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How do I forgive that?

January 25, 2012

I was watching the news yesterday and saw two back-to-back articles that got me thinking.  The first was continuing coverage of the passing of Joe Paterno, the coach at Penn State whose reputation has been tarnished by the sex abuse scandal involving one of his assistants.  The second was a follow-up to an article from a few weeks ago about the slew of pardons given to felons, including some convicted murderers, by outgoing Mississippi governor Haley Barbour. 

In both instances the network, CNN, had quotes from former victims, or their families, of those crimes or alleged crimes.  What struck me was the level of bitterness and resentment that these people still held.  Try as I might, I can’t say that I blame them.  They went through unimaginable pain and carry the memories of that pain with them to this day.

And then, just a few hours later, I saw a story on the local news where a convicted killer wrote a taunting letter to his home town newspaper bragging how he was leading a life of ease and comfort in jail now.  It triggered a slew of irate responses, including some heart-rending ones from families of his victims.

And yet we Christians are told we need to forgive.  Jesus went so far as to say that unless we do the Father will not forgive us.  Did He really mean we have to forgive such horrible crimes?  If so, just how do we do that?  Is there some magic forgiveness formula in the Bible that I need to follow?  If there is, please show it to me because I can’t find it.

I wish that all forgiveness situations were easy.  You know what I mean – my wife and I have a fight and, seeing my sin, I apologize.  She forgives me.  We reconcile.  We pick up our lives together and go on.  I’m happy, she is happy, Jesus is happy. 

But most of the time forgiveness is messier than that; way messier.  Sometimes people don’t apologize.  Sometimes our hurt is so deep and painful it seems impossible to forgive.  Sometimes we do forgive, or at least want to, but find that pain and anger continues to have a place deep within us.  At best forgiveness often seems to be a long and difficult process.  So how do we do it?  Well, some principles are easy.

Forgiveness is not excusing.  It doesn’t require us to call wrong, right.  It doesn’t require us to say that the hurt didn’t matter or to pretend it didn’t happen.

Forgiveness is not forgetting either.  There is a popular theory that God forgets our sins.  But when Jesus was on the cross He forgave those who crucified Him and still, after He was raised, He showed His scars to His disciples.  He clearly knew where they had come from and who gave them to Him.

But what about when forgiveness doesn’t work out all nice and neat?  I could give a nice-sounding platitude and say that forgiveness is not about changing the past but redeeming it.  In forgiving I choose to allow grace to replace bitterness and pain.  But does God really require forgiveness of, and withhold forgiveness for, relatives of murder victims or victims of sexual abuse?  And just how do I do that anyway?

Sometimes forgiveness is fairly easy.  Sometimes it is a long, slow and painful process that can takes months or years.  But I think that sometimes too there are circumstances where we will not see it on this side of eternity.  In Revelation 21:4 we are told that in heaven Jesus “will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 

I’ve met a lot of people who hold some horrible hurts that they are unable to forgive.  They are almost always aware of how difficult it is to carry those hurts, how they impact their lives.  Many have heard lectures on forgiveness until they think they will explode.  If you are one of them, I offer you this verse as a promise from God.


From → Christianity

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