Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

October 25, 2004

On Forgiveness

The best kept secret in all the world is that forgiveness changes things. That forgiveness is transformational. Mysterium Tremendum (the much-esteemed), wrote recently about this. It seems that some guests of Oprah Winfrey shocked Winfrey's audience by saying that they had forgiven the men who had sexually abused them. To the world this seems not only unbelievable, but an undermining of justice. In fact, it seems like sheer insanity. Aren't some things simply unforgivable?

A friend recently told me as much. He agreed that forgiveness was a noble idea, but in many cases too much to ask. This friend is a good man, soft-hearted, caring. He imagined that forgiveness might sometimes be a kind of impossible dream, producing only guilt when one inevitably fails to live up to so lofty a goal.

There seems to be almost an iron law of the flesh: sin against me, and I must forever hold you at arm's length, wary at best, or at worst your mortal enemy. The memory of the hurt will linger, so that when I see you or think of you, I will think also of what you've done. You will be forever associated in my mind with your sin, marked with an indelible sign of guilt.

This inner dynamic, this instinct, is familiar to all in varying degrees. I know a woman whose husband once held a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. The gun was not loaded. The metallic click sounded like thunder in her ears. Her husband laughed and said, "Out of ammo. Too bad." There is no way that I or anyone else can expect her to forgive him. Not in her own power. One of the kindest women I know, she says she cannot and will not do so. Her memories haunt her, and the more she remembers, the more impossible forgiveness seems. And the more unjust. It's a vicious circle indeed, but these are just the kind of bonds that Jesus came to break.

I know that forgiveness is a key to freedom. It is a wonderful reality of the Kingdom of God. For many years I held a grudge against my father for deserting his family. When I became a Christian, I tried to make myself forgive him, out of a since of duty, but I couldn't. Forgiveness came to me one day, as I was worshipping God with a body of believers. God simply took the grudge away, and replaced it with love. This remains one of the greatest miracles I have ever experienced.

Perhaps you have been forgiven by someone against whom you've sinned. Then you know how the centurion felt, looking up at Jesus on the Cross, after the Savior had uttered the words, "Forgive them, Father, for they don't what they're doing." This Roman soldier, who had taken part in the crucifixion, stood in awe and said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39)

Forgiveness is the inbreaking of Kingdom reality in this present age. It is the essence of Christlikeness. It is Christ in you, the hope of glory, working itself out through your very words and deeds. We do not do it in "imitation" of Jesus. We do it because Jesus lives and reigns in our very hearts.


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