Allen Raynor Weblog: “The Essential Nature of Forgiveness” (Pt. 1)
(Dec. 12, 2018)
Have you ever had someone make you angry when you were driving? Do you suppose you have ever made other people angry with your driving? When another person does something you do not like out on the road it is very hard not to immediately pass judgment on them. We must keep in mind that it is also very hard for them to not pass immediate judgment on us when we do something we should not. Driving incidents are over in seconds, but memories can linger for weeks, maybe longer. When it comes to driving we can all agree it is much easier to “be forgiven” than it is to “forgive.”
I believe Jesus knew we would have a hard time with forgiveness because the theme comes up several times in the New Testament. Out of all the lines in the Lord’s Prayer, for instance, the only one that is expounded upon is the one dealing with forgiveness. Mat. 6:12 says “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Then in vs. 14 the Lord further clarifies what He meant.
The fact that the Lord’s Prayer is absent of words like “me” and “I” but uses “we,” “our,” and “us” is very instructive at the point of understanding, and seeing the need for “forgiveness.” Forgiveness goes beyond the surface and gets underneath. It exposes things we often wish to remain hidden such as motive and intent. It even reveals how selfish we can be and that is something few want known. While forgiveness is closely akin to “self-less-ness,” unforgiveness is closely akin to “self-ish-ness.”
In Mat. 6:14-15 Jesus teaches “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” We have a need to forgive others. Jesus does not teach here that we have a need to forgive merely “perceived” transgressions against us but instead for actual, real, painful, wrongs done against us. Yet, as hard as it may be, we are taught by the Lord that both the principle and practice of forgiveness should always be on display in the lives of Christians. Think about a runway model modeling clothing. The fashion being featured is meant to be seen, meant to impress, meant to be coveted/desired. The clothing designers expect those in attendance to pass judgment on what they see. There hope is that they will like/enjoy what they see and desire to have it. When the world sees Christians modeling forgiveness in an “eye for eye; tooth for tooth,” kind of world they cannot help but take notice. Forgiveness then holds a certain shock value to the world; however for the Christian it should all look completely normal.
We all have both judgmental tendencies and merciful tendencies. For believers mercy should always rule over judgment. James wrote “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13) Many often say “I can forgive but I cannot forget.” Actually putting being “wronged” by someone behind us once and for all is undeniably difficult. Ted Kersh, in his book on the Sermon on the Mount, writes “One of the most challenging disciplines of the Christian life is forgiveness. In fact, the very word ‘forgiveness’ may dredge up distressingly painful memories of events or people we’d give anything to forget . . . but for our own sakes, we must cancel the debt.” (Ted Kersh; The Blessed Life; 104; 106) The most literal meaning of the word “forgive” means “to hurl away.” It is a picture of taking something and throwing it away from you as far as your strength can throw it.
In the Christian movie “A Matter of Faith” perhaps the most powerful scene comes when Professor Portland looks at Prefessor Marcus Kaman and says “Marcus, I forgive you.” He had been blaming him for 12 years for getting him fired from the University, ruining his career, and basically his whole life besides. He had become a cranky bitter man, but he finally realized he had to forgive in order to move on.
Forgiveness is a consistent theme throughout all of Scripture. Believers need to look to great examples of men like Joseph who forgave his brothers for nearly killing him and then selling him. Stephen, of whom the texts says “He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:20) And of course, Jesus is the greatest example of all. He cried out from the cross “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 22:34) The Lord Jesus, of course, had forgiven many along the way like the woman at the well (John 4), the woman caught in adultery (John 8), Zacchaeus the tax collector, etc. He knew how to forgive and He taught His followers to forgive as well. He did not ask us to do it because it was easy, but precisely because it was hard and unnatural. In so doing, attention would be brought to the unmistakable power of the Gospel over and above human tendencies.
Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor