The Hardest Good
If you want to reduce a room to silence... If you want to cause panic, sweat, furrowed brows and downcast eyes...
If you want to put the nerves of others on edge (goodness knows why)...
Then there is one simple topic you can bring up:
To clarify, not the Jesus-died-my-sins-washed-away discussion - no, this is the she-slighted-me-he-wounded me discussion. This is the nitty gritty core of revolutionary living, spray painted on the brick walls of human reality.
This is Jesus' finest hour, finest teaching and His finest work and it scares us to death.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15, NIV)
I understand the challenge this poses - are you telling me Jesus won't forgive me until I forgive the person who raped/murdered/injured/betrayed/abused, etc. me?
No, that is not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that forgiveness fundamentally teaches us something about ourselves and something about God.
1. We are in need of, and indeed recipients of forgiveness (Mt. 6:14) 2. We are in need of, and indeed capable of, sharing what we've been given (6:15)
If we've been restored, forgiven, and made whole by God we have the opportunity and the responsibility to break the cycle of anger, bitterness and hatred that binds us and destroys us from the inside out. To withhold forgiveness shows that our hearts still haven't grasped how deep and beautiful and powerful the forgiveness of God is for us.
The other thought here is how do we do it?
In Klaus Issler's book Living into the Life of Jesus, he quotes from social researcher & follower of Jesus Robert Enright. Notice this is a process - Jesus sets the example and we are to walk in the path of forgiveness, seeking progress first rather than perfection.
First, (we) acknowledge that the offense was unfair and will always continue to be unfair. Second, we have a moral right to be angry; it is fair to cling to our view that people do not have a right to hurt us. We have a right to respect. Third, forgiveness requires giving up something to which we have a right - namely our anger or resentment." (167)
The result? "...as we reach out to the one who hurt us, we are the ones who heal." Notice in the second step that this isn't about weakness - this is a strong statement that says "I won't let you hurt me like this again, but I can't hold you to the past hurt either."
Jesus knew what we often fail to see - this isn't about being a doormat, about letting people off the hook, about becoming a passive spectator welcoming punches in the face. Instead, it is the true life of trusting that if God can forgive me and take care of me completely then I can experience the peace that comes in releasing the person I'm keeping prisoner in my own head. So I can heal. So I can see life beyond the pain.
I have people in my life that I have had to work on forgiving, and it has been a task and it is still in process. They may be the origin of minor slights that time has turned into wars of emotions, or slow leaks of influence that drained me completely. But I believe in the process. I believe that if we practiced forgiveness the world of darkness and pain would begin to cave from the inside out.
So I try to pray for good things to come to those who hurt me. Not good things as a reward for their actions, but good things that will reveal God's grace to them.
If I can't pray for that, and hope for that, and live for that, then how can I live as if someone has forgiven and prayed for my best when I've been at my lowest?