Cheapening Forgiveness

Forgiveness: self-sacrifice, or self-help?

Forgiveness is just as prevalent a topic of discussion in self-help books as it is in Scripture, and in recent years, I think many of us have subscribed to the notion that forgiveness simply means to let go of an offense.  Whether at church or in a counselor’s office, I hear many of the same ideas that forgiveness is about our own emotional health.  One catchy phrase I have often heard is, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” We speak of “letting go” and “being free” and “moving on.” We say that once we forgive, we’re off the hook and it becomes the other person’s problem.  We don’t have to deal with the pain of being wronged.

Recently, though, while I was reading The God I Don’t Understand by Chris Wright, I came across this thought-provoking quote:
“[Forgiveness is] costly, for the offended one who chooses to forgive chooses to bear the pain and cost of the offence rather than hold it against the one being forgiven.”

When I look at the cross of Christ, I see that the quote rings true.  Christ ‘drank the poison’ and willingly died, and throughout eternity, even when all has been made right, His body will still bear the scars of his forgiveness.  He hasn’t forgotten or moved on, and praise God that in His darkest moment of suffering, He NEVER let go of us.  He held the offense close to His heart, and held us closer still.

Sometimes I forget this, when I haughtily decide to ‘move on’ because the person who hurt me ‘isn’t worth my time.’

I’m afraid that I’m guilty of cheapening forgiveness.

When we forgive, a deeply spiritual transaction takes place.  We transfer the hurt of the offense by declaring that the pain the other person deserves to hold in their guilt, we take upon ourselves to hold in our humiliation. We have the power to hold them guilty, or to declare them innocent.  The choice is ours.  Refusing to forgive is possibly the natural and just thing to do, and it continues along the predictable downward spiral of humanity’s fallenness.  Forgiveness, though — forgiveness is the choice to create a new reality, to live in the reality of the Kingdom.

When I speak of forgiveness as a form of emotional therapy, I rob it of any spiritual meaning and power.  When the purpose of forgiveness becomes about the benefits to me rather than about bearing the offense for the sake of another, I have neglected the very heart of forgiveness: namely, the other.

Was forgiveness ever really about my happiness in the first place?

Or do I distort it– do I cheapen it — by making it all about me?

“Forgiveness is costly,” Wright says.  Am I willing to pay its price?

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Understanding God’s Will for George Zimmerman

As usual, I didn’t even have to check news sources for myself.  When I got home from work, all my facebook friends had posted the verdict on Zimmerman along with their own emotional commentary.  Here’s just a sample from facebook and twitter:

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Black, White, Asian, Latino, Red, or Purple. No human being should have their life taken away from them, and justice not served for them. The court system did not serve justice, a mother buried her son and a man killed a teenage boy. What part of that is right! To be honest, excuse my language, that verdict was fucking bullshit!

If Zimmerman is killed, I would not be happy because I want him to suffer!

God has a plan for Zimmerman, don’t you worry about that!! Karma is a bitch!!

So if we kill Zimmerman we innocent right?

He has to live with that lie in him for the rest of his meaningless life.

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Okay, so come to think of it, I’m not sure I saw one post agreeing with the outcome.

But here’s the thing: Everyone’s picking sides based on their personal opinion, but the truth is that only Zimmerman knows what happened that night. So because we don’t have the facts, let’s withhold our judgments and simply pray. Pray for Trayvon Martin’s family, of course. But also for Zimmerman. If guilty, then for a change of heart. If innocent, for his safety and the strength to live with this stigma for the rest of his life.

Although acquitted, Zimmerman will never be a free man. Whether it was self-defense or not, he will always be “the man that killed Trayvon Martin.” He will always be looking over his shoulder for some crazed gunman who wants revenge. He will live with fear, guilt, and the excruciating emotional pain that comes from being misunderstood. He used to be defined as a husband and a friend. Now his identity is “murderer.” He is a marked man, and he will suffer.

And if it was indeed cold-blooded murder, we can’t fight violence with violence. We can’t erase hatred with more hatred. Jesus called us to another way altogether.

This is when it gets hard to love.

But we’re called to love, even when it’s not easy.

Those tweets and facebook posts, there’s no love. There’s just vicious anger. They may appear to be about justice, but they’re not; they’re about revenge.

There’s a couple in particular I have to call out.

