This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled Extreme Devotion, compiled by the Voice Of the Martyrs. In the following passage, a Kenyan Christian provides us with fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)
"Before we finish this funeral service," her words rang out clearly to the thousand people in attendance, "I want to tell you what my husband told me before dying. He asked me to tell all his murderers that he goes to heaven loving wholeheartedly everybody, including his assassins. He has forgiven all for what they have done because Jesus loves and will also forgive them."
She stood over her husband's coffin. There were tears in her eyes, but her voice was strong. The bruises on her body told the mourners that she, too, had been beaten.
As Christians, she and her husband had refused to take a Kikuyu tribal oath that wasn’t consistent with their Christian faith. For this, her husband was beaten to death, and she was beaten and hospitalized.
The crowd was still, silenced by the power of the widow’s words, and her will. Many living in Kenya in 1969 had also faced harassment and attack for valuing their faith over tribal loyalties.
"I, as his widow, also tell all of you, in the presence of my dead husband, that I hate none of those who killed him. I love the killers. I forgive them, knowing that Christ has died for them too."
No one in attendance that day would ever forget the widow's words or her example of extreme forgiveness and grace.
FURTHER: Forgiveness is an extreme example of what it means to be like Christ, to extend his grace to others. No one has ever had to forgive more than Jesus Christ. Nothing can compare to the weight of an entire world's sins on His shoulders at Calvary. Therefore, when we forgive those who hate us, we are never more like Jesus than at that moment. Forgiveness does not make the wrongs that were done to you right. Forgiveness makes you all right. Forgiveness does not mean letting your perpetrators off the hook. Forgiveness means letting yourself off the hook and getting released from the tyranny of vengeful thoughts. Forgiving others for their wrongs gives you a chance to shine for Christ like never before. When will you shine the light of God's forgiveness today?
A moment of consideration: In this world and in this life, in many ways we believers live to practice godly traits and habits, responses and behaviors, interactions and obedience to our Lord and Savior. In essence, as Christians we practice in this life what we hope to apply in the next. Yet, to err is human; to forgive, divine--as Alexander Pope has reminded us. If we are to practice divine characteristics in our day-to-day walk, a divine attribute to emulate is Christ-like forgiveness. Forgiveness within our family, marriage, community, church fellowship, and other social environments is applied in a wonderful training ground for heaven; for there are many times each day when this trait can be shown to the benefit of those important to us. As the inspirational account, above, states--"forgiving others for their wrongs gives you a chance to shine for Christ like never before." But let us explore what God's Word and sages down through the ages have written to encourage us about forgiveness as a human attribute.
In the Lord's prayer, Jesus included forgiveness as a human concern reflecting God's characteristics: "and forgive us our sins, as we also have forgiven those who sin against us." (Matthew 6:12) The apostle Paul echoed Christ's words in writing to the Church in Ephesus: "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:31-32, emphasis mine) Peter, knowing the value of forgiveness, foresaw the need to forgive others more than once, and Jesus affirmed Peter's estimate but went further; then Christ delivered the parable of the unforgiving debtor for his and our instruction (Matthew 18:21-35). "Then Peter came up and said to Him, "Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?" "No, not seven times," Jesus replied, "but seventy times seven!" (Matthew 18:21-22) And Christ added, following the parable, "That's what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart." (Matthew 18:35) It would be in our best interest to spend some time in that parable. Forgiving others is kind of important, isn't it? Commissioning His disciples to spread the Gospel, Christ told them, "if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld." What forgiveness is withheld from an offender here on earth, has an impact on divine forgiveness to that person or persons, in heaven. (John 20:23) How does our forgiving others impact us? In Jesus' own words, "...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 16:14-15) So, Paul's exhortation to the members of the Church at Colossae, speaks to us now as well: "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Colossians 3:13) When John Huss (the courageous pastor of Prague was arrested, condemned, and sentenced to be burned by a church council in 1415) heard his sentence pronounced, he fell on his knees and prayed, "Lord Jesus, forgive my enemies." I hope that in his heart he, too, had forgiven his enemies.
When we are offended, abused or abased, how do we respond? Here are some helpful accounts to consider and to learn from:
The story is told of a young man who had been cruelly insulted by a former acquaintance. Full of indignation, he determined to go at once and demand an apology.
