Saturday, June 12, 2010
Have you ever experienced pain from someone, or someones, that you knew you need to forgive, but couldn't? I would love to hear about your experience.
The reason I bring this up is because at my church our pastor is going through a series teaching on the Gospel. It has been a huge learning experience for the entire congregation. Our pastor, and elders, are very intentional about teaching God's Word that is going to produce a response from us to God. And through his teachings, God's Word pokes and prods and sometimes makes us very uncomfortable. And that is where this issue of forgiveness comes in.
Last week, Todd (our pastor) gave us some very clear applications to the teaching on forgiveness. He made it clear that through our sanctification process that God is working in us in this area of forgiveness. Among many, many other things of course. The thing that struck me was when Todd told us that if any of us was harboring unforgiveness that we should not come to church next week. Wow. He even admitted as much that not too many pastors would put out such a challenge. But Todd didn't hold back. Though the teaching was difficult for all of us to hear on some level, it comes straight from God's word. "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison." Matthew 5:23-25
It makes sense, obviously. With Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, He goes through the most painful, agonizing death imaginable. He endured the pain, scorn, and shame of the cross for a reason. He was reconciling the world to Himself. "All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Since God has gone through so much in order for us to be reconciled, even choosing to forgive us of our most heinous of sins, how can we not but be thankful? However, though we are grateful we may still find it difficult to deal with the forgiveness of others ourselves. Why is that? I think part of it is because of God's nature. God's perfect love leads him to be able to forgive though we were enemies. And we're but man...imperfect.
Isn't that the kind of love that God has called us to? To love our enemies? Shouldn't that lead us to a place of forgiveness as well? Isn't that what love is? So if we are called to love and forgive, why is it so hard?
Like I said, for God it is part of who He is. God is love. But for us, though we are saved by grace and are being conformed into His image, we still are not perfect. Our love is not perfect. And our forgiveness is not perfect.
When someone hurts us, I mean really hurts us, it runs deep into our soul. Obviously, at some point we need to be able to forgive the offender. Not so much for that person's sake, but for ours. This website points out some real serious consequences to allowing unforgiveness to fester. It's certainly critical in our relationship with God since Jesus says, "But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." Matthew 6:15
But my question is this: If we are unable to forgive someone, should we not go to church, the one place where God can continue through teaching and through fellowship with other believers, to help us process the pain where we can learn and eventually forgive? I brought this question before Todd and he made a very interesting point...if we are saying that we can't forgive, that doesn't necessarily mean that we're blatantly saying "no" to God. In some cases, when the pain is fairly recent, and depending on the situation and the extent of the offense (i.e. adultery, murder, etc.) it may not be an immediate response to be able to say, "Okay, I forgive!" For these kind of circumstances, it's going to take time and healing. But we need to be able to at least pray and ask God to help us. It may take awhile, but eventually we need to be able to love and forgive, just as Christ did with us. We certainly don't want to be guilty of the same thing as the unmerciful servant.
On the other side of this, if what we're saying to God is that I will not (or refuse) to forgive, then you are harboring unforgiveness and you are in very dangerous territory. Does forgiving mean that you forget or that the pain suddenly goes away? Does it mean you have to disregard your feelings? There's actually some pretty good answers to these difficult questions and more from Mary Fairchild at Christianity Guide. There's even a book on the subject that I understand is very good too. The bottom line is that we don't want to be at a place where we are refusing to obey God's clear instruction to forgive. If that is the case, it doesn't matter whether you go to church, or do all the right things, or pray to God. It's so serious of a matter to God, that He will not even listen to you.
Has this been your experience? How have you dealt with forgiveness? What process did you go through? Are you still harboring unforgiveness? I would be interested to hear what you have to say.