Forgiveness and the Road to a Healthier Mind
Jesus came to set the captives free: both the oppressor and the oppressed
In Luke 4:19 we see that Jesus clearly understood why He had come. He came to deal with sin and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour; this referring to the practices surrounding the year of Jubilee.
The year of Jubilee occurred every 50 years when all debts were cancelled, and all who were imprisoned because of debt were set free. Ancestral lands that had been seized also had to be returned by law and had to be in good condition. In all of this we get a picture of blessing and restoration.
Jesus paid the price that we could not pay and, in doing so, gave us the life that we did not deserve. Our debt, the price of our wrong-doing, has been discharged through His work being credited to our account; now that is amazing grace.
“(Jesus) …you are amazed that He is incomparably better than you could have expected. He is tender without being weak, strong without being coarse, lowly without being servile. He has conviction without intolerance, enthusiasm without fanaticism, holiness without Pharisaism, passion without prejudice…..His life alone moved on those high levels where local limitations are transcended and the absolute law of moral purity prevails.”
Dr John Watson in, ‘Mind of the Master’ p 82.
As participators in the everlasting kingdom (Ps 145:13), we are to share the grace and mercy that has been birthed into our lives at no cost to self. Kingdom living is not about what we can earn or achieve by way of obedience. It begins with receiving and the purpose in receiving is to grow and then to give out of ourselves in the power and leading of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:18).
As those who have received and continue to receive forgiveness we are called to forgive our debtors (Luke 11:14) – those who have wronged us or come against us in any way. We are not to deal with them in anger, or vindictive ways, but we are to forgive them and leave all things with the Lord unless called to do otherwise.
Daniel Freeman was a Christian doctor in Vanga Hospital in the Congo for many years. He was there during an Aids pandemic which was ‘helped along’ so to speak, by men who slept around and left their wives and many others HIV positive. I remember reading about a similar situation occurring in India a few years ago where long-distance lorry drivers slept with prostitutes and then infected their wives.
During his time in the clinic Dr Freeman, along with a church minister, developed programmes for the healing of the whole person. One of the reasons this was done was because he found so many betrayed women and young people battling with anger and a lack of forgiveness.
The programme he ran dealt with all the hurt and pain as it taught people how to forgive. Through the studies many women forgave their husbands and he noticed that they lived longer, and were at peace. During the courses no pressure was put on the counselees to accept Christ and there was no manipulation. As he points out in his studies, Christ is available to all who want Him, but it is a personal choice that we have to make.
Forgiving others is a necessary part of Kingdom living. It does not mean that everyone we forgive will change, but it does mean that we can continue to grow in His grace, no matter what we have been through.
Robin Oake is a retired chief constable whose son Stephen was killed by a terrorist. In his book, ‘Father Forgive,’ he writes about the media who asked what he thought about the killer. He replied, “I don’t know the man or all the circumstances of the operation, but from my heart I forgive him.” Robin later writes, “…from long experience I knew the truth: Revenge imprisons us; forgiveness sets us free,” (pages 18-19). In his book Robin also recounts the following story…
“Soon after our son’s death in Manchester, a Salvation Army Captain asked the police to track me down. I telephoned him while I was staying with my daughter and her family in Altrincham. He told me that his son, too, had been killed by a terrorist – in Germany, some ten years before. The alleged murderer had been convicted and was still serving a long prison sentence. The Captain told me that he had been bitter ever since, always thinking what might have been and why should this happen to his son. In his heart he felt that a prison sentence was not sufficient punishment and he always wanted some other sort of revenge. He told me that he certainly had never forgiven the terrorist.
However, he read in a newspaper that the father and family of a murdered police officer had openly and freely forgiven the terrorist in Manchester and were praying for the assassin. This moved the Captain. He had had no peace in his heart or ministry for all those years since his son died and now saw this opportunity to get right with God. He prayed and forgave his son’s killer unconditionally. Then, at last he felt his heart and mind at peace again. God had got through.” What a marvellous release from his self-inflicted prison; it was a release which would transform his ministry.”
R. Oake in, ‘Father Forgive’ p 51
Forgiveness speaks of letting go of the debt that has to be paid for wrong doing. In scripture we read of the unheard of in that it is the most wronged person - the Holy One who came and paid the price for our wrongdoing. Jesus did this by carrying the full burden of our wrong-doing. Through Jesus and Jesus alone the fruit of separation and wrongdoing has been dealt with by the One who keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor 13:5). Through His loving-kindness, grace and mercy God wipes away the list of transgressions that condemns us.
"I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”
We are forgiven by the One we owe everything to, but have nothing by which we can pay. This underlines the truth that forgiveness from God is a gift which is only possible because of Christ and totally undeserved by us in any way. So why it is that many Christians withhold forgiveness from others? Why do we, who have had our sins forgiven, persist in continuing to sin in this way?
The Greek word for sin (hamaritias) was originally a shooting word, depicting an arrow missing the target. Scripturally it speaks of the failure to be what we might have been or could have been. It is missing out on the very best that our heavenly Father wants for our lives and speaks of going our own way and transgressing God’s laws. Sin is the refusal to live as a son or daughter and the ‘fire that destroys the name’ (nature and character). In other words the way we live in our own strength and with our own reasoning can consume the very life we are seeking to protect: ours.
In Jesus we find that the one we owe everything to is the One in whom we find forgiveness and the One by whom we can forgive others. We are called to forgive because forgiveness is part of kingdom living and in living by way of the kingdom we are called to forgive unconditionally. In doing this we will also find healing and release for ourselves because we have opened our lives even further to the one who frees us from all that binds us.
In February 2011 the Brentwood Yellow Advertiser (Feb 16th 2011) carried the story of Leslie Kleinman, a holocaust survivor. Leslie had, along with his family been taken from his village in Romania when he was fifteen years old. Within three hours of arriving in Auschwitz his parents and four siblings were dead. Leslie was kept alive to work on railway tracks and often faced the cruelty of death marches as he was transferred from camp to camp. On arrival in Vienna after one death march he felt weak and drained of life. Leslie was eventually liberated from Flossenburg concentration