Let the Forgiven Forgive
“The first and often only person to be healed by forgiveness is the person who does the forgiveness… When we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner we set free was us.” -Lewis Smedes
In a world where Might is Right and justice is king, forgiveness is counter-cultural and often perceived as a sign of weakness. As our Lifegroup sorted through Brady’s sermon (Facing the Past), we found ourselves trudging through our own experiences with the grueling process of forgiveness. The current sermon series, highlighting the life of Joseph in Genesis, sets the ultimate stage for this seemingly dubious practice of forgiving the unthinkable. Being beaten and left for dead by one’s brothers is not exactly something one moves past in a hurry. In The Only Necessary Thing, the ever-wise Henry Nouwen says:
“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all of us love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour, unceasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.”
Our natural inclination as flawed human beings is to get angry and get even. Forgiveness is about as natural as the aspartame in the Diet Coke currently aging in my refrigerator. Fortunately, there are antidotes to the hate and resentment experienced when we are wronged- namely, love and empathy. The ability to consider a perpetrator of our pain as a valuable person, worthy of love and redemption is undoubtedly a work of God. Recognizing pain behind a person’s harmful actions and acknowledging our own need for mercy are steps along the extensive and narrow path to forgiveness. If only forgiveness were akin to a one mile fun run. I would collect my t-shirt and call it a win.
Like love after newness fades, forgiveness is a daily choice and practice. It is not a one-and-done experience or quick rip of a Band-Aid. If only it were always as easy as the immediate relief experienced after I’ve apologized to one of my children for an overreaction to a simple blunder. Reconciliation (requiring two willing participants) is not always a possibility, but forgiveness always releases the forgiver. Whether or not the person I strive to forgive modifies their actions or changes their heart, genuine forgiveness unbinds me from the source of my pain even as residual wounds continue to heal.
True to form, Jesus perfectly illustrated forgiving the unthinkable by asking His Father to forgive the people who vilely hammered nails through the same hands that healed and fed multitudes (Luke 23:34). The one who died so we could live forever forgave his mockers and killers through painful breaths in His final hours. Forgiveness is a practice of forgiven people. Let’s strive toward forgiveness the way we have been extraordinarily forgiven.