Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What it Is and Isn't, and Longs to Be

In wrapping up the sub-series on forgiveness, I offer this compilation (below) of the main points from the previous 7 blogs. To address every unique situation would be nothing short of impossible, and the full topic of forgiveness and bold love can only be contained not in one book, but several! Each of us must look at our own relationships and carefully walk with God through prayer, listening, and studying his Word (along with the wise counsel of others with experience) to find the best individual route.

A person’s sin against us is the taking of something that cannot be returned by the offender. Lord knows I’ve wanted to grab hold of some of my offenders and shake the living hound out of them, demanding they give back what they’ve taken! But forgiving is to release them—and to no longer demand from them the debt they owe. It is recognizing they cannot return what has been stolen, and turning to the only One who can.

This is because we are speaking not of things, but the sacred:  innocence, joy, security, trust, etc.

Yet some of us are waiting to feel something first, as though forgiveness means we should have some ushy-gushy feeling of releasing the person. Much as I did when seeking to forgive my greatest offender. That is when a prayer counselor said to me, “It’s not about a feeling. Forgiving is an act of the will. Feelings come later.” If we wait for feelings to come first, they will never come! Yet if we want our heart to follow, we must choose to forgive.

A common myth is that forgiving is to say the wound didn’t matter. Forgiveness is not saying the wound didn’t matter, rather, the opposite. It is saying it did matter, and it hurt me deeply. What you did was wrong, and I release you to God. I will not be your captive any more. (John and Stasi Eldredge, Captivating)

It took a while for my own heart to catch up, but I found it to be true that as long as I was unforgiving, I was bound to my offenders and to the messages of their wounds. Not only does the act of forgiving release the person to God, but it also releases our own heart!

Several key verses (Matt. 6:12, 14; 18:21, 35) use the word “forgive.” The Greek word is aphiemi, which means “to send away.” Furthermore in these verses it means “to let go, give up a debt, by not demanding it.” The prefix, apo, is described as “any kind of separation of one thing from another by which the union or fellowship of the two is destroyed.”

By forgiving we give up the debt the wrongful person owes us and choose to no longer demand it from them. Instead, turning to Jesus to heal and restore us. “I [the Lord] will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten…” Joel 2:25. In doing so we peel off (like an onion), separate if you will, another layer, destroying the union between us and the wrongdoer.

But what happens if we don’t choose forgiveness?

A root of bitterness is conceived.

And if that root is left unattended?

“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”
(Hebrews 12:15)

Allowing bitterness to take root undoes the work of the Lord, and therefore puts layers back on, weighting us down once again. When bitterness gives birth, Webster’s dictionary describes it as sharp, unpleasant, disagreeable, and harsh.

If this is you (as it was once me!), I urge you to take courage, invite Jesus back in to heal and to help you peel off those weighty and undesirable layers.

Often, an insatiable appetite for vengeance grows where we are unwilling (and even unable) to forgive. Those who hurt you, those you long to hurt in return, already are suffering because of their sin. (unless they have come to repentance and turned completely from their sinful ways, Act 3:19; though even then they may still suffer consequences)

“But your sins will eat away at you from within and you’ll groan among yourselves.”
(Ezekiel 24:23b, The Message)

Those who remain unrepentant and deny their sin against you are already suffering.

“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord.”
(Romans 12:19, NASB)

Enough said. That arena belongs to God. And we need not get in his way or take matters into our own hands—as hard as that may be sometimes (and lest we sin ourselves in doing so!). For those whom we find it more difficult to forgive, we must call upon the help of the Lord, who promises that vengeance is his and that he will repay their sins.

Back to those “layers”… As we choose to forgive, we must not be surprised by our grief. We grieve what was lost and stolen by another’s wrong action. Grief is painful and intense. The deeper we walk into our wounded heart, the more intense it gets.

Inviting Jesus to go with us and heal our broken hearts will inevitably bring us to the choice to forgive. As we do, He is then able to do His work and “close up” that layer.

But then He takes us deeper, and another layer of our wound is revealed. There, more healing must take place. More truth must replace the lies we’ve believed. More needs to be restored. And another opportunity to forgive presents itself.

The next time you are surprised by your emotions and thoughts after choosing to forgive, remember the onion. Forgiveness over even a single issue is rarely a one-time, final event. Layer by layer we heal, and layer by layer we forgive.

Finally, Jesus gives us specific instruction towards our brothers and sisters in the faith. (Keep in mind the timetables will vary greatly, with no exact steps or techniques for every circumstance.)

"If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you've made a friend.”

And if he or she doesn’t listen…
“…take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won't listen, tell the church.”

And if that doesn’t work…
“…you'll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God's forgiving love.”
(The Message, Matthew 18:15-17)

Whoa. This is not something we see everyday. Nor is this permission to gossip or tattletale if the offender does not listen to us. Such an act must flow from a heart aiming for redemption in another, AND be preceded by MUCH prayer. With God’s grace at work within us, we can boldly go where few people do—loving by way of confronting, and with the goal of restoration for another human heart.

Evil expects us to recoil in fear and shame. To hide in its shadows, giving way to death as we bar the doors of our heart while refusing passion and intimacy. It thrives in such conditions, seizing control over its wounded. For most of us, it’s how our heart responds to hurt.

“On the contrary:  ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
(Romans 12:20-21)

This is the hope and possibility when we live by the wisdom of Paul in Romans 12:20-21.
Paul strikes a death blow against evil when he tells us to give evil life. It is like pouring life-giving water on the Wicked Witch of the West—she melts. Life and death do not mix. And when life, light, and love—in all its humble beauty, broken strength, frail boldness, and passionate other-centeredness—encounters evil, evil must flee or be transformed.
(Dr. Dan Allender in The Wounded Heart, pp. 244-245)

In conclusion, as we choose forgiveness, we grieve and allow Jesus to heal our wounded hearts while separating the unholy union between us and the offender. Boldly we confront, in love, and even courageously offer kindness in the face of evil. For evil cannot last in the light of bold love. All the while experiencing the freedom and life for which we desperately desire.

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