A year ago, while working my part-time custodial job at my church, I met a young man who was waiting for a bus to pick him up. He had just been released from jail and was headed back to Caledonia to resume his old job. He told me he owed child support money, and while in jail, he had realized that he needed to get back to the Lord and "do what's right." I've heard that saying often enough: "Do what's right." And there's a lot to be said for doing what's right. Good for that young man, who wants to do the right thing. The world would be a far better place if we all could consistently pull that off. But realistically, we don't. And it's not what the gospel is about. The gospel is not about behavior modification; it is about heart transformation. It is not about our doing well but Christ's doing well for us, in us, and through us. The gospel is about experiencing a change in our source of life, from what the Bible calls the "flesh" to eternal life that resides in the Son of God. Jesus in us and we in him: that is the arrangement God offers us out of his great, great love for us. We are no longer on our own, striving to meet the quota on an endless moral assembly line; instead, those of us who are exhausted by our efforts to get it right, and beaten down by our failures, can rest in Someone who got it right for us; who loves us beyond anything we can imagine; and who doesn't stand outside us as a taskmaster but lives inside us as our very life, producing the fruit of his own character in us as we walk with him. John 1:17 says, "The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." No more doing what's right in order to become righteous; instead, doing what's right because we are righteous, and by nature we want to do those things that please the One who loves us. That is one way of looking at Christianity.
Forgiveness can be as swift and easy as accepting a friend's apology for being ten minutes late for lunch at the restaurant. Or it can be as grueling, as costly, as seemingly impossible, as forgiving a divorce or a business betrayal. What makes the latter kind of forgiveness particularly difficult is this: the other person may not care in the least. They may feel utterly justified in their mistreatment of you. They may even take pleasure at the injury they've caused you--or they may take no thought at all. Whether you forgive them or not means nothing to them because you yourself are of no consequence. That's the kind of forgiveness reflected in Jesus's words "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing" (Luke 23:34). Father, they just don't have a clue. No idea whatsoever. They're prisoners of their ignorance, blinder than beggars and twice as poor. Mercy and compassion toward those who showed him neither: that's the extreme brand of forgiveness Jesus showed toward those who were killing him. Jesus didn't pray "Father, forgive them" in order to set a lofty example; he prayed those words because he meant them. In his heart he longed for something far better for his persecutors than vengeance; he longed for them to one day see, and understand, and live. What's particularly important to note is, forgiving his executioners didn't change Jesus's immediate circumstances. The black iron spikes remained in his wrists and feet. The agony of crucifixion wasn't relieved. Jesus still died a torturous, shameful death hanging naked on a post for all Jerusalem to see. What changed was that the back of hatred was broken. It lost its self-perpetuating power--because the One who did know exactly what he was doing absorbed its worst blow and countered it with love for those who inflicted it. Sometimes today we hear stories of that radical brand of forgiveness: The father who adopts his child's murderer and raises him as a son. The college woman who, without minimizing the violence perpetrated on her, refuses to harbor bitterness against her rapist. The prisoner wrongly convicted who, when the truth is finally revealed, forgives those who took fifteen years of his life from him and far more besides. For such people, forgiveness is no glib thing. It is big-ticket, and those who have been wronged are the ones who must foot the bill. Doing so may begin simply with this thought: "If I had the power to send those who have hurt me to hell...I would not." Forgiveness desires life, God-life, for the offender. It desires vision for the spiritually blind. It chooses--often against the forgiver's own conflicting emotions--to pray for the release of those held captive by their own hate or sheer, selfish unconcern for the pain of others. Forgiveness is not trite. It is not easy. It may even be miraculous. It is one choice followed by as many more choices as it takes. If--no, when--we are deeply injured, may Jesus grant us his eyes to see clearly what the other person cannot see at all. May he give us the grace to pray from our heart, "Father, forgive them. Help them to see. Help them to know your love for them and for others. And grant them what you have so graciously given me: life--true, deep, powerful life."
A few weeks ago I received word from my friend Steve Barclift, managing editor for Kregel Publications, that a book I had edited was one of five finalists in its category for an ECPA Gold Medallion. The reason I didn't rub my eyes when I read Steve's email is because, really, who does that? Inside, though, I was, like, "Whaaa? Did I read that right or do I got dirt in my peepers?" The Gold Medallion is a tremendous honor in evangelical publishing, and even though a different book was chosen for the award on May 2, just making it to the finalists' circle is a huge deal. My surprise had nothing to do with the book's merits, which are considerable. Messed Up Men of the Bible: Seeing the Men in Your Life Through God's Eyes has struck a fortissimo chord with female readers who want to better understand and support the imperfect men whom they love and who love them. The coauthors, Tina and David Samples, speak to relational issues between men and women in a unique way by bringing to life the Bible's colorfully flawed males. It's encouraging for a messed-up guy like me to know that I'm in such good company as Moses and David and Peter. The Bible doesn't gloss over people's sins. Its villains are villains for obvious reasons, its heroes reach for a nobility that rises above their often serious weaknesses, and the stories of those heroes are written with the ink not of human perfections but of God's mercy and grace. David and Tina make all of that plain and show how it relates to our own lives. Their book is superb. Still—me the editor of a Gold Medallion finalist? Pinch me, I'm dreaming. But then, why not me? Because, after all, God. Because how like my heavenly Father to take a messed-up son who has wrestled all his life with self-doubt and the fear of failure, and to encourage that son, and to bless him through the years with people like Steve who saw something good in him and opened doors that changed his life. Because how like God to give a Gideon like me hope, and incremental success, and a sense of personal ability, and to cause me to grow in a profession that, in the past, I never imagined for myself. Not that it happened by accident. I have faced my fears and forged through them, simply because my only other choice was to curl up and die. I have studied hard and worked hard, and I have sacrificed and persevered, and I continue to learn, and I do my utmost to serve my authors well. But beyond those things, I have the sense that there is much that happens behind the scenes that I just don't see. In the broad sweep of life I'm still pretty dumb, and all I'm really doing is walking through doors, barely aware of their implications, hardly cognizant of how my doing so catalyzes latent realities, causing seeds to germinate into green shoots which, over time, become strong, fruiting plants. Faith involves a process over which my Father presides unseen, as he did at the world's creation, bringing order and blessing to chaos. Five years ago, with fear and trembling, I hung out my shingle as an editor, and my first book was something I still feel proud of. Since then I have edited scores of books for publishers and independent authors. I am grateful to all of my clients—to you if you're among them. I am thankful that you entrusted your creation to me. Now to think that two of you have been cocandidates for a Gold Medallion . . . wow! Congratulations, Tina and Dave, for writing a great book. It, and you, deserved such recognition, and I am pleased to have served you as your editor. It's not about awards, is it. It's about women and men learning how to love each other better, and about seeing each other through the eyes of Jesus, and about God's kingdom ruling more fully in our hearts.