First, Zimmerman’s life is not meaningless. No one’s is. Ever.

Second, God does have a plan for George Zimmerman, and it has nothing to do the bitchiness of karma.

Bitterness and hatred and revenge and death are NEVER God’s plan, no matter the circumstance.

God’s plan for George Zimmerman is repentance. It’s forgiveness. It’s healing and restoration and relationship. It’s the same plan that He has for you.

Whether it was self-defense or murder — we’ll never really know — God’s heart broke that night. For His beloved child Trayvon Martin. For His beloved child George Zimmerman. For all of America and the racial tension this created. For this entire broken world and the pain and the suffering and the needless tragedy.

Whether it was self-defense or murder — Zimmerman is not the enemy. There’s something far bigger at play here. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).

Don’t be angry. Conquer with love.

That One Time I Didn’t Go to Church

Today marks a somewhat strange and surprising milestone in my life. This is the first Sunday ever that I have not been sick, and still voluntarily decided not to go to church.  Because truthfully, today is one of those days where instead of being “led in worship”, I really needed to find it on my own. I didn’t feel like celebrating this morning; I felt like being quiet.

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve just been a little “off” the past couple of weeks.  One thing that’s tricky about being a Bible major is making sure you don’t forget the purpose behind what you’re doing.  It had been a while since I’d read my Bible just to read it.  And because I’ve been in frantic finals week mode, I knew that going to church this morning would make me feel resentful.  Turn in paper, get an A.  Go to church, get an A.  It would be somewhere else I had to go, something else I had to do, to punch the ol’ time card and say that I went.  Plus, a good friend was in town this weekend, and we’d made plans to get lunch together.  To be able to do that, I would have to go to early service.  And since most of the people I know go to second service, would there really be all that much community?  No.  I would sit there alone and not be able to muster up the energy to sing after 6 hours of sleep.

After the hustle and bustle and stress and frustration and confusion of the last couple of weeks, I really just needed to be alone with God to refuel.  And honestly, it was the best thing I could have done.

Instead of getting up at 7, I slept until 9.  And here’s what I did.

First, I spent a few minutes journaling and praying.  Then I listened to Fire Fall Down by Hillsong United and Give Me Faith by Elevation Worship.  And then I got on youtube and watched Lifehouse’s Everything skit and cried.  Feel free to take a couple of minutes to watch it yourself, if you haven’t.

The end of the skit reminded me of a Scripture in Colossians about God making a public spectacle of the powers of darkness, but I took a little journey through the Bible to get there.  First, I read the crucifixion account in Luke through the lens of the skit, which made me approach it in a whole new way.  That led me to Psalm 22, and then I went to Colossians where the verse was, and ended up reading the whole book.  There was a lot that really stood out to me today, but two passages in particular:

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” –Colossians 1:22-23.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.  And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” –Colossians 2:13-15.

The contrast of these two verses really stood out to me.  Christ made me holy, without blemish, and free from accusation.  But he made the powers of darkness disarmed, humiliated, and defeated.

I feel like I’ve been in super defensive mode lately, but what am I fighting?  I am not my enemy.  Other people are not my enemy.  Finals are not my enemy.  The real enemy has already been vanquished, and God finds me beautiful and perfect.  And that’s what I found worth celebrating today, in my pajamas, in my bed, without any grand instrumental worship or a message from a famous guest speaker.  Just me and God, and a quiet reminder of what this is all about.

there’s something bigger going on here.

After all, aren’t we all looking for purpose?

The last thoughts of a teenager with a little bottle of white pills relate to purpose. How they never found it.

The last thoughts of a martyr tied to a stake relate to purpose. How they found it and are willing to give everything for it.

Your last thoughts will relate to purpose. Your entire life centers around purpose. Because in the end, it’s all that matters. The question is, will you have regrets?

The teenager who just took his own life may have heard at some point that God loves him. But for some reason, it didn’t make a difference. Why?

Because it doesn’t matter that God loves us if he leaves us there.

You see, we’re used to telling people that God loves them and can forgive their sins as if it’s the end of the story. But it’s really only the beginning.

Here are some questions to think about. You already know the answer because I already gave it to you. (My first draft of this post started with the questions and made me sound slightly heretical, so I thought it would have more impact if I introduced it a different way.) But think about it from the perspective of how you grew up, or what you’ve always believed. Have you ever asked these questions? Or was it too dangerous to ask these questions, in case you couldn’t find the answer?

