Thursday, November 15, 2012

Forgive thine enemies

Read: Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 23:34, 1 Peter 3:18

 “Give me grace to forgive them.  ‘Cause I feel like the one loosing.”
~ Tenth Avenue North.

Love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.   As you forgive those who sin against you, so you will be forgiven.  Forgive as you have been forgiven.    
The repetition in scripture illuminates the importance.  And it sounds so easy, doesn’t it?  One word to articulate the praxis of the gospel: a,.fes, forgive.[1]  An imperative, though not always a command, that is stative.  In other words, be in the state of perpetually forgiving; or in the negative, do not live in un-forgiveness. 

               But how? 
We are often told to simply let it go, put it behind you, move on.  Isn’t there a colloquialism (or a pin at the very least) stating that “the first to apologize is the strongest; the first to forgive is the bravest; and the first to forget is the happiest…”?  The implication is that if I can just forget the wrongs inflicted upon me, I’ll be free from the poisonous root of bitterness.  From the suffocating soul-death of un-forgiveness.  Common wisdom goads us to pair forgiving with forgetting. 

An amnesiatic grace.
But is that really what forgiveness is?  Ignoring pain?  Making trivial what wounds us?  Pretending the hurt never occurred in the first place?  I have to offer that is it, in fact, not what grace is at all.  Jesus didn’t pretend that a woman caught in the very act of adultery hadn’t done what her accusers said she’d done. After her accusers left, Christ didn’t say, “I have forgotten your sins.”  No, He told her to “go now and leave your life of sin.”[2]  That very statement acknowledges that she was in the wrong, that she had committed a transgression against her husband and against God.   He didn’t say to Simon, while eating at his table, that the sins of the woman washing His feet with her tears were forgotten; Jesus said that her many sins were forgiven.  The inclusion of quantity indicates that the individual sins were not forgotten; but that instead, each and every one of them were forgiven.[3]  Nor, as the Messiah hung upon the cross did He cry out, “Father, forget that they’re doing this to Me.”  No.  Jesus said, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”[4] 

Forgiveness, dear one, requires us to acknowledge that we have been hurt.  It is actually an identification of a wrongdoing.  Followed by releasing our right to retribution.  Laying down the privilege of retaliation at the foot of the cross, as God’s right to punish our sins is set beneath that very same cross.  I believe, where John Wayne a theologian, he might say it thus: Forgiveness isn’t forgetting; it’s being hurt but loving that person anyway.

I have to be honest, dearest reader, there is someone I am daily (and oh how I mean daily: as in moment to moment, breath to breath, every single day) struggling to forgive right now.  Because this is a public forum, I will not divulge details.  However, this individual has wreaked havoc on my family’s life for upwards of seven months now.  And this person does so without any recourse for their actions.[5]  So that every time I feel I have gotten a handle on this person’s antics, another wave comes rolling in.  And I find myself crouched low in the tall grass, hiding; waiting for the next blow.  Hesitant and fearful.  And finally, in truth, understanding why David could write in the Psalms as he did: calling out for the destruction of his enemies; but always ending with the sovereignty of God.    

My heart has cried out, in both anger and anguish, to the Lord: How does one forgive someone so bent on destruction?  And through my shaking, my body’s reaction to the violent swells of animosity within me, and my tears, an outpouring of helplessness, the Holy Spirit whispered to my spirit.  As delicately as a butterfly landing on velvet petals, I was suddenly awash with peace.    
     I am to forgive this person as Christ forgave me. 

It requires the recognition that the perpetrator is a sinner; bent on darkness, yes, but so was (and sadly am) I.  It requires that I acknowledge my hurt on the razor-edge of their tongue, as I have wounded others with mine.  It also requires that I realize that Christ shed the same blood, out of the same love, for this person as He did for me.  He died the same death, in the same hope that they would accept His sacrifice for their sins, as He did for me.  He loves this person with the same fierce and eternal love as He does me.

And in the context of this humility, this recognition of who I am and who Jesus is, I can truthfully acknowledge my wounds and lay my hurts at the foot of His cross.  And say,

                I forgive them, Lord.  As You have forgiven me.    


[1] Luke 23:34: “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’”
[2] John 8:11, full story John 8:1-11
[5] Forgive my grammatical incorrectness, but to protect the identity of this person, I am using an androgynous plural instead of any identifying singular.

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