Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Layers of Forgiveness

"When we forgive someone, we're not minimizing the harm they caused nor condoning the sin they've committed. We're simply choosing to place the offense into the nail-scarred hands of Christ." 
 --David Jeremiah

Forgiveness is a funny thing . . . it doesn't happen all at once. It comes in layers, like an onion. First, you peel off a layer and shed a few tears, and you think you're done. Forgive and forget, right?


Then out of the blue, after a few days or weeks perhaps, something reminds you of the offense and you realize you haven't forgotten it after all. So again, you have to choose to forgive. You peel another layer off the onion. And shed a few more tears. And think, Whew, finally I have forgiven that offense.

Nope, not yet.

Because months later, you might discover that an unwanted root of bitterness is springing up within you (Hebrews 12:15), and you'll be peeling off another layer of that onion, shedding a few more tears, going back through the process of forgiveness all over again.

And again.

And again.

Allow me to clear up a possible misunderstanding out there. Yes, Jesus taught us to forgive those who hurt us (Mark 11:25-26). And yes, the New Testament is replete with commands to refrain from anger and to love our enemies and to pursue peace with all people. Forgiveness is absolutely essential to a Christ-saturated life. Yes, yes, yes.

But Christians who say that we should be able to forgive effortlessly those who hurt us, as if it's the most natural thing in the world, are CRAZY. 

Forgiveness is not natural. It's hard. It requires the intentional focus of every part of your being--your thoughts, your speech, your actions. You have to practice a LOT of self-control. You have to release a LOT of hurt. You have to keep bringing your broken heart to the One who heals you.

In other words, you can't do it alone. 

You need GOD.

Forgiveness is NOT for the faint of heart. And contrary to popular belief, forgiveness is NOT a sign of weakness.

As I often tell my kids, "The wrong choice is the easy choice. The right choice is always harder, but you will never regret it."

If you've ever been betrayed or offended, you know that it is a bazillion times harder to forgive than it would be to seek revenge. To tell the world of your hurt. To vindicate yourself. To get people on "your side." To make the offender suffer in some way.

Because let's admit it: the wrong choice (unforgiveness) is clearly the easy choice.

Much, much harder is the choice to release the offense. To purge your heart of bitterness or anger or hurt or pain. To care more about what God thinks than what people around you think. To "place the offense into the nail-scarred hands of Christ," as pastor David Jeremiah put it.

But when you make the right choice (forgiveness), you will never regret it.

When the apostle Peter asked Jesus, "Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?", I wonder... do you think it's possible that Peter was thinking about how often he had to forgive the SAME offense over and over? (I've always thought he meant that someone offended him seven different times. But could it be that the same offense kept popping up in Peter's mind, so he had to keep forgiving that same offense over and over, like layers of an onion?)

Now to Peter's credit, seven times was pretty generous. A Jewish law at the time said you only had to forgive someone three times. (Three strikes, and you're out!) Good ol' Peter... he magnanimously doubled that and added an extra one for good measure. SEVEN TIMES! I'm sure the apostle's burly chest swelled with pride at his astonishing pronouncement of uber-spirituality.

"No, not seven times," Jesus replied (can't you imagine Peter's smirk fading here?), "but seventy times seven!" (Matthew 18:21-22 NLT).

Seventy times seven?

This isn't a math problem. (We shouldn't keep score.) It's Jesus' way of saying that there should be no end to our forgiveness. Like the parable Jesus told next in Matthew 18 to illustrate His point, the offenses people commit against us--however heinous or malicious or painful--are infinitesimally miniscule compared to our sins against a holy God. To have a right understanding of forgiveness, we need a right perspective of holiness. 

So as those forgiven by God, we are commanded to forgive others.  

Even if that forgiveness is for the SAME offense. Over and over. Peeling off layer after layer. Pouring out tears upon tears.

Every time that offense comes back to haunt us or hurt us, we can--and for our own sake, we must--choose to place it, with God's help, into the nail-scarred hands of Christ.


And again.

  "When we forgive, we set a prisoner free
and discover that the prisoner we set free is us."
--Lewis Smedes, The Art of Forgiving

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