Does it matter that God loves us? Does it really make a difference?

What is grace, anyway? What has it done for you? Or is it just some abstract concept of God’s love that you talk about without really understanding why?

If we’re “sharing Christ” with someone to “bring them to salvation”, what does that even mean? Why should they care? Why do they need the love of some intangible, invisible being they can’t fathom?

Because God doesn’t love us just to love us. If that’s all there is, our lives will still be…empty. If the story ends with “God loves you”, it doesn’t matter. It’s meaningless.

Last fall, I almost gave up on my faith. A lot of you don’t know that about me. Now you do. You’re welcome.

There were a lot of factors that contributed to this, and I don’t have the time to go into all of them now, but essentially I began to focus on all the little issues and to let them distract me from what was really going on. How do you interpret this passage of the Bible? How are we supposed to make it relevant for today? What was right and wrong? Was anything right or wrong? I wrote in my journal, “How is it even possible to live as a Christian in this day and age? I’m starting to think it’s not. Maybe it’s all just some big joke.”

I was totally lost. I felt like nothing mattered. But nobody could know that, oh no. I was Miss Blog Queen and the one everyone depended on for the right answers. So for several months I stopped praying, I stopped reading my Bible, but I kept going to church like a zombie and tried to feel my way through the darkness that had become my life.

In December, something clicked again. I was thinking about the 10 commandments, specifically “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.” All of a sudden, I was like, “I know that doesn’t just mean swearing.” I wrote this blog post. Things didn’t turn around overnight, but that was definitely one of the turning points because I realized that there is something bigger going on here. In the end, it wasn’t about the little things. There was a big picture. There was a big story. There was a purpose.

There is a happy ending to this story, by the way. By the very end of December, I was desperate for truth. Desperate for purpose. Praying for God to change me no matter what it took. He answered that prayer with Passion, right after New Year’s. And without telling my entire testimony, I’ll just say that Passion radically changed me. That was the defining time that I can point to and say that I have never looked back since then. Because I found my place in the bigger story.

You see, I knew all along that God loved me. But that in itself was not enough to make a difference. I was a pretty good person anyway; did I need grace that desperately?

YES.

Because grace is far more than Jesus coming to save us from a stolen piece of candy or a swear word. In the words of Dr. Lavender, “Jesus came to rescue you from the brokenness of a misdirected life. It’s not about, you know, thinking the wrong things while you’re eating a cracker. It’s about fulfilling the purpose for which you were created.”

After all, aren’t we all looking for purpose? We’re looking for purpose because we lost it a long time ago, back in the Garden of Eden. And God won’t fit into your story because you were made to fit into HIS! This whole time God has been working to restore creation back to the purpose for which he created it. Forgiveness of sin is not an end in itself but a means to an end: God gives us grace to return us to what we were made to be.

And it is absolutely vital that we understand this. We need to understand it first for ourselves. Where do we fit into the bigger story? How do all these little moments of our lives work together to actually mean something?

And once we understand that, we have to relearn how to evangelize. We’re not just bringing people to salvation — what is salvation? We’re not just towing them into church — what is church? We’re helping them recover their purpose in God’s story — because what is salvation but restoration? What is church but the embodiment of God’s mission?

Your entire life centers around purpose. Because in the end, it’s all that matters. The question is, will you have regrets?

Greek translation

Sometimes I get so familiar with parts of the New Testament that I tend to skim over them without paying much attention. But something about translating a familiar passage from the original Greek gives it so much more meaning. Word by word, exactly what did Jesus say and do? Just to keep it real, I’ll admit that my homework brought me to tears tonight.Powerful stuff.  It’s one of the most beautiful stories of grace there is, so I just thought I’d share. I haven’t checked this against the NIV yet, so here is the Lauren Gracie translation of John 8:1-11.

And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. And early in the morning he went to the temple again, and all the people began to come to him, and after sitting down he began to teach them. But the scribes and the Pharisees led a woman who had been caught in adultery, and putting her in the middle they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of committing adultery. And in the law of Moses he commanded us to stone such women. Therefore what do you say?”

