One thought that has blessed me often in the Easter season is the extent to which the Lord Jesus forgave. I think of hearing Him say, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”, and I shiver. True forgiveness is such an amazing thing and truly mysterious. I‘ve chuckled over the story of the monks at a remote monastery who followed a rigid vow of silence. Their vow could only be broken once a year, on New Year’s Day, by one monk. That monk could speak only one sentence. One New Year’s Day, Brother Thomas had his turn to speak and said, “I love the delightful mashed potatoes we have every year with the New Year’s Day Roast!” Then he sat down. Silence ensued for 365 days. The next New Year’s Day, Brother Michael got his turn and said, “I think the mashed potatoes are lumpy, and I truly despise them!” Once again, silence ensued for 365 days. The following year, Brother Paul rose and said, “I am fed up with this constant bickering!
This story reminds me of how often we have unfinished relational business. I have often counseled family members who found themselves unable to forgive various individuals who had deeply wounded them. In each case they knew that Jesus commanded us to forgive but the practical steps of clearing the emotional weights in their hearts were not easy. From a third party perspective it is always easy to “arm-chair quarterback” and give quick answers. But, we all know forgiving is an unnatural and demanding process when we are doing the forgiving. Several key hurdles come to mind. First of all, forgiveness acknowledges that there was a wrong committed. We can’t say “It’s no big deal,” or “Oh, don’t worry about it.” Forgiveness is not acting as if a wrong was not that important. Forgiveness is confrontation. Forgiveness requires admitting that a serious wrong was done against you. The picture of Christ forgiving while he suffered so profoundly, models the task of real forgiveness for us.
A second reality is that forgiveness changes our status from victim to victor. When someone does something hurtful to us, we are the victim of their meanness or their thoughtlessness. We sometimes believe that there is nothing we can do about our victim status, but that’s not true. The process of forgiving moves us to a new place. When we forgive, we are no longer powerless, we are no longer the one who has merely been acted upon. When we forgive, we boldly stand and say, “You will not dictate the way I respond; you will not dictate who I am.” It’s hard to stop being the victim. In all His humility and meekness on the cross, Jesus Christ was supremely triumphant.
A third hurdle in this adventure is the personal admission that we have needed, do need, and will continue to need forgiveness ourselves. Jesus said through a parable, “Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?” If we look at the larger situation, we are not only the one to whom wrong has been done, we are also often the one who has done wrong to others. Our power in forgiveness grows as we fully grasp the extent to which Christ has forgiven us.
Finally, I would say that forgiving is risky but it is the only road to freedom. Forgiving is risky but the risk is definitely worth taking. Forgiveness does have its perils, but our only other choice, our only other ‘road’ is to hold onto bitterness and anger. Remember the Chinese proverb, “Whoever opts for revenge should dig two graves.” And the striking words of Anne Lamott, “. . .not forgiving someone is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” (Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies) Forgiveness is costly, but it is the only road to freedom. Giving forgiveness is not easy, it does have definite hurdles. But at the end of the day for the obedient Christian, forgiveness it isn’t simply the wisest choice, it is your only choice, for by it we are following the footsteps of our Savior.
Author: Pastor Mark Matychuk