He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven. – Tomas Fuller
I’m still working on three things Jesus demands from me: that I not worry (Matthew 6:34) that I turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and that I forgive (Matthew 6:15).
The forgiveness challenge isn’t something I expected to struggle with this late in the game. I’ve never thought of myself as an unforgiving, grudge-holding kind of guy. But for whatever reason, I’m now seeing many things I just haven’t let go of.
And I’m talking about old things, ancient history from childhood, or junior high days, or very young adulthood. Which is interesting, because candidly, I’ve been messed with pretty badly in recent years.
In fact, some of the worst betrayals I’ve ever experienced happened within the last decade or so, years when I was well into middle age. So you’d think those not-long-ago hurts would still be throbbing, but no, I’ve pretty much shrugged them off, and they rarely cross my mind.
The same can’t be said for conversations and events occurring forty-plus years ago. They intrude into my thinking, and before I catch myself, I’m replaying them in my memory Cineplex, often re-writing the script so that instead of being victimized the way I was, I don my cape and deliver well-deserved sucker punches to the bad guys, coming out heroic rather
I know. Fantasizing a revised personal history to make ourselves feel better is awfully childish, but it’s also a more commonly practiced mind-game than many of us would care to admit.
Which raises the obvious question of forgiveness. Have I forgiven? If so, why are the old hurts resurfacing? And if I haven’t, then why not? It’s not as if I haven’t been forgiven plenty myself, and we all know what the master had to say the servant he forgave when that same servant turned around and refused mercy to another. (Matthew 18:33)
So here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
Forgiving isn’t forgetting.
God alone can say He remembers our sins no more. (Hebrews 10:17) We simply don’t have the capacity to delete our memory banks. I am therefore not required to literally forget old hurts. I can certainly choose whether or not to dwell on them, but I can’t make them vanish.
Forgiveness isn’t indifference.
I may well forgive someone for a deeply inflicted wound, but if the memory of that wounding crosses my mind, it will still hurt. How can you think of something traumatic without an emotional response? That alone doesn’t constitute un-forgiveness.
Forgiveness isn’t isolated.
That is, I may genuinely forgive, then, in my sinful human state, I may later in life re-hash what I’ve forgiven, dredge up the old hurts, re-experience the pain, then ignore the law against double jeopardy by re-trying the perpetrator, finding him guilty, and mentally executing him.
None of which means I didn’t forgive him in the first place; rather, it means I sinfully chose to revisit the sin I had no right revisiting. Sometimes it’s not just forgiveness that’s required of us. It’s re-forgiveness as well.
Forgiveness can be harder with time and perspective.
What seemed hurtful to a 12 year old can appear downright monstrous to an adult, because with time and perspective, we better realize how horrendous things like bullying, abuse, or other violations really are.
So I often find that women and men I work with who are well into their middle years are angrier or sadder over their old hurts than they were when the hurts were first inflicted. We pay a high price for growing up, one of which is the awareness of just how wrong the wrongdoers of our lives
The child often thinks, “Perhaps I deserved this”, but the adult of later years screams, “No, you didn’t, and that never should have happened!
Forgiveness can be humanly impossible.
Which doesn’t relieve me of my responsibility to forgive. Rather, it spurs me on to remember that Jesus was speaking quite literally when He said, “Without Me, you can do nothing.”
Copy that. I cannot in my own strength forgive, not really. The way of Joe Dallas is to mouth forgiveness then quietly mutter, “But I’ll get back at you someday.” The way of the One Joe Dallas follows is that of an unqualified “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
When we try forgiving brutal, cruel things that never should have happened, we often find ourselves in Peter’s position when he saw the Lord walking on water and, in his distress and desperation, he said, “Bid me come walk with you.” (Matthew 14:28) Only by keeping his eyes fixed on Jesus in constant reliance could he do what was otherwise impossible.
What He said before He says today: if I don’t forgive others, I’ll not
And I, struggling to obey while fearing that I can’t, offer him the prayer of that father I so relate to in the gospels who, when told in Mark 9:24 that his faith could make the impossible attainable if only he’d believe,
“Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.”