Forgiveness


 

I have a good friend who was in a difficult spot. He was married to a wonderful woman who was also in a difficult spot. He had an adulterous affair, several in fact, and then she followed up with an affair of her own. Sort of stops you in your tracks, doesn’t it? I’m sure you don’t know what to say anymore than I knew what to say. But what I do know (and knew then) is that I am called to love both of them without judgment. Judgment was not mine to make, it was and is God’s alone. I am called to love. We all are. At first she couldn’t even look at him. Then she had her own affair, and he couldn’t look at her – or forgive her. I remember sitting on their living room floor with him, as he was curled up in a near-fetal position, and begging him to put his wedding band back on – that the mere act of doing so would indicate that he had not given up, and send his wife the message that they still had a chance. Through God’s grace he put that ring back on, and he has kept it on. This couple is still married. I know the journey to where this couple is today has been a long one.  It has taken incredible courage, humility, humor, faith and strength to keep committing one day after another, sometimes one minute after another minute.

Forgiveness is not an easy thing for any of us to do when the stakes surrounding the challenge are high. It’s difficult for a spouse to forgive infidelity. Difficult for a woman to forgive the man who assaulted her. Difficult for a child to forgive an abusive parent. Difficult for a parent to forgive a child who has hurt the parent deeply. Difficult for neighbor to forgive neighbor when something has been coveted and stolen. Difficult for a child to forgive his or her bully. (Maybe even difficult for a congregation to forgive a pastor who leaves.)  The list of reasons to forgive are as vast and different to each one of us as there are stars.

I’m reminded of the Amish community near Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, where a deranged man stormed into a one-room schoolhouse and shot ten girls, killing five. The shooter then killed himself. The world watched as the members of that Amish community and the families of the slain girls forgave the man who shot the girls and then reached out in loving service to the killer’s widow and their three young children. Where did such capacity for forgiveness come from? Obviously from their deep and abiding faith in God.

God calls all of us to forgive, but it isn’t always easy. The greater the offense, the more challenging it is to forgive. But I believe the more we know and follow God the better the chances we can find it in our hearts to forgive swiftly.

Jesus forgave his trespassers. Pope John Paul II forgave the man who tried to kill him. Nelson Mandela forgave those who imprisoned him for more than 20 years for fighting against apartheid.  And when he was released and became South Africa’s president, he established the Truth and Reconciliation Committee to uncover the facts about apartheid and forgive those involved. (Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who presided over the commission, wrote a compelling book about this experience called No Future Without Forgiveness.)

Jesus calls us to ask forgiveness for our trespasses (those times when we have hurt another) as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. We have to remember that just as we strive to forgive those who hurt us, we must recognize and take responsibility for those times when we have hurt others.

I’m not saying I am great at this forgiveness stuff – but I’d like to be. I’d like to think I am made of the same mettle as Jesus, those Amish women, JPII and Nelson – but I fear I have a long, long way to go.  I do know that with God’s Amazing Grace all things are possible and that I – and you – can love and forgive as radically and swiftly as Jesus.

Jesus, inspire us. Challenge us to be honest with ourselves. Call us to the counter-cultural kind of radical love and swift forgiveness that you exhibited in your life here on earth. Please show us the way. Amen.

peace friends,

Chuck

 

 

 

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