The Mandate to Forgive

As I was re-reading chapter nine in Ensor’s book this morning I was quite convicted. How good and kind are the providences of God!

“Jesus was betrayed by a disciple, falsely accused by those he came to serve, denied justice in the courts, abandoned by his friends, humiliated, beaten, and hammered to the cross and mocked till his dying breath. ‘When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly’ (I Peter 2:23). His pain was fuel for prayer: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:24). We, too, must pray like this for those who have hurt us. And we must keep on praying. Persistent grudges must be met with persevering prayer until we obtain the grace to forgive.

“In spite of Jesus’ example…we still think our case exceptional. ‘It’s easy for you to talk about forgiveness,’ a man trying to be reconciled to a family member once told me. ‘You don’t understand how badly he hurt me.’ He wanted sympathy, not surgery. He wanted understanding, not prescriptions. But he was on the hook. I did not put him there. I replied that forgiveness only counts when it hurts. We are not called to forgive the holy and righteous. He was not pleased. He squirmed, but the hook did not bend.

“I have enough of my own raw experiences to realize that this is pain talking. Grudges love to be nursed, not nuked. Given enough time and fertilizer, our grudges will grow so big they will wrap themselves around our very personality and cove us like ivy covers a house. Grudges force us to play the role of victims, never victors. Holding on to grudges is like crying out for a life preserver while clinging to the anchor! We have to choose either one or the other. ‘If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15). Our grip on grudges must be released. Our very life depends on it.”

If you don’t mind, I am going to be a little honest with you. I was angry all day yesterday. I don’t like being gossiped about. I don’t like being misrepresented. Who does? But instead of acknowledging the hurt and taking my pain to the Lord in prayer I swallowed the poison of anger and raged inside (and a little outside). I pitied myself. I played the victim. It is an ugly thing and I felt the filth in my heart. I was nudged and what spilled out of me was not pretty. This is no one’s fault but my own.

God’s great work in the Gospel is transforming. That is, it not only saves us but it transforms us. This doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen. For one thing it turns us more and more in to those who show mercy and forgiveness. When we realize the grand offense that God forgave us it makes the lesser offenses we suffer forgive-able. The Gospel also helps us to see our own sin as a more serious matter than the sins of others. As Gary Thomas has written, “Mature Christians have a double standard. They are hard on themselves when it comes to sin, but gracious and gentle toward others.”