(This is the second entry of a series on forgiveness. A grace with which we all struggle.)
This Rock, a novel by Robert Morgan, is the story of two brothers, Moody and Muir Powell. Moody and Muir lived in the southern Appalachian Mountains. The story takes place in the 1920s. Moody dies. Muir gives the eulogy.
“(Moody) taught me that we can learn from our mistakes, that we can grow to act on the better part of our natures, that we can change and learn to forgive, that we can go beyond our failures.
“But maybe even harder than learning from our mistakes is learning to forgive. It’s easy to say, ‘Forgive and forget.’ But how often do we really do it, especially if we feel wronged while we’re in the right? Do you forgive them in your family that have took your land, or cheated you out of an inheritance, or been cruel to your mama? Do you forgive them that have insulted you and mocked you?
“Think of the sweetness of the morning light on a day we knowed we would not hate or be angry, accuse or fear anyone. That promise is not just a dream. It is possible right here, and it is in ourselves….Learn to forgive your neighbor and brother. Not least of all, learn to forgive yourself. Show charity and respect for yourself. For no one is more important than you yourself.”1
“Do you forgive them in your family that have took your land…?”2 Forgiveness is honest, severely honest.3 Forgiveness is not being a pushover, a floor mat to be stepped on, meeting every wrong, every hurt, and every betrayal, with “There, there, you didn’t mean that, did you?”4 C. S. Lewis put it this way, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”5 What makes forgiveness so difficult is the fact that forgiveness is not about the excusable, the accidents, the times when your husband is sick, and you know he doesn’t really mean those harsh impatient words. Forgiveness is about the inexcusable. What happened, what was said or done, was wrong, injurious, undeserving, an inexcusable betrayal and injury.
Forgiveness doesn’t sweep the offense under the carpet. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse. Forgiveness faces head on the wrong, the sin, the betrayal, the hurt. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). Nathan was severely honest with David. “You are the man!…Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites” (2 Samuel 12:7, 9). David confessed his sin and repented. Nathan responded, “The LORD has taken away your sin” (2 Samuel 12:13).
Muir said, “Think of the sweetness of the morning light on a day we knowed we would not hate or be angry, accuse or fear anyone. That promise is not just a dream. It is possible right here.”6
Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). When someone wrongfully hurts you he owes you. He owes you an acceptance of responsibility and of blame for the wrong he has done. An apology is owed. Restitution is owed if possible. You are owed justice.
Wrongful hurt, injustice, violation, betrayal, stir within us anger and many strong emotions. We need the anger, the emotions, to give us energy and strength to honestly face what has happened. The wrong committed must be confronted. The offender needs to be held accountable for his actions and words. Protest needs to be made. Rebuke needs to be given. “You are the man! And here is what you have done.” God’s anger and wrath are seen in his response to David’s sin in 2 Samuel 12.
Unlike God, the danger for we human beings is falling into bitterness. How easy it is to hold onto a grudge. The victim of a wrong can become obsessed with payback and vengeance. We soon find our thinking, our attitude, our daily living, continually filled with bitterness and negativity. The wrong done to us, the offender, controls us when we cannot forgive. I have known people who were miserable for much of their lives because they could not forgive. They could not let go of the bitterness and anger. Past wrongs, long gone, had a hold on their lives. The irony was that their lives were chained to the wrong they never forgave while the offender went on with life.
Forgiveness is canceling the debt. Forgiveness is arriving at that point where you can let go of the anger, the resentment, and bitterness. You no longer hold the wrong over the head of the offender. Forgiveness ceases to see the offender only through the wrong he has done to you.
When you can see the sweetness of the morning light, a new day without hate or anger, accusation or fear, you have forgiven. “You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins. You set aside all your wrath and turned from your fierce anger” (Psalm 85:2-3).
“It is possible right here,” Muir exhorted. “And it is in ourselves.”7 The source of forgiveness is within us, within hearts touched by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Such hearts will make the tough decision to forgive.
Muir realized the importance of forgiving self in our being able to forgive others. “Not least of all, learn to forgive yourself. Show charity and respect for yourself. For no one is more important than you yourself.”8 Forgiveness is about healing the hurt within you. The wounds within must be healed. If left unhealed, those wounds will fester into bitterness. You will allow the hurt, the wounds, to continue to victimize you. You will be victimizing yourself.
What if there is no repentance, no apology, no restitution, or no opportunity to confront and rebuke? What about justice? Are forgiveness and justice opposed to one another? These questions we will address in another blog. I asked them here to inform you that I know these questions are there and are important. Whatever the answers will be, what we are discussing now will not be negated.
Forgiveness is at the core of our identity as children of God. It is at the core of our relationship with God. We are the forgiven. Forgiveness is the dearest and costliest gift God gives us. As the forgiven God has called us to be forgivers. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
“Think of the sweetness of the morning light on a day we knowed we would not hate or be angry, accuse or fear anyone. That promise is not just a dream. It is possible right here, and it is in ourselves….Learn to forgive your neighbor and brother. Not least of all, learn to forgive yourself. Show charity and respect for yourself.”9 ____________ 1Robert Morgan. This Rock (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel HIll, 2001), 309-10. 2Ibid. 3Lewis B. Smedes. The Art of Forgiving, When You Need to Forgive and Don’t Know How (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996), 59. 4Allen C. Guetzo. “Fear of Forgiving” in Christianity Today (2/8/1993), 43. 5C. S. Lewis. “On Forgiveness” in The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001 [1949, 1976, 1980]), 182. 6, 7, 8, 9Morgan.