But this they said to test him that they might have something to accuse him of. But Jesus bent down and he began to write on the ground with his finger. But as they were continuing speaking to him, he straightened up and said to them, “The sinless of you, throw at her the first stone.” And again he bent down and began to write on the ground.

And the ones who heard began to go away one by one, beginning from the elders, and he was left alone with the woman in the middle. And straightening up Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

And she said, “No one, Lord.”

And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, sin no longer.”

Published in: on April 24, 2012 at 1:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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forgiveness.

“It’s been how long — 3 1/2 years? And I was still bitter. Still sore. Still holding onto my ‘right’ to be angry — a right I’d never had in the first place. So tonight I decided to make things right. . . I didn’t ask what had happened, because I don’t feel like I need to know. If I can forgive her and have peace about the situation, I don’t see a need to bring it up again. Demanding ‘why’ is another right that I don’t have. I am only called to forgive, and forgiveness is not conditional on explanations.” — a privileged peek into my journal from february 10th

“I can’t hold a pet grudge and stay angry. I have no right to stay angry. And I find that the more I practice forgiveness, the easier it becomes.” — a privileged peek into my journal from march 13th

I feel like God’s been teaching me a lot about forgiveness lately — three basic concepts in particular.

1) Forgiveness is about humility.

I think we tend to look at forgiveness as some abstract concept that’s difficult to grasp. How do we “let go” when we “can’t help how we feel”? And the truth is that we can’t help feeling hurt, but we can help being angry.

Anger is all about us, and our pride, and our rights. When someone hurts you, you feel like they’ve trampled your rights. Your pride rebels at the thought of letting them get away with it (“If I forgive him, it’ll make me look like a doormat!”).

It’s also an issue of control. Anger stems from a lack of control; we get angry with someone because we feel like they took some control away from us. To make up for the insecurity that we feel, we demand back what little control we can get: the right to be angry.

But was it ever really our right in the first place? Are we as Christians not called to surrender all of our rights — including our “right” to control and our “right” to anger and our “right” to hold a grudge?

To forgive is to lay down our pride and admit that we don’t have the right to be angry, but rather a commandment to love.

2) Forgiveness does not ignore the problem.

We’re called to forgive even if no apology or explanation is forthcoming. But even when the person who hurt you tries to make things right, it’s still hard to forgive. Our natural tendency is to avoid conflict and brush the offense under the rug with, “It’s fine, don’t worry about it.” But that doesn’t solve the problem in the long run, because you might say “it’s okay” just to get the awkward conversation over with, but you’re still steaming inside from what they did to you. And they go away thinking everything’s okay between you while you’re still harboring bitterness in your heart.

When you clear things up with someone, I think it’s really important both to acknowledge and address the problem. None of it should carry a tone of anger (“if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”, a.k.a. wait till you’ve forgiven them to talk about it), but I think sometimes both people’s feelings need to be gotten out in the open. If you let them know that you feel hurt and explain what they did to make you feel that way, you’re being open and honest. You’re both on the same page instead of trying to cover up your feelings and play guessing games.

3) The more you practice forgiveness, the easier it becomes.

Making a deliberate choice to lay down your “rights” at the feet of Jesus and forgive somebody is a hard thing. You feel exposed without your protective covering of pride. The more times you do it, though, the easier it gets. You learn that it feels better not to carry around the heavy resentment anymore.

Cleaning all the built-up anger out of your life for the first time can be a long and painful process. But once it becomes a routine of flushing out resentment before it takes root, it’s healing. Grudges can be very heavy things. If you make it a habit to forgive as soon as you’re hurt instead of waiting around for an apology that may or may not ever come, you learn to free yourself. It makes you invincible in a way, which is kind of cool. And Christ-like.

So, uh… what age-old grudge do you need to go take care of? Who do you need to call or facebook? I know you just said to yourself “It doesn’t even matter anymore.” But it totally does. Remember the first journal entry at the beginning of this post? I’d fought with myself over that for so long and tried to convince myself that it wasn’t important and nobody cared and I had a happy life even without resolution. But I was never truly content with the situation. So I decided that, whatever the result, I needed to man up and take care of it. And after nearly 4 years of stony silence… I can legitimately say that I have peace. So forgive. Just do it. It’s so worth it.

Oh, and when you do… shoot me an email and let me know how it turns out. Praying for my courageous readers.

Published in: on March 13, 2012 at 11:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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