A saintly gentleman laid his hand on his shoulder and said quietly, “Son, let me give you a word of advice. An insult is like mud: it will brush off much better when it is dry! Wait until you both have cooled off, and then the thing can probably be settled quickly. If you go now, you’ll quarrel even more.”
The young man heeded the kind suggestion. Before long he found out how wise it had been, for the next day the offending party came and begged his forgiveness. (H. G. Bosch, "Our Daily Bread")
Saint Augustine felt strongly about such abuse from others. He wrote, "If you are suffering from a bad man’s injustice, forgive him lest there be two [injustices]." Agreeing, Rev. W. Howels once said, the best way to settle a quarrel was to "let the innocent forgive the guilty." And Rev. John Clark of Frome was asked, one day, how he kept from being involved in quarrels. He answered, "By letting the angry person always have the quarrel to himself."
For us, "counting to 10" (or giving the situation time to cool down) might be a good suggestion. Rather than waiting for the perpetrator of the abuse to forgive the innocent, let us rather, as the innocent, forgive the guilty. When possible, too, it's a good idea to let the abusive person express himself or herself without interruption. Gauge the person's ire if you can, and determine if a soft answer will indeed serve to turn wrath aside. "Counting to 10" allows the situation to cool, but don't wait too long to willingly forgive the other, as C. E. Mcartney (Pastor of the Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, ca. 1914-1927) once aptly illustrated:
Elsewhere, in one of the galleries of the Louvre (in Paris, France) there hangs a double painting which appeals to far more than eyes and hearts.
In the first painting is an outraged father with uplifted hand, ordering the wicked son from the paternal door. In the background cower the weeping mother and the sisters and brothers.
The second scene shows the same cottage and the same humble room and the same father and mother and brothers and sisters. But the father lies still upon the bed, the aloofness of death upon his face. At the side of the bed, with her face buried in her hands, kneels the mother with her children.
The cottage door has just been flung open, and the returning prodigal stands with his foot on the sill and his hand on the door, as if he has been smitten into stone. He has come too late.
Both father and son have waited too long. Now the father cannot speak the words of forgiveness and the son can find no place for repentance, though he seeks it carefully and with tears.
Josh Billings (pen name of Henry Wheeler Shaw, famous lecturer, late 1800's) asserted that "there is no revenge so complete as forgiveness." But even more importantly, forgiving others frees us from the burden of a lifetime of burning and seething hatred:
In the beautiful memorial window of the Abbey Church at Elstow, the visitor can see, in the mystic colors of ecclesiastical glass, Christian kneeling at the foot of the Cross, while his dark and heavy burden rolls from his shoulders.
Bunyan’s immortal picture is as true and brief an answer as can be given to the question, “What is the result of forgiveness?”
Christian said that he "saw it no more"--the burden was gone.
C. E. Mcartney averred that this will always be true. It does not mean that the memory of transgression will pass, or that its shadow will never fall across our path; but that the sting and shame and pain which constitute its burden are gone. The following is good to keep in mind: "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." (Henry Ward Beecher, clergyman, 1800's) John Bunyan's immortal picture shows the freedom that forgiving and forgetting provide.
The inspirational piece at the head of this devotional states, "Forgiveness is an extreme example of what it means to be like Christ, to extend his grace to others." Perhaps forgiveness in and of itself need not be relegated to the "extreme" of forgiving our attackers, our abusers or foes, but can be applied to disagreements, minor tiffs, conflicts of interest, perhaps heated arguments, marital spats, etc., in our everyday life--as practice for the life to come. It takes moral and personal strength to forgive someone who has done us wrong. Mahatma Gandhi agreed, saying, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." Yet Jean Paul Richter has said that "Humanity is never so beautiful as when praying for forgiveness, or else forgiving one another." When we exercise the grace that is forgiveness in our lives with others, we show inner beauty and strength. Let us forgive and forget the wrongs others do to us. And let us be diligent to confess our sins before our heavenly Father. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) Let us join the beautiful humanity, on our knees in confessing prayer before our Lord, and reflecting His attributes in forgiving one another.