As a pastor I have met many people with many issues and questions. There are addictions, loss of loved ones, questions about the Bible, questions about the nature of God, denominational inquiries and a myriad of issues that come about every day. But maybe the hardest and most universal issue is a chain that is very hard to break ... forgiveness. Though we address this issue at every communion service and every time we say the Lord's Prayer people would rather do most anything than work to forgive. And, in truth, forgiveness is one of the most difficult tasks we will face as human beings. I think three of the major reasons for our inability to forgive are these ... self-righteousness ... the clear guilt of the other person ... our unwillingness to accept God's Word as applied truth.
We don't like to view ourselves as self-righteous. But a friend came up to me one day and said, "They will regret doing that to me!" That little phrase is filled with the pious idea that harming ME is a great sin that deserves and even greater effort on my part to keep that injustice on the front burner. It is a chain that consumes and holds us back.
Many of you are saying, "But that person is totally guilty of the injustice!" Why do we equate guilt and forgiveness? Don't we pray "forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors?" Please listen to what we are saying and praying. Our debtors actually owe us something. They are the guilty. But the prayer says we also have debts. We also are guilty. Jesus modeled this kind of forgiveness on the cross as He forgave us in the depth of our guilt, betrayal and sin. Forgiveness does not directly relate to the guilt of the other person. It relates to our mindset, our attitude and our willingness to step into the likeness of Jesus where we are all called!
And finally that last one ... he/she is my enemy. Matthew 5:44 says "love your enemies." In His teaching from the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that we are called to be different than the masses. His implication is that everyone loves those that love them. It is harder to love people that hate us, mean us harm and cause us grief. Why are we supposed to love them? The simple answer is that we say we are Christians. The label means those that bear Christ. If we are filled with Christ how can we not be filled with the one thing He died for ... "behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29)?" It is a worthy question and one we must haggle with as we learn forgiveness.
There is a Jesus Culture song called "Break Every Chain." The words say, "there is power, in the name of Jesus ... to break every chain, to break every chain, to break every chain." Do we accept this as merely an unattainable ideal or as the truth of God to be applied to our lives? It is a good and hard question! Randy