In my earlier post about forgiveness, I submit that forgiveness of self is an important step that needs to be taken. Without that vital step, true forgiveness of others is extremely difficult.
I can only speak of my own experience… so I will: I had a long list of resentments against people I had judged to be unfair, unkind, cruel. It is a practice in the 12 steps that we review this list and make amends to the people on it. God was on my list. I was on there too. I was the very last person on the list that I forgave. I forgave everyone else long before I forgave myself. There’s a good reason: everyone else had a distinct advantage of not being me. I knew my faults; I did not know theirs. ‘Cause I’m not God.
God occasionally communicates to me with mental pictures. I assume He uses different means for different people. I would like to meet someone else that gets mental pictures like I do.
A while ago I encountered a person that was truly miserable. Life was a heavy burden for him. He revealed a long-standing, rigid resentment toward someone that had caused him serious grief at a younger age. The fact that it was someone that should have protected him from grief made it worse. As he talked, I heard his heart: he had been betrayed; and the betrayer had neither owned up to it nor apologized. As this man was talking about why he could not forgive…
A picture formed in my head that was so startling it took my breath away. I started doing that Lamaze-breathing women do during labor. The picture was of Jesus, standing in front of the man I was listening to. He held out a mallet in one hand and big iron nails in the other. He said: “Tell Me, how many times do I need to die so you can forgive the sins of these people? I already paid the price for their sins, just like I did for you.”
The cost of forgiveness is not cheap. It cost my Jesus everything: leaving His throne to live as a human, betrayal by His creation, death, shame, disgrace, and separation from the Father. I believe He wants us to understand the necessity of forgiveness for our relationship with Him, for our own well-being, and for our communities. Forgiveness at any cost is not just a tagline for God.
Back to my heavy-hearted companion: Isn’t his response less about anger, and more about pride? (I’m not judging; I’ve been in his shoes for a much longer time) Is it possible that we get so confused about our motives that we think believe our resentment is justified… when it’s just another manifestation of pride? The Gospel of John chapter 8 uses the story of the adulterous woman to describe so well my misguided motives:
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. John 8:7-9 ESV
And is that really me in the crowd, shouting “Crucify Him!”? I am sad to report that it has been true many times in my life.
I can’t change the past but I can certainly do something about the present. God-willing, I will never drink alcohol again. That’s an easier choice today than years ago. The same can be said about my decisions to hold a resentment. It is easier today to not create a new resentment. Partly that’s because I know the destructive power it has. And it’s because resentments interfere with my peace (I like my peace). But it’s also because I understand that every sin was already paid for… including the next one that makes me resist forgiving. Who am I to determine more punishment is necessary?
There’s also another reason: I am not the standard by which others must live. Even if I were, I didn’t meet the standard myself so I am disqualified to rate their performance. Whatever their infractions might be, God tells me to love them not judge them. The way I read that, it’s not a suggestion it’s a command – for my good, and the good of those around me.
When Jesus says it is finished, I would be wise to live as if it is.