So many questions arise when we think about forgiveness:
Is forgiveness truly the only way to freedom?
Do the words matter or does the heart behind the words matter too?
How do you truly forgive someone when you don’t feel like forgiving them at all?
What if the person who hurt you hasn’t asked for forgiveness? Is it truly forgiveness if it’s not permanent?
What happens when you get a flare-up of anger over and over again?
“Forgiveness” is a hard word to hear when I’m still feeling the weight of the inflicted pain. Instead of forgiveness, I want to talk about revenge and vindication. I gravitate toward Psalm 35 where the psalmist takes comfort in God destroying his enemy. I don’t prefer Christian sermon clichés about letting go of my pain. Pain can be a security blanket of sorts. It reminds me of the reality of my wounds. Pain validates my wounds when no one else will. If you’ve ever had a burn, then you know that deeper burns hurt more than superficial ones. There are two places where the pain finally stops: either the burn is so deep that it causes numbness to the nerve endings, or on the other end of the spectrum, eventually healing takes place and the pain resolves. The latter is what we’re going after here.
“God doesn’t ask us to bury our pain or ignore it.”
But how? How do you truly forgive someone who has wounded you when all you feel in your heart is disdain and even hatred toward that person? How do you come to terms with the fact that you call yourself a Christian but can’t stand some of God’s people?
Most Christian books tell us that it takes an act of your will to forgive someone. You’ve got to resolve to say the words before you feel them. I’ve tried that. The problem with that plan is that it can be skin deep. Words don’t always change the heart.
Here’s what I am learning about forgiveness:
There’s a time to be angry, and a time to let go.
There’s a time to lament, and a time to surrender that anger that’s about to destroy you.
There’s a time to say the words of forgiveness, and a time to feel them.
There’s a time to talk about your wounds with others, and a time to stop.
There’s a time to forgive, and a time to forgive again, and again. And then there’s a time to bow the knee before the Father in the darkness of night and confess that there is a fate worse than living angry with God, and it’s to live without God completely.
A friend recently told me that forgiveness means releasing someone from the debt they owe you for the hurt they caused you. As much as I love magic pills, when it comes to forgiveness, there is no magic pill that ensures our feelings will change. Forgiveness is indeed an act of your will but not in the way I used to assume it was. When I was wounded by others, I felt like they owed me something. I wanted them to pay me back for the hurt they had caused me. But forgiveness asked that I let go of the debt others owed me because someone had already paid for it on their behalf.
“God doesn’t ask us to deny the pain that’s been inflicted on us.”
I’m talking about Jesus now. He modeled this kind of forgiveness on the cross. He was guiltless, yet He was wronged. He deserved to be vindicated by His Father, but instead suffered in silence. He took the punishment that every one of us deserved so that we could stand in front of those who hurt us, certain that a price for sin had been paid. That price was paid by a God who loves justice so much that He was willing to die for the sake of justice.
Peter understood the power of what Jesus had done when he urged us to follow Christ’s example. He wrote:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 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. (1 Peter 2:21–23)
We forget that last bit. Forgiveness doesn’t just mean that a wounded person simply lets go of the offense. It means that we turn the offense over to God and allow Him to judge justly. In other words, healing when you’ve been wounded by other Christians has more to do with trusting God than you might have thought.
Instead of finding freedom in forgiveness, I wasted a few years supposedly protecting myself from other Christians. I stopped going to church for a season. My faith took a hit. I didn’t trust God enough to pray like I used to. I had a decision to make: Would I hang on to my hurt, or would I choose to be free? The thing about God is that He’s quite fair in what He asks of us.
God doesn’t ask us to deny the pain that’s been inflicted on us.
God doesn’t ask us to minimize the pain we feel.
God doesn’t ask us to bury our pain or ignore it.
God doesn’t even ask us to understand our pain.
God simply asks us to turn over our pain to a loving Father who is more than able to do the right thing on our behalf, even when we least expect Him to and always when we don’t expect Him to anymore.
And there are also times when God uses our pain to move us out of a horrible situation and to propel us into action.
by Lina AbuJamra
After your faith has fractured, let what takes its place be the real thing . . . at last. Somewhere along the way, the Christianity you knew...
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