Rev. Tony Romaine
Max Lucado: "Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realizing you were the prisoner."
Look, forgiveness is the most difficult thing we are called to do as Christians. It goes against our very nature as animals to forgive someone who has harmed or hurt us in one way or another. We are programmed to hold onto past pains so that they do not occur again. When in fact, it is that “holding on,” which traps us and ensnares us in a powerless prison.
Before we move any further, let us be clear, forgiveness is not about forgetting. To say, “forgive and forget,” is not only harmful but also un-helpful to anyone who is actually trying to go through the act of forgiveness. We must never forget some of the things that have happened to us, to our world, and to the people around us; doing so would be a tarnish upon our very faculties as God-created, thinking individuals. But forgiveness is something entirely different. Forgiveness is taking the power back from the individual, organization, or entity which has caused us strife. Forgiveness is freeing ourselves from the bondage of having to hold a grudge, of having to hold onto past pains, of having to forever relive something that we just do not want to carry any longer, and forgiveness is the final step in a long path toward healing.
In trauma-care, we are taught that the final step for people who have experienced trauma is forgiveness. Again, this is not a motion toward forgetting or condoning the harm that occurred, but it is a step toward releasing the bondage of that event on said person’s life. The reason it is the final step toward healing in trauma situations is because it is the most difficult and can take quite a while to even get to, if people ever get there at all.
With what has just been said in mind, let us today ask ourselves why Jesus would want us to forgive our brother or sister. The answer begins with another part of our very nature which we cannot change no matter how hard we try; our sinfulness. We are bound to do harm or hurt to someone at sometime regardless of intent and sometimes with ill intent very much on our mind. In this respect, we are inherently sinful; again, whether we intended to be or not, and in this moment, we have then caused harm to another person, thing, etc.
We then become the ones who need to be forgiven for our actions or inactions and we come once again to the Golden Rule we have all memorized since we were children, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” And so, one reason Jesus desires us to forgive our brothers and sisters is because we desire the same for ourselves. And if we seek forgiveness, we must also offer forgiveness.
Which naturally transitions us into my next point of why Jesus would want us to forgive our brother or sister. We live in community. We live in community and when you live in community, a harm or hurt or injury against one individual is a harm or hurt or injury to the whole community. We have seemed to lost sight of this virtue nowadays. We judge and hold judgment and reserve the right to determine who is right and who is wrong.
We go about our lives thinking we live very separate lives; we are not like those people who look down on others, we are not like those people who do not care for their neighbors, we are not like those people who fight and struggle and are at constant war, we are not like those people who lack basic human respect for one another…and we think we are different from the people who do harm in our communities because we would not do the same or we are distant from the injury.
When in fact, when we as Christians do harm to anyone, we as Christians are doing so under the community name of Christian. And when we do harm as Christians, we do double the harm for Christ did not call us to hurt, He called us to Love. Thus, we all need forgiveness as part of community and we all need to reconcile as brothers and sisters so that accountability can be paired with forgiveness; always remembering that forgiveness is not condoning, but forgiveness is an act of love, an act of freeing the community of the bondage of hurt.
One final point about living in community when it comes to forgiveness; when we have hearts that are quick to judge, quick to accuse, quick to call people fools or idiots, quick to insult those we think are lesser than us; we create fracture in our community. And we quickly go down a road where forgiveness is never an option for the love, we should have for one another is trapped behind a wall of segregation, inequality, inhumane treatment, and disregard of fellow human beings. At which point to forgive seems even more out of our nature and love a distant memory. This is not the community Christ calls us to, because at some point, we must also answer for our mistakes, our hurts, our harms, our sins.
Which brings me to my final point about why Jesus would want us to forgive our brother and sister. At some point, we must all “come to terms with our accuser on the way to court.” And if you missed this metaphor from the Gospel passage today, the accuser is God and we are on our way to court. Perhaps this makes you uncomfortable that God would be your accuser, and you would be headed to the judgement seat. Christians today do not want a God who judges good and bad, right and wrong, Christians nowadays want a very loving God who only looks at our good points.
Hey, I get you, I am right there with you, and if any of you have listened to many of my sermons you know that I am one who preaches and teaches about a God who is a God of love till I am blue in the face. But at some point, we must also recognize that God is our judge, in fact our sole eternal judge and so we must come to terms with the accusations against us; i.e. our sins, and reconcile on the way to court.
In plain speak, we must seek God’s forgiveness with a repentant heart and truly confess, repent, and reconcile with our God, who indeed loves us. And even though God is accuser, even though God is judge, our God loved us so much that Jesus came and was sacrificed so that our sins were forgiven and we were set free. To go back to the metaphor, on the way to court, we pray for forgiveness for we know we cannot do it alone, and because we have come to ask forgiveness from the only One who can forgive everything; through Jesus Christ, our debts are paid, our sins forgiven, and every last penny accounted for, we do not go to prison, but are freed by the grace and love of God.
“Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realizing you were the prisoner.”
It is a daunting task to forgive. It is an ongoing task to forgive. It takes a lifetime of prayer, patience, empathy, and love to forgive. Perhaps the most helpful comment I read lately about forgiveness is that when we forgive we are not forgetting, but re-routing our hurt, pain, and sorrow through heaven for God to take on; freeing ourselves to repair, live anew, and free; therewithin lies the hope, forgive and be freed, Amen