How Do We Forgive?

Today saw yet another example of how truly awful human beings can be.  I heard the news with a strange mixture of sadness, frustration, and horror… but not shock. I wondered all afternoon why I wasn’t more shocked, but a good friend hit the nail on the head after Bible study tonight: “It’s almost like we’ve come to expect it.  It just doesn’t surprise us anymore.”

That issue aside, it didn’t take long for me to go from grief for the people affected to anger, and the question, “Who?  Why?”  Of course, behind those questions is the desire to see justice.  I want to know who did this, and I want them to be caught.

That’s a pretty natural reaction after this kind of thing.  And to some extent it is not entirely wrong.  Part of Pastor Smith’s prayer this evening in worship was that the one who did this be brought to justice. There are examples of such a prayer in the psalms.

But I think it also reflects something about human nature that fits very well into the third step in the Six Steps of Granting Forgiveness:

3. Give up the right to “get even,” but insist on being treated better in the future.

Inside us all is the desire to get even.  Someone wrongs us, and we want to give them their comeuppance. On a large scale, as a people, we can feel somewhat justified in this when someone commits a random act of terrorism.  But what about when it’s closer to home?

When your child doesn’t just disobey, he brings deep shame and grief to you by his foolish actions?

When your spouse really cuts into you with a nasty comment during a fight?

When your parent completely disappoints you?

When a friend betrays you?

In these situations, are we less eager to get even?  Or more?

Whether or not we have the “right” to get even is perhaps debatable.  What is not debatable is that for every time we have offended God by our actions, he has every right to “get even” with us by condemning us to hell. He is the one who is rightly offended by every offense. He is the one whose will is rejected with every willful act of sin.

Yet, God chooses not to get even with us.  Instead, he chooses to commit the most unjust act imaginable – to punish the only truly innocent person ever to live, Jesus Christ, his own Son.  And he does this so that instead of getting even with us, he can instead forgive us.

So what are we going to do when someone in our life sins against us?  Will we be like that wicked servant in Jesus’ parable, who was forgiven a great debt then went out and strangled his friend for pocket change? Or will we seek to follow the pattern of our gracious master and give up our “right” to get even.

Hm. Yeah, giving up a right is tough, isn’t it? We’re Americans. We like our rights. We don’t want to give them up.

But it’s worth it.  To forgive.  To surrender that right.  To just let go.

It’s been said that when we forgive, we set someone free… ourselves.  Well, that’s true, but we also set free the other person.  Free from guilt.  Free from fear of consequence.  Free from being treated as their sins deserve.  Kind of like the way God treats us.

The second part of this step talks about insisting on being treated better, and I covered that in some ways in my last post on boundaries.  Let me just say again that it is important to set some clear expectations and boundaries for future interactions, and that this is a loving thing because it is in the best interest of the relationship.  But it is not the antithesis of letting go.  It is, in fact, a crucial part of letting go of the right to get even.

Can we forgive the person who committed this tragedy in Boston today?  We know our God can.  We can pray that the perpetrator turns to God in repentance.  Only God know if that will ever happen.  Hopefully we can find a way collectively as a people to forgive.

And we can forgive each other.

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