This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from Li An (from China, pseudonym used to protect this well-known Christian), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear (Psalm 27:1)
During the time I was persecuted because of the Gospel, I was once condemned to die. But the Lord protected me. Instead of taking my life, they threw me into prison.
Sometime afterwards, something strange happened. The judge who had sentenced me got into trouble himself. Because of his political activities he was himself sentenced to a long prison term. He was not only put into the same prison, but he was put into the same cell with me.
After he found out my name he started to cry: 'O God, I surrender. Oh Jesus I really surrender.'
He went on for four or five minutes and then turned to me. 'So it is you. Do you remember me? Your life was in my hands. I had already sentenced you to die and I did try to execute the sentence many times, but every time I tried to get you executed something happened which kept delaying the execution. But who would have thought that I would be here, in prison, with you? I see that your God has preserved your life. You are in His hands. But I am in the hands of the Marxists. They will not let me live. Forgive me please. I need your Jesus.'
I looked at him. He had been my judge. Now I was his judge. And the Lord told me what kind of sentence I should pass on him.
'Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father' (Matthew 10:29).
God forgives, and so should we.
A moment of introspection: Li An shares her perspective with us today: Forgiveness is a godly trait that we should emulate. Within the church today though, forgiveness has been called the virtue we profess to believe, fail to practice, and neglect to preach, and as C.S. Lewis has said, "forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive". (quoted in Men of Integrity, Vol. 2, no. 4.) At least that is how it seems. In our world today, many unbelievers stress tolerance and coexistence. The "new tolerance" even goes as far as to say that we need not only tolerate the sometimes-objectionable behavior, comportment and speech of others, but we believers must actively support that "other" view. Mr. N.T. Wright has written, "Instead of genuine forgiveness, our generation has been taught the vague notion of 'tolerance.' This is, at best, a low-grade parody of forgiveness. At worst, it's a way of sweeping the real issues in human life under the carpet. Jesus' message [of forgiveness of sins] offers the genuine article and insists that we should accept no man-made substitutes. (quoted in "Reflections," Christianity Today, Vol. 45, no. 1.) Let us delve further into what forgiveness means to believers in today's world.
In the apostle Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus, he urged Christians to "be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32) Paul also instructed the church members in Colossae to "put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful." (Colossians 3:12-15) Jesus Himself taught His disciples about forgiveness, saying "And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." (Mark 11:25) To forgive someone involves three things. First, it means to forego the right of striking back. One rejects the urge to repay gossip with gossip and a bad turn with a worse turn. Second, it means replacing the feeling of resentment and anger with good will, a love which seeks the other's welfare, not harm. Third, it means the forgiving person takes concrete steps to restore good relations. (Alexander C. Dejong, "Leadership", Vol. 4, no. 1.) Some refer to forgiveness as forgetting what lies before--concentrating on the race that is set before us. (Philippians 3:13) But, as Kenneth Chafin explains, "forgiveness isn't pretending nothing has happened, or pretending that what happened didn't hurt. It isn't…going back and starting over as though it hadn't ever happened. Instead, forgiveness is refusing to let anything permanently destroy the relationship. There's a place for saying, "I'm sorry." There's a place for assuring the other person that "all is forgiven." But the goal of both is to rebuild the relationship. One of the amazing things about a healthy beginning again is that the relationship is often stronger than it was before." (How to Know When You've Got It Made. Christianity Today, Vol. 29, no. 18.)
God does forgive each of us believers when we confess our sins and genuinely repent of our sinful ways. (Ezekiel 18:30; 2 Corinthians 7:10) John the Baptist reiterated the need for repentance as a turning away from sin: John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4) In the book of Numbers, the Israelites confessed their sin (Numbers 21:7); in Ezra, the Jewish leader confessed the people's sin and, in their repentance, Ezra prayed for God to forgive them and take away His punishment (Ezra 9:6). Unless we believers take the weight of sin seriously, confession and repentance are shorn of the success of their purposes; take, for example, the Psalmist confessing the burden of sin: "For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me." (Psalm 38:4) King David, having sinned with Bathsheba, confessed the weight of his sin: "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me." (Psalm 51:3)
Sin is costly; forgiveness is as well. William Barclay explains: "Divine forgiveness is costly. God is love, but God is holiness. God, least of all, can break the great moral laws on which the universe is built. Sin must have its punishment or the very structure of life disintegrates. And God alone can pay the terrible price that is necessary before men can be forgiven. Forgiveness is never a case of saying: 'It's all right; it doesn't matter.' Forgiveness is the costliest thing in the world. (In The Letter to Hebrews. "Christianity Today", Vol. 36, no. 11.) There is one eternal principle which will be valid as long as the world lasts. The principle is—Forgiveness is a costly thing. Human forgiveness is costly. A son or a daughter may go wrong; a father or a mother may forgive; but forgiveness has brought tears... There was the price of a broken heart to pay.
Forgiveness is costly (as Jesus found out in His life on earth). Yet it is a priceless act: "How beautiful and yet how rare is forgiveness! Christ taught His disciples to forgive their enemies, and in this respect as in all others, He is our great example. He said amid the agonies of the crucifixion, 'Father forgive them.' A deaf mute being asked, 'What is forgiveness?' took a pencil and wrote, 'It is the odor which a flower yields when trampled upon,' and Sir William Jones has given us the following extract from the Persian poet Sadi--
The sandal-tree perfumes when riven
The axe that laid it low;
Let man, who hopes to be forgiven,
Forgive and bless his foe.
Christian forgiveness is a precious response that the world cannot understand or grasp. Jean Paul Richter summed this up as he said, "Humanity is never so beautiful as when praying for forgiveness, or else forgiving another." And, not long before she died in 1988, in a moment of surprising candor on television, Marghanita Laski, one of our best-known secular humanists and novelists, said: "What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me." (John Stott in "The Contemporary Christian". Christianity Today, Vol. 38, no. 7.) In teaching His disciples how to pray, Jesus, the Son of God included the following lines in His lesson:
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:11-12,14-15) This divine forgiveness has a price. The world gives lip service to the adage spoken by Alexander Pope: "To err is human; to forgive, divine." A popular Christian song in the late 20th century exclaimed that "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love". To this, La Rochefoucauld would add, "One pardons in the degree that one loves." To forgive is divine. We have divine examples in the Son and the Father.
Clara Barton (the founder of the American Red Cross), another example of love toward others, "was reminded one day of a vicious deed that someone had done to her years before. But she acted as if she had never heard of the incident. 'Don't you remember it?' her friend asked. 'No,' came Barton's reply. 'I distinctly remember forgetting it.' (Luis Palau, "Experiencing God's Forgiveness". Christianity Today, Vol. 34, no. 1.) To love is to forgive, and to forgive is to forget. D. L. Moody was quoted as saying, "Forgiveness is not that stripe which says, 'I will forgive, but not forget.' It is not to bury the hatchet with the handle sticking out of the ground, so you can grasp it the minute you want it. (Christian History, no. 25.) And Henry Ward Beacher agreed: "I can forgive, but I cannot forget," is only another way of saying, "I will not forgive." Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note--torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one. In canceling the recognized offense or sin, forgiveness is refusing to let anything permanently destroy the relationships which will evoke a forgiving response. In loving the sinner but hating the sin, we forgive those who stand opposed to the Christian faith. Within God’s Word, we believers see God’s forgiveness and forgetting at work in our own lives:
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
In these verses, God separates our sin from us; such is His forgetting. Praise be the Lord! As Li An exemplifies, God forgives, and so should we. It’s a divine thing, and demonstrates our love for God’s children. Even unbelievers will know we are God’s own as we forgive, as we love them.