Yesterday an Islamic terrorist was sentenced to death for a heinous crime committed against unsuspecting runners and spectators of the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Last week a twenty-one year old male entered a church and gunned down ten members, killing nine including the pastor, after sitting through a Bible study.
While the world, at times, feels like it is crumbling around us, it can be hard to comprehend how to move forward from the things that pain us. It's hard to forgive. When faced with situations like this one, we ask ourselves how we could possibly forgive even the ones who are not a single bit remorseful for what they've done, what they've destroyed.
The Bible shows that humans are the most forgiven people in the world. Time and time again you can find examples of people who went astray, committed heinous acts, broke trust etc., and yet were forgiven.
God allowed the sacrifice of part of God's ownself in atone for the sins of the entire world. Not just the believers, the entire human race. That is a powerful statement of the image of forgiveness. We are reminded throughout the Bible the importance of forgiveness. For example, Ephesians 4:31-32 states, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you (NIV)."
The author of Ephesians, presumably the Apostle Paul, reminds us that God forgave us, and continues to forgive us. Therefore, we should continue to put down our anger in search of forgiving grace toward those who wrong us.
But, let's be honest. That's really hard. Surely the Apostle Paul had no idea the kind of wrongs we are experiencing. Surely the Apostle Paul never had his child molested, raped, or killed. No one brought a gun (or sword) into his church. The world was different then. The Apostle Paul just did not get it. Surely.
The difficult truth when it comes to forgiveness is that it is not a gift to the offender.
No, forgiveness is a gift to ourselves. To be able to forgive removes the offender's ability to control our emotions. Forgiveness is freeing to the soul, because it is a statement that we are no longer controlled by the actions of someone else. Let us examine forgiveness a little closer.
1. Forgiveness is an act of will. It is an intentional action.
2. Forgiveness is not passive. It is not simply letting an action fade into a memory. Forgiveness is active, requires a conscious choice, and course of action. Isaiah 43:25 states that when God forgives our transgression, God remembers them no more (paraphrase). On that same note, making the conscious decision towards forgiveness means deciding to draw on God's grace for strength, and to refrain from thinking about what that person has done to harm us.
3. Do not be confused, forgiveness is not an admission that what happened to us was right or excusable. Forgiveness is NOT the same as saying, "It was no big deal." Instead, forgiveness is a statement of the opposite. Forgiveness says, "Yes we both know what you did was wrong, but God has forgiven me and so I forgive you.".
4. Forgiveness is painful. It's not easy, and it would be a disservice to make you think it is. Sometimes the effect of someone's sin have lingering results on our lives that are difficult to overlook. You have to fight painful memories, re-build trust, or possibly deal with financial repercussions as well.
But remember, forgiveness is not a gift to the offender. It is a gift to yourself. I hear many people express their unwillingness to let go of an incident, because they feel it means the other person "wins". With sin there is no winner. Sin creates a lose-lose situation. Instead, forgiveness allows healing to take place.
When you forgive you are saying:
1. I will not dwell on what has happened to me in the past.
2. I will no longer bring up this incident and use it against you.
3. I will no longer discuss this incident with others.
4. I will not let this incident hinder the relationship between us.
I contend that forgiveness is the test of the Christian heart. It tests everything we profess to believe about God and how we should interact with others. Forgiveness tests our faith and character on every level. How can we forgive? How do we put aside our pain and heartbreak?
Many surprising messages came out of Dylann Roof's bond hearing following the senseless murder of nine members of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston, South Carolina, but the one that captured me the most and inspired me to write this post, I will share with you below.
"You took something very precious away from me," a family representative of Ethel Lance, the 70-year old grandmother who died in the June 17th massacre. "I will never talk to her again. I will never be able to hold her again. But, I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you."
So, what does Christian forgiveness look like? I do not propose to know all of the answers, but I do contend that Christian forgiveness is found in the face of faith. Faith leads the way to forgiveness even in the most impossible circumstances. #News