Friday, May 27, 2011

The Mightiest Sword

You can continue to grieve
But know the Gospel is true
You must forgive those who lie
And bless them that curse you
Is the mightiest sword...
('Forgiveness', Jane Eyre: The Musical)

Forgiveness. I've been extended grace through forgiveness, or forgiveness through grace, I'm never quite sure, and it has saved my life. Saved my life on both this side of heaven and the other. Saved me from myself. And, I've learned, that very same forgiveness-grace must be extended to others.

Grace doesn't come with strings attached. It's a free gift, you don't have to earn it any more than I did. But I feel that there is one caveat given in the Word. When you've been forgiven, when I've been forgiven, we're expected to forgive others. If God can forgive us our darkest trespasses, against Him and against His beloved creations, we must find it within ourselves (because the Spirit is in us) to forgive others.

We're not expected to do this on our own. To which I most sincerely say: Thank Heaven! I can't do it on my own. I don't have the capacity to truly forgive someone who has betrayed my deepest trusts. Looking back I see that many times I've "forgiven" someone so that I can be the "better person". This is not real forgiveness. This is self-righteousness. This is holding forgiveness over someone's head, lording it over them. This is not the forgiveness of Christ.

The forgiveness of Christ was given when He breathed His last, declaring once and for all time that "it is finished" (John 19:30). In that moment the way to God, through forgiveness, was made for all mankind. It would never have to be done again. The work was done by one man and it was complete. Finished.

This morning I was brushing my teeth and muttering. All the emotions tumbling about in me summarized in one long dramatic sigh. Frustrated. Annoyed. Exasperated. This is what unforgiveness will bring to the surface. Indignantly I let God know how I felt. He listened. I believe we're allowed to feel angry, disappointed, hurt, and annoyed when people do wrong by us. It's what we do with those feelings that matter. If I let all those negatives sit, fester, grow, and multiply I'll end up with a seeping infected wound of bitterness. My heart will harden as unforgiveness settles in. I will put space between not only myself and the person with whom I am angry, but between myself and the One who can fix what is broken. The One who already has fixed what is broken, because it is finished.

Forgiveness. It is so hard to give. But I have seen the benefits of both giving it and asking for it. Humility does wonders for the human soul. It's an antidote for almost everything that ails us. It takes the humility of Christ, the Sacrificial Lamb, to forgive others. We want to demand that they ask for it, that they give us an apology. The ones nailing Him to the cross never said they were sorry, as far as the Gospels tell us. But Jesus forgave them anyway.  

"Forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

I truly believe that the people who have hurt me the deepest need this kind of forgiveness from me. I'm not sure they fully knew what they were doing, how deep and how bad the scars would be. How far reaching into my life the pain might travel. But more than that...more than what was done to me, is what was done to God. A marvelous God-fearing preacher said once, and I will never forget it, that whatever was done to any of us was also done to God. Whatever betrayals were done to you or to me were also done to the God of all Creation. As much as my heart is broken over the pain, God's heart is torn as well. Torn because it is a violation against His commands, His desires for us, His love. And torn because I believe it causes Him deep, deep pain to see His beloved children treat each other badly. Not just bad, but hellaciously awfully bad sometimes. The true sin is not against me, but against God. And that is the forgiveness that is needed most.

It's a complicated issue. One that should lead you back to the Cross continually. For some people, for the deepest hurts, I find myself back at the Cross over and over again. Receiving forgiveness for my own heart which strays into bitterness, and receiving the promise that it is finished again and again. It is finished. It is in God's hands, nothing is out of His sight, beyond His reach, or unnoticed by His tender heart. And because it is finished, the work has been done, and I've been given His spirit, I can forgive. And through forgiveness find the ability to trust, to give, to forgive, to love another human being.

You must never lose faith
You must never lose heart
God will restore your trust
And I know you're afraid
I'm as scared as you are
But willing to be brave
Brave enough for love
('Forgiveness', Jane Eyre: The Musical)

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