Why is forgiveness important?
- So people will like me again.
- So I can get my status back.
- So I can look people in the eye.
- So I will be happy.
- So I will be right with God.
Those and many other reasons are all true. Of course, being right with GOD and people is certainly a big part of the reason why forgiveness is important. But in the long run, I’d like to pass on another reason that overlaps most of the other ones.
Forgiveness sets a prisoner free and you find the prisoner was you!
Many years ago now, I was struggling with forgiving many things. I was a young mom with small children…living in a foreign country. It seemed I couldn’t let go of anything that was happening…or had happened to me!
Why did GOD let this happen to me? or to someone I loved? Why that? I couldn’t let it go! The pile of things bouncing around in my head was much like a swarm of bees… and the buzzing kept getting louder! Or like those computer games that have balls bouncing around in different directions that beep each time they hit a wall…all in my head!
Ultimately, each event ended up at the door of a GOD who could have prevented any one of them from happening. Of course, I was also angry with the individual people involved as well. I knew I couldn’t continue my life in that mode. The explanations I received from others were of little to no help. So I started reading…my way of dealing with questions and pain!
As I was adjusting to my father’s sudden death, Elisabeth Elliot’s straight talk helped me a lot as I dealt with that loss. In a sense, I had to “forgive” God for taking my father suddenly without allowing me to say “good-bye.” It sounds silly now, but it was a big deal then.
I came across Elisabeth Elliot who was the first who smacked me in the face with truth…in a very literary, down-to-earth way! I knew she had been through way more than I could dream up! She knew what she was talking about if anyone did.
She pointed out what a huge part GOD had in providentially allowing each event into my life. No, He wasn’t the author of pain or sin, but because of the Fall, that is the environment in which we live! We live in a broken, marred world. It is not the perfect world GOD created.
As GOD, He had the power to prevent any one of the painful events. At no time was he absent, taking a nap, blinking, looking the other way or in some way preoccupied with other “more important” things going on in the universe! Why didn’t He?
That’s where I was stuck! Why? Why? Why? I was miserable!
Often, that is where the question Why? will leave us…miserable!
No, I didn’t get all the answers. Over the many years since, I have gotten some glimmers of answers, but I definitely don’t have all the answers for sure!
Why is certainly a great question to ask…but when it doesn’t get answered, or at least not to the extent that I would like, am I going to sit in my Why? or am I going to grow up and learn to trust GOD?
That’s the meaning of trust isn’t it? Trusting is what a child does when he doesn’t know where to go or what to do. He hangs on to the hand of his parent to lead him through a place where he is unsure or afraid.
But wait, we’re talking about forgiveness. What does that have to do with trust or faith? What indeed?
Learning to trust GOD…a first step in forgiveness
How will I be able to trust a GOD I don’t understand when He doesn’t answer my why’s? If He doesn’t patiently explain what He is doing and why, in the way many of us expect we should do with our children, why should I trust Him?
Because of what we know of Him in other ways. How many times, as a parent, are you unable to explain all the reasons why you do something to or for your child? Often, my actions that look unloving at the time would not even be understood if explained to the child…or if they understood the words, they wouldn’t understand the importance of the priorities used in the decision.
They live life on a smaller and different paradigm. That is the way it is with us and our heavenly Father! The paradigm for His decision-making is on a much grander scale! His viewpoint is eternal and infinite. Ours is temporal and finite. There are so many twists and turns our lives take that it often takes our whole lives to get a glimmer of understanding as to the whys of incidents that happened long ago. GOD’s perspective covers many generations, cultures and eternity! From that perspective, something that seems bad today to one person, over eternity looks wonderful!
While I was in the middle of my struggle, I came across a series of articles on forgiveness by Lewis Smedes that have since been made into a book. It is this one! I felt like he had been reading my mind! I think his ability to write so picturesquely was helpful to me as well. I was able to see what unforgiveness was doing to me and others in my life! It was putting me in a prison of my own making… for no good reason!
Why would a new creation want to be stuck in unforgiveness?
I was now “in Christ”…a new creation in Christ. I no longer was a prisoner to sin. I no longer had to live that way. Because of Christ and the full forgiveness He had gifted me, I could now give that forgiveness to others and be free myself.
Why would a prisoner want to stay in prison when declared “not guilty”?
What is more crazy than living in prison when you have been declared “not guilty”? That is what I was doing when I would not forgive.
When we don’t forgive, we bind ourselves to the very person we hate…unless we forgive them. Often we pass our hatred on to others by our unforgiveness. This is not what we want at all!
This is particularly true when it comes down to our children and the children who follow them. Do we want to pass on a legacy of hatred and unforgiveness? Certainly not, when we stop to think about it that way!
We think we are having our own version of revenge…but instead, we are hurting only ourselves and those we love. We are allowing the people we hate the most to change our lives in a direction we don’t want to go.
Think back to painful events from your past including people who have hurt you. Don’t rationalize your unforgiveness. If your initial memory is hate or blame of that person, you haven’t forgiven them. If you find yourself becoming angry or anxious out of proportion to the events in relation to that person or situation, you haven’t forgiven.
We’ll talk more about the details of forgiving in our next post. For today, make a list of the people or events that you can’t forgive…or that you struggle to make sense of.
As you move through that process, bow before GOD recognizing the enormity of the sin He has forgiven you. He gave Ten Commands and we have broken each and every one of them if not overtly, then in spirit as was stated in the Matthew passages. He is a holy God. We are not. He crated us and knows what is best for us in ways no one else does.
Then think of the offense the other person has commited toward you in comparison to what you have done to offend GOD. Their offense toward you is very small by comparison…no matter how evil it was! That is not to minimize their offense against you, but simply to show how offensive your sin and mine is to God.