t something we practise because of self-interest (although forgiveness brings benefits to the person doing the forgiving in important ways). Forgiveness isn’t a decision we bring to the table when we believe the offender is deserving of those words, ‘I forgive you.’ The very nature of forgiveness is that the offending party has wronged you and shouldn’t expect a semblance of peacemaking.
Forgiveness is acting in mercy towards an individual in light of their transgressions towards you. In what are some of the greatest words ever spoken, on the cross Jesus sees those responsible for his public execution and prays, “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’.”
All this is to preface a word of grace and forgiveness that was spoken recently by a young woman, Shelby Houston, at the funeral of her father. It is a word she shared about what she now wants for the man who murdered her dad.
“I can’t get any part of my heart to hate him. All that I can find is myself hoping and praying for this man to truly know Jesus.” – Shelby Houston
Police Officer Richard Houston, of Mesquite, Texas, was killed in the line of duty by 37-year-old Jaime Jaramillo during a domestic disturbance. At Mr Houston’s funeral, she said,
“I remember having conversations with my dad about him losing friends and officers in the line of duty. I have heard all the stories you can think of, but I’ve always had such a hard time with how the suspect is dealt with. Not that I didn’t think there should be justice served, but my heart always ached for those who don’t know Jesus – their actions being a reflection of that.
I was always told that I would feel differently if it happened to me. But as it’s happened to my own father, I think I still feel the same. There has been anger, sadness, grief, and confusion. And part of me wishes I could despise the man who did this to my father. But I can’t get any part of my heart to hate him. All that I can find is myself hoping and praying for this man to truly know Jesus.
I thought this might change if the man continued to live, but when I heard the news that he was in stable condition, part of me was relieved. My prayer is that someday down the road, I get to spend some time with the man who shot my father – not to scream at him, not to yell at him, not to scold him – simply to tell him about Jesus.”
Do you find in her intent something hideous or something beautiful? Are we repelled by her attitude or intrigued?
The enacting and receiving of forgiveness are fast becoming a social memory. We all know how important forgiveness is, but the identity games that control social media and politics are creeping into our homes and every aspect of living. And it’s not only forgiveness that is being lost, we are also losing our grip on patience and gentleness and kindness – all virtues that are necessary for maintaining healthy relationships and a civil society.
The enacting and receiving of forgiveness are fast becoming a social memory.
So long as we’re the one holding the stone or the dislike button, and everyone’s retweeting our version of justice, we can get by for a while. However, sooner or later we are the ones needing forgiveness. Indeed, one day the bell will toll for thee!
Jesus once taught his disciples to pray this,
“And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
“Let’s reconsider the powerful story of the Christ whose forgiveness so reconfigures the human heart, that we can be moved to desire good for those so undeserving.”
Is this Jesus so dangerous that a young woman finds in Him the power to want good for her father’s killer? Even that she might one day be able to tell him about Jesus? No one is ignoring the fact of the heinous crime or pretending justice should not be required. Just as we cannot live in a world without justice, we cannot live without forgiveness and neither will we survive for long without knowing the one who purchased for us divine forgiveness.
May I suggest, don’t listen to our cultural overloads, avoid getting swept up by the tides of rage and intolerance that are drowning our souls and dividing our society. Instead, let’s reconsider the powerful story of the Christ whose forgiveness so reconfigures the human heart, that we can be moved to desire good for those so undeserving. If we restart our own story with the definitive story of forgiveness, I can guarantee it will move our lives forward in ways that will surprise and surpass everything else.
John, one of Jesus’ disciples put it this way, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”