Friday, March 2, 2012

Forgiveness Isn't Easy

Forgiving someone who has wronged you is far from easy. When someone treats me bad, I want to turn around and treat them worse. I want to turn around and give them a taste of their own medicine. Our natural instinct is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

When I was a child, my parents taught me that if I broke one of my brother's toys, I needed to buy him a new one or pay him back for it. That is fair and perfectly logical.  But when someone breaks one of your toys and won't or can't make it up to you, what do you do?

The Bible tells us to forgive those who do us wrong. It also says that we will be forgiven by God as we have forgiven others. But what exactly does it mean to forgive? If you remember the definition of forgiveness from the servant leadership posts, you'll know that forgiveness means letting go of resentment when wronged. The dictionary says that to be resentful is to have anger, bitterness, or ill will. Those feelings are what Jesus wants us to let go of. He doesn't want us to harbor anger, malice, bitterness, evil intentions, or ill will against other humans. None of those feelings will help us further the kingdom of God, so it's best to ditch them and leave it in God's hands.

But we don't always do that. When an injustice is done, we as humans have a tendency to want to take justice into our own hands. But that isn't what we should do. The Bible says that revenge belongs to God and God alone and that we shouldn't take it into our own hands. Romans 12:17a, 19 says, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil... Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord." In other words, God is saying that if we leave revenge up to Him, He will make it far worse for the offender than we ever could. After all, who would you be more scared of: a finite human being who can only inflict temporary pain, or a mighty, angry, wrathful God who can bring you pain both in life on earth and in eternal life?

So if we should leave the revenge up to God, what then should we do? Just ignore what happened and move on? No, that's not the answer. When someone does something bad to you, it's not like you can just erase it from your memory and move on with your life. There are some feelings- such as sadness, grief, anger, and bitterness-  that you will feel after something bad happens. Those feelings are natural and it is okay to feel them. It's okay to feel those emotions, but what you do with them is a different story. Let's say someone rapes your sister. It's okay to be angry. But it isn't okay to kidnap, torture, and murder the rapist. Or for example, let's say your fiance breaks up with you for another man. It's okay to feel sad. But it isn't okay to let grief or depression rule your life, nor is it okay to take your own life because you don't want to live without her.

In Matthew 18:23-35, Jesus tells the parable of the unmerciful servant. It's the ultimate example of true forgiveness (or lack thereof). Jesus says, "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents (that is, millions of dollars) was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii (that is, a few dollars). He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.  His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

Such is the forgiveness God wants from us. He wants us to forgive others just as the king in the parable forgave his servant. Even if that person owes you dearly, even if he wronged you severely, even if he took something very precious from you, God wants you to forgive that person just as He has forgiven you. Forgive as you have been forgiven.

1 comment:

Shay said...

Amen. Forgiveness isn't easy but without forgiveness I feel like I am harboring little shards of resentment in my heart. Not only do these shards they hurt me but they hurt those that I am harboring a grudge against too when I throw them back in their face in revenge or even in just saying "oh yeah well you did ____ and hurt me" You know what I am saying?