On Forgiveness

On Forgiveness

Some injuries are hardly noticeable, and forgiving them is barely an issue. Others go so deep our soul doesn’t know how to even begin processing the pain, the grief, and the rage. It’s this latter that is the costly kind. Jesus both made the way for us and placed the requirement and glory of forgiveness on us when, on the cross, he spoke the words, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

What does such forgiveness look like? How do we walk it out in a way that is real and realistic? I think it starts with a single decision that initiates a long series of similar decisions, acts of the will that in time sink into the emotions. That first decision might be worded something like this: “If it were in my power to send that person to hell, I would not do so.” That may be about the best we can do to begin with, but it is enough for God to work with, and we place it in his hands. We tell our Father, “I choose to forgive this person. I feel nothing but anger and the desire to make him (her) hurt the way he’s hurt me. But I am more than my feelings; I am your child, and hatred and bitterness are not my heritage. Love and freedom are, and I will walk in your heart–for I myself am loved by you.”

We make this choice again, and again, and again, as often as is necessary, through the days, and weeks, and months, and quite possibly the years. We talk to God about it. He is in it with us, and he is pleased with us that we choose his character over fleshly vindictiveness, which seeks to draw us into its perpetual black hole. There is no peace in that hole.

But forgiveness–that becomes a trysting place where we meet with the One who knows and loves and esteems us beyond what we can imagine. And in his presence comes “the peace that passes understanding.”

Forgiveness of deep injustices is not easy and it is not quick. Many Christians will be quick to tell us that we need to forgive, as if they’re revealing some great wisdom we don’t already know. Ignore these advice givers; they know the formula but not the answer. What we need isn’t glib advice; it’s wise friends who will walk with us in the Spirit of our Lord as we pay the cost of forgiveness. Encouraged and strengthened by such true, godly confidants, we struggle and pray through toward the day when our anger gives way to seeing the person who wounded us with different eyes, and the seeing ushers in compassion, and the compassion brings release for our soul.

What Forgiveness Is Not

Now, here is what forgiveness does NOT look like: It is not something that requires us to place ourselves back within striking distance of the person who hurt us.

It is good to forgive the dog that bit us; it is foolish to try to pet him. It is we who have changed, not the dog, and forgiveness is not naivete. There is no need for us to get bit again.

But what if the person who treated us wickedly really has changed? After all, God does transform hearts.

Very true. Real change will show in that person’s willingness to earn our trust over time. He (she) will not insist that we trust him, and he will not use forgiveness or our walk with God to manipulate us. Rather, he will demonstrate humility and a respect for where we are at, and understand that restoration of relationship is a great gift, not a cheap trinket that we must supply on demand. We are not so obligated.

Forgiveness is a change that occurs in us.
Restoration requires a change in the other person.

The Ironic “Bass” Player

I just read an ad by a band that is looking for a “Bass” player. Not just a bass player, but a “Bass” player. I guess the ordinary kind won’t do–this one must come equipped with double quotes. I’m not sure why. Does the band need a bassist who plays with irony? How would I, as a listener, know the difference qualitatively? (“Hey, wow, that is one ironic-sounding bass player!” “Yeah. And check out his use of metaphor.”)

Or perhaps the band wants to clarify that by “Bass” they mean the musical instrument, not the fish, which is fun to catch but useless on a gig. Good luck plugging one into an amplifier. So that could be an important distinction.

Then again, maybe the band does want someone who plays a fish. It would be a first, I’m sure, but these days creative minds are constantly exploring new directions. Probably not many fish players in these parts, but ya never know. I once knew a bassist who looked like a walleye, and he took his pay in live bait . . . but I digress. In any case, double quotes don’t help me separate a fish from a fretboard, so either way, I’m at a loss.

Seriously, and to the point: Quote marks are not call-outs. Highlighting a word for no reason other than pure whimsy is not a legitimate use.

Okay, got that out of my system. “Rant” over. (Or should that be, Rant “over”?)

Humility

Have you noticed how often Facebook serves as a venue for self-exaltation? I don’t mean the simple sharing of one’s excellence; I mean the huzzahs people heap on themselves: “I am great. I am self-made and successful. I am a good, noble, giving person. Better nobody mess with me because I’m the baddest. I am wonderful. I am brilliant. I am strong. I am, I am, I am . . .”

Friends, there is only one I Am, and we aren’t him.

Much of what garners approbation today as “putting yourself out there” is just plain old self-aggrandizement. Often it hides behind some humble-sounding qualifier—e.g., “I’ve made my mistakes, but I always treat my friends right and help people when I can.” So you’re a good egg, and you want us to know that you’re a humble good egg at that. Good that you’re a good egg, but why is it important for you to broadcast it?

Understand, I see nothing valuable in belittling and beating ourselves up, minimizing our God-given gifts, or aw-shucksing when people compliment us. That’s not what humility is about. But I also see nothing wholesome or powerful in the massive boasting that has come to characterize our culture today. Used to be, bragging and self-obsession were a turn-off; today we applaud them:

“I am the best. Look at meeeee!”

“Yeah, brutha, you rock!” (Clap, clap, clap.)

In the face of that, the apostle Paul has this to say:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:26-31 NIV)

Friends, it’s all about grace. We’ve got to keep this in mind. If there’s anything good and glorious in us—and there is, lots and lots, more than we can imagine or may feel comfortable recognizing—it is God’s doing. Jesus is our source of “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). He is our life, our everything.

Is there a time for letting people know about the excellence that lies within us? Of course. Humility isn’t about hiding our light under a bushel. Let it shine! Just let’s do so in a way that, whether directly or indirectly, points with gratitude to who Jesus is in us, not who we are in ourselves.