Bitter Pastor Forgives His Sister's Abuser
- Friday, June 15, 2012
The recent charges brought against a former football coach at a prominent university brought to mind one of my family’s most painful chapters. When I was growing up, most kids in our small town took at least one class from “Max” on their journey through the sixth grade. To many, Max was a favorite teacher — always cutting up, telling jokes and handing out easy As. To me, he became the object of the deepest bitterness that I’ve ever known.
You see, no one knew that over the years Max initiated special relationships with his favorite students, who just “happened” to be cute, young girls. My little sister, whom I treasure and love, became one of Max’s victims. And the day I found out that Max had molested her is still one of the most disturbing, surreal times of my life.
As it turns out, my sister was not the only victim of this twisted teacher’s unholy desires. Girl after girl came forward and revealed how Max had showered them with presents and compliments, luring them into his trap.
The more I thought about it, my sadness hardened into anger and then blossomed into rage. The seed of bitterness planted in my heart grew to a full-blown briar patch of revenge. I prayed that Max would suffer eternally in hell, and I vowed to make him suffer on earth before facing God’s judgment.
Most would agree that my bitterness toward Max was justifiable. In the course of time, however, I learned that bitterness never draws us closer to God. Instead, I was punishing no one but myself, and those around me who would experience the scalding spillovers of the acid churning inside me. If you’ve ever experienced such bitterness, then you know what I’m talking about. Over time, our bitterness poisons our heart.
It’s obviously not a sin on your part when someone hurts you. But if you don’t handle the hurt properly, their sin becomes a catalyst for your own. Then you won’t be hurt once — but hurt twice or even more. That’s what happened to me as I brewed on Max. The more I imagined what he’d done, the deeper my bitter plant grew its roots into the soil of my heart. And the more its fragrant poison infiltrated my own soul.
In the end, my plan for revenge wasn’t necessary. Several years after his crimes were revealed, Max began fighting for his life against the crippling disease, muscular dystrophy. About the same time, I became a Christian and even though I’d started to learn the principles of forgiveness, I rationalized that Max was the exception to God’s command to forgive. Surely God wouldn’t want me to forgive someone who did something as horrible as Max did to those girls.
Unfortunately, I learned that God’s command to forgive doesn’t have exceptions. To make matters more challenging for my bitter heart, I discovered the words of Jesus: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14-15). No matter how justifiable my feelings were, my self-righteous hatred was just as sinful as Max’s crime in God’s eyes.
Shortly after I started the process of forgiving Max, his body took a turn for the worse. His muscular dystrophy got the upper end and we got word that Max didn’t have long to live. By the miraculous power of God, my sister, our parents, and I then made the decision to forgive Max for his wrongdoing. God had freely forgiven us. How could we withhold the same grace from someone else?
I sent a note to Max while he was under hospice care, preparing to die in his home. In the note, I wrote how Christ had forgiven and changed me. I explained that God wanted to do the same thing for Max. As simply as I could, I told the story of the gospel highlighting the grace and forgiveness possible through Christ.
After Max’s funeral, I found out the nurse caring for him had read him the note. She explained that Max listened and gave his life to Christ. Even though Max certainly doesn’t deserve it — just as none of us do — he will spend eternity forgiven by God in heaven. God’s grace uprooted my bitterness by reminding me that even though I’ve never molested anyone, I’m no better than Max without the gift that Jesus gave us, the same one he offers to each of us.
Craig Groeschel is the founder and senior pastor of Lifechurch.tv, the second largest church in the U.S and the creators of the popular and free YouVersion Bible App. A bestselling author, this essay is an adaptation from Craig’s new book, Soul Detox: Clean Living in a Contaminated World (Zondervan May 2012).
Publication date: June 15, 2012
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