• What Jesus said about forgiveness.
• Forgiveness is vertical but reconciliation is horizontal.
• The danger of unforgiveness.
• Examples of unforgiveable damage or hurt.
OLD-FASHIONED SPIRITUAL WORDS. It is said that old-fashioned words, from the Bible for example, are going out of fashion. Words such as sin, repentance, grace, or mercy don’t appear in our conversations much, and certainly not near as often as words like I-phone, apps, Facebook, likes, or Wifi.
THE WORD FORGIVENESS IS AN EXCEPTION, since the concept is brought up frequently in today’s conversations. When a couple split, for instance, they are told they must forgive the other person. If we make a huge mistake in life, we are urged to forgive ourselves to be able to move on. Psychologists generalize and now insist forgiveness should be a part of all relationships. Yet forgiveness is a very old concept, and one that was emphasized by Jesus – as featured in the Lord’s prayer for instance. Has it really taken mankind 2,000 years to rediscover the word and its value in a person’s life?
I taught two classes in a United Methodist church in Tulsa recently, both on forgiveness. Summaries are below:
- FIRST CLASS:
• As part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus introduced the Lord’s prayer, which included the piece we all know about forgiveness. At the end he went back to the forgiveness bit and added some emphasis, “For if you forgive people their trespasses – letting them go and giving up resentment – your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you.” This is a strong statement.
- • Forgiving resentments is easier for some than others. In a dinner conversation with an elderly couple, the husband said forgiveness was easy but the wife, who was astonished at that, stated that it was very hard.
- • Jim Jackson, ex-pastor of Chapelwood UMC, said sometimes forgiveness requires professional counseling.
- • Forgiveness is vertical…. between you and God. It is obligatory (see above).
Reconciliation is horizontal……between you and another person. It may or may not happen. You may choose not to reconcile. The other person may choose not to reconcile. And all this is okay. But you have to forgive. Please don’t ever feel like you haven’t forgiven because you haven’t reconciled – this may cause unnecessary guilt. I first heard this concept in a sermon by Jim Jackson.
- SECOND CLASS:
• What if you have looked back over your life, and have forgiven everyone you can think of? BUT you missed someone and there is someone out there you still have not forgiven? Does this mean you are not forgiven by God (see topmost bullet)? NO! This is covered by grace, God’s unearned favor toward us. If our heart is forgiving, meaning we have a forgiving attitude, we are forgiven by God for things we can’t remember. So grace takes care of this….. we don’t have to sweat. The sweat is for folks who have an ATTITUDE of unforgiveness.
- What about someone who has committed a grievous sin against you? For example, a child who has rebelled into sex and drugs? We have to forgive, but we may have to place boundaries to protect ourselves. If a child addict steals our meds when he comes to our house, we may have to uninvite him until this behavior changes. This is where the general concept of tough love applies.
- What about a person who has committed a maximal sin, where almost unforgiveable damage is incurred by you? A man called Michael Morton was jailed for 25 years for murdering his wife. In a shocking reversal, he was cleared by a new trial where DNA evidence was brought in. He forgave the inept attorney who convicted him, saying, “I understand suffering and I understand unfairness. I have discovered that God exists, that He is wise, and that He loves me. If you internalize these, then what’s the problem?” I think this is Michael’s way of saying that if God loves me, I can forgive anything. The whole story is an amazing one (click here to read my blog about it.)
- Another example of maximal sin is Oscar Pistorius, the disabled amputee “blade runner” from South Africa who killed his girlfriend, a model Reeva Steenkamp. I recall an uncle of Steenkamp’s said that the family had forgiven Pistorius, because that was what they were commanded to do by Jesus, although I couldn’t find the reference.
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The Gray Nomad
Think well, and help someone to hope.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
[Book of Matthew, chapter 18].