The concept of forgiveness is so far from our society’s typical response to offense that it is often hard for the Christian to stand apart and break the mold. In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey wrote: “In a world where force matters most, a lofty ideal like forgiveness may seem as insubstantial as vapor.” When somebody “fronts” you, embarrasses you or hurts you, the natural reaction is to lash out, get even and make that person feel your pain. And it’s even harder (at least for me) to consider forgiveness when a friend is harmed. Just as hard is when a defenseless individual is hurt, such as a child. So why is it so important for us to hold to this lofty ideal and forgive the offender? There are several reasons, but the primary one is because God asked us to do so. In fact, the verse above is conditional, as Matthew 6:15 goes on to explain that God will not forgive our sins unless we forgive others. I don’t know about you, but I have quite a few sins that I pray God will not hold against me!
A strong case can be made for forgiveness, because the alternative is to be caught in a constant cycle of unforgiveness. “Apart from forgiveness,” wrote Yancey, “the monstrous past may awake at any time from hibernation to devour the present.” In his book, The Art Of Forgiving, Lewis Smedes wrote, “Vengeance is a passion to get even. It is a hot desire to give back as much pain as someone gave you … The problem with revenge is that it never gets what it wants; it never evens the score. Fairness never comes. The chain reaction set off by every act of vengeance always takes its unhindered course. It ties both the injured and the injurer to an escalator of pain. Both are stuck on the escalator as long as parity (fairness) is demanded, and the escalator never stops, never lets anyone off.”
At the very least, forgiveness is unfair. Yet it is the only way to free ourselves from the cycle of retribution. According to theologian Romano Guardini, the greatest flaw in seeking revenge is this: “As long as you are tangled in wrong and revenge, blow and counterblow, aggression and defense, you will be constantly drawn into fresh wrong … Only forgiveness frees us from the injustice of others.”
As we seek to pattern our lives after the person of Christ, let us examine His response to the greatest injustice our world has ever seen. As He was being crucified between two criminals for the sins of the world, including yours and mine (Jn. 3:17), Luke 23:34 records these words of Jesus: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Our response to this supreme example of forgiveness is to cry out for the strength to rise above petty jealousy, oppression of our spirit, emotional deprivation and physical harm, and to bless the people who have hurt us by forgiving them.
This is perhaps the most extraordinary thing we can do.
By Peder Swanson
“As God’s chosen people … clothe yourselves with compassion,
kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Bear with each other and forgive
whatever grievances you may have against one another.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org