Recently I have been saddened by the all out sprint to judgement of people and institutions that have made mistakes. It often seems the harshest comments come from people who ought to tap the brakes before they go there. These are folks that have made their own mistakes. Big ones. And they were offered grace and second chances. My initial response was self-righteous indignation because, let's be honest, I am good at that.
Eventually the quiet voice of the Spirit reminds me that I am also that guy who is too often quick to judge. I am that guy who tries to argue with God about forgiveness and whether someone "deserves" mercy. A little snippet from my book Stay addressed this very issue after Paul threw down an incredible statement to the Ephesian church.
Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
(Ephesians 4:32, NLT)
That is a very tall order and one that is impossible to do without remembering how much I have been forgiven. If you say something nasty about me and ask for forgiveness, I will almost certainly grant it. If you do it again and ask forgiveness, I will probably forgive you. If you do the same thing again and ask forgiveness, I will most likely respond ungraciously and ask you to “prove” you are sorry.
Yet that illustration is exactly what I do in my relationship with God every day. I have asked Him to forgive the same sin dozens, even hundreds of times. Still His Word tells me I am forgiven and He loves me just the same as the first time I confessed that sin. That is how God has forgiven me through Christ. I should respond accordingly, forgiving each and every offense out of profound gratitude. Do you see any way around the obvious command to forgive? Me either.
Bottom line: we are commanded to forgive as we have been forgiven. Forgiveness may well be the missing ingredient to the healing of most relationships. Forgive the one who wounded you. Forgive yourself and seek forgiveness if you are the one who wounded. Perhaps your efforts will not result in reconciliation. That is sad but ultimately okay. What if the other person does not deserve to be forgiven? Consider Jesus as He looked down in agony from the cross.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. (Luke 23:34, NLT)
I can say with complete confidence that I have not endured the level of wounds, betrayal, mocking, and abuse that Jesus experienced. Yet He could look at those evil perpetrators and ask His Father to forgive them. That gives me some perspective. Perhaps my situations are forgivable, with His help and only with His help.
I have spent a lot of unhappy moments not enjoying the freedom the Lord intended because I did not want to forgive someone who hurt me. I grieve to think of how I have stubbornly refused to forgive others for real and/or perceived slights over the years. I can imagine Jesus looking at me with sadness (not condemnation) because I have not fully comprehended the magnitude of the debt that has been erased from my account because of Him. I can hear Him saying,
“Dave, when you choose to hold onto bitterness, you shortchange yourself on joy and peace.”
If I cannot forgive, I have forgotten or never comprehended how much I have been forgiven.
Taken from Stay by Dave Burchett copyright © 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
How quickly I forget. I forget how much I have been forgiven. I forget how much I am loved by Jesus. I forget that I am a brand new creation. I forget I am righteous because of the finished work of Christ. I forget that there is no condemnation in Christ. I forget that I am a beloved child of God and He is for me. I forget that He has my back and He has me in His hand forever. I am forgetful.
But thank God He does not forget His promises. More than anything I need to remember that today.