More from my dear friend Dr. Ken Chant.…..
FORGIVING EVERYONE FOR EVERYTHING!
There is no freedom without forgiveness. We cannot know true freedom until we first grasp the Father’s pardon for all our wrongdoing. But even then, freedom will elude us until we find the grace to forgive everyone who has ever done anything to offend us. We need to reach a place where we can say, with absolute truth, that we have heartily pardoned every injury or deprivation we have ever suffered ‒ no matter who did it, or why.
But that is impossible, someone will cry! Surely it is deeply human to hold a grudge, to seek revenge, to loathe those who have done us some harm, especially when the pain was undeserved.
Peter once asked Jesus if he should forgive an offender as many as seven times (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus replied, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven!”
Yet we should not be too quick to judge Peter for his paltry seven. I have met people who refuse to forgive even one offence!
When Christ declared that we should be willing to forgive our neighbour at least 490 times, he was actually teaching that our willingness to forgive must be limitless. If you are counting off the number of offences (“488…489…490… now I can strike back!”), you simply show that you have actually not forgiven the offender even once ‒ you have merely postponed your revenge.
AN INTOLERABLE BURDEN?
But how can such limitless forgiveness be demanded? It would seem to impose upon our frail humanity an intolerable burden. Is Christ a tyrant, requiring of us a greater forbearance than is humanly possible? Hardly! For our own benefit Christ insists that we forgive “seventy times seven”. Refusing pardon, not giving it, is the thing that makes life impossibly burdensome.
(a) To limit forgiveness places you under the tyranny of hate
Right-thinking people set themselves to live by the royal law of love. But those who refuse to forgive, no matter how they try to disguise it or to justify it, are actually living by a law of hatred. It is pointless to pretend otherwise. We cannot truly love without truly forgiving.
If you have not forgiven an offender, then you will be seeking an opportunity to retaliate ‒ but God says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Romans 12:19-21; 13:9-10). To take revenge into your own hand, or even to wish that you were free to do so, will make you just as guilty in the sight of God as the person who offended you
God reserves to himself the right of ultimate vengeance because he alone knows all the factors that cause people to behave in certain ways; he alone knows the real extent of their guilt or innocence.
(b) To limit forgiveness places you under the tyranny of selfishness
Those who limit forgiveness condemn themselves to a double blindness: they will no longer be able to see any virtue in the offender; they will no longer be able to see any fault in themselves. That blindness may not fully darken their lives immediately; but if unforgiveness continues, it will eventually cause both a distorted concentration upon the faults of the offender and a corresponding emphasis upon one’s own virtues.
(c) To limit forgiveness places you under the tyranny of the past
Do you really want to enter each tomorrow under the shadow of yesterday? Do you really want to darken the beautiful prospect of each new day in Christ by bringing into it the bitterness of the past? Paul’s advice is wiser: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26)
Can you afford to jeopardise the wonderful future God has planned for you by stubbornly clinging to the faults of yesterday? Indeed, those who withhold forgiveness are actually turning their backs on God’s tomorrow and foolishly facing only the shadows of their past.
So this is why Christ insisted upon forgiveness without limit: for any sensible person, the cost of limiting forgiveness is absurdly too high.
NOT IMPOSSIBLE ‒ BUT CERTAINLY HARD!
Do not pretend that forgiveness is easy. It can be very glib for someone happy in his or her marriage, serene, comfortable, prosperous, to lay a burden of pardon upon someone who is tortured by a sense of injustice, of cruelty, or of irretrievable loss
Be careful not to trivialise vile behavior. Demanding that a wronged person offer free and full forgiveness may seem horribly unjust, as if the offence were trivial and could be easily overlooked. It may also convey an appearance of encouraging wrongdoers to repeat the offence, since their fault caused them little or no loss.
Be careful about shifting the blame. Sometimes the demand that a victim should forgive the person who inflicted pain turns into a subtle shifting of blame. You may end up making the suffering person a victim all over again, this time being bullied by a demand to forgive.
How then can we help a victim to break out of the prison of resentment, without imposing upon him or her more burdens of fear, guilt, and shame? The key is not to press people further than they are able to go. Let a forgiving heart arise out of a process of healing and restoration, teaching the victim first how to receive pardon from God, then how to forgive himself/herself. Bring people to a place where forgiveness no longer has to be demanded, but will be freely offered, whether with joy or tears.
But whether forgiveness comes easily or is very hard, nothing can alter the truth that a bitter heart in the end harms only itself. God demands that we forgive one another, even the worst offences, simply because to do otherwise is to poison one’s entire life. But where there is whole-hearted pardon, there also the way is open to live in joyful freedom, rich in love, and full of grace.
Blessings until next time…Dr. Ken Chant