How long can you hold a grudge? Have you ever been hurt so much by someone or something that you have found it hard to forgive? Perhaps you have yet to forgive someone. My #OneWord for 2015 is reconciliation and I am struggling at the moment with this word. I am not sure reconciliation can happen without forgiveness. To challenge me further, I have continued reading Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship’. Bonhoeffer mentioned nothing on ‘getting my own back’, ‘payback time’ or ‘tips to get back at someone’. Instead there was focus on forgiveness and loving our enemies. Ouch.
Wrestling With Forgiveness
I have been wrestling with forgiveness. I know that I have been the one to cause hurt to people in the past. When the person who has been hurt is a friend or family member, it seems a natural reaction to what some sort of revenge for the way that the person or people you care about have been treated. Equally, I have also been on the receiving end of hurt. In each situation forgiveness is difficult, at times it feels almost impossible. It is hard to forgive yourself if you have hurt someone perhaps through retaliating, using words as a weapon to knock someone down, or ignoring them completely. Maybe you feel as if you have done something so awful that you don’t deserve forgiveness for it. Maybe you don’t want to forgive that person who abandoned you, mistreated you, misjudged you, angered you, abused you. It seems easier to harbour up bitterness and resentment against the way you or a loved one was treated, than ever coming to a place of true forgiveness. ‘Sorry’ does not seem to matter anymore. How can you trust that they truly mean it or that they would not do the same again?
Experiencing Deep Hurt
Within the last month, I have been at the crossroads to forgiveness. There has been someone in my life who has hurt me in such a way that I thought I could not bounce back from it. With the support of my husband, I have been able to take my eyes away from the crossroads and focus them on the cross. Through many tears, bubbling anger, and ranting at the air, I found comfort as Joel would take the lead and pray for me and the person who aggrieved me. Although the Lord knew my heart and He is the Comforter, I was wrestling with my emotions and felt somewhat reluctant to pray. I felt that bitterness and resentment was desperately trying to claw its way into my heart.
But the victory was with Christ who overcame my emotions. The Lord is walking with me during this challenging time. A few years ago, my mum gave me her book called ‘Victory Over The Darkness’ by Neil T. Anderson. There was a section on steps to forgiveness. I am a sucker for step-by-step guides, although that is not how life works and there isn’t a manual for every crisis we encounter. However, I was blessed with the insight from this book which helped me greatly in my battle with unforgiveness.
I will share some of the following helpful words from Anderson on forgiveness:
- Forgiving is not forgetting. God does not forget but never uses the past against us. He removes it as far as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12)
- Forgiveness does not mean you must tolerate sin. You can confront lovingly but firmly and take a stand against future sin.
- Forgiveness does not seek revenge or demand repayment for offenses suffered.
- Forgiveness means resolving to live with the consequences of another person’s sin. We are all living with the consequences of Adam’s sin in the bible.
- We can choose to live with the consequences of sin in the bondage of bitterness or in the freedom of forgiveness.
- You don’t heal in order to forgive. You forgive in order to heal.
I found these words helpful on this process of dealing with my emotions and making that choice to forgive. There IS freedom in forgiveness because Christ set us free from our sins through His death on the cross. We are free because of His choice to be the sacrificial lamb for all people.
The Bible, Bonhoeffer and Me
I will refer back to the words of Bonhoeffer as he talks about forgiveness. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. This love that Jesus tells us to have for our enemies goes against what we feel as natural. However, it sets the followers of Christ apart from the rest of the world. Violence and vengeance are never the answer. But we have the full assurance of a victory in Jesus Christ.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
Scrolling through Twitter, I came across a tweet from the Barnabas Fund about how extremists in Nigeria set fire to a Nigerian church and a pastor’s home. What captivated me was the response of Christians in the neighbourhood, and the extremists reaction to the Christians’ response. The Christians in Gidan Maso did not react with violence to their attackers. Their response infuriated the extremists and resulted in further violence because the Christians did not respond in the way that the extremists had expected. The Christians in Gidan Maso were living out Matthew 5:44.
Bonhoeffer has much to say about forgiveness and loving your enemies. I am guilty of preferring to love my friends, family, congregation and people who like me, more than going out of my way to love someone who has persecuted me and those that I love. We can only truly love our enemies when we know Jesus. With all the hatred and evil we see around us, it can feel as if evil as triumphed. Bonhoeffer states that ‘It looked as though evil had triumphed on the cross, but the real victory belonged to Jesus.’ The cross of Christ overcomes evil.
‘The cross of Christ is the only power in the world which proves that suffering love can avenge and vanquish evil.’
‘Violence stands condemned by its failure to evoke counter-violence.’
‘…when evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets its opponent which is more than its match.’
‘Where is love more glorified than where she dwells in the midst of her enemies?’
The above quotes were the words of Bonhoeffer who I have written about previously as a martyr for the faith. Each quote is a direct challenge to the Christian who professes to follow Christ, the Son of God. We must be prepared to suffer, but we have an everlasting hope that no one can take from us. When God sent down His Son to die for our sins, to then raise Him three days later and to be Judge over the earth, He knew what He was doing. Life may seem messy, evil and a difficult place to forgive, forbear and love our enemies, but this is what sets Christians apart from the world. Vengeance belongs to the Lord; but we are called to love our enemies, to bless those who persecute us and above all, to pray for them.
‘The cross is the differential of the Christian religion, the power which enables the Christian to transcend the world and to win the victory.’
Where does this leave me and forgiveness? I made a choice, a decision to forgive the person who has hurt me because there is freedom in forgiveness. I do not want to be held in the bondage of bitterness. That does not mean that I have forgotten what has happened. Rather, I will not choose to mention it or hold it against them in future. For me, there is still a process at work. It was my choice to follow Jesus, but it is a life-long process of discipleship and refinement, not an instantaneous transformation, to Christ-likeness. In a similar way, it is my choice to forgive and to love my enemies, but it is a process to work through my hurt, anxiety and fear, with full assurance that I can place my trust in God knowing that He is in control and He alone has the victory.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15)
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14)
Linking up with Kelly Balarie and Friends at #RaRalinkup this week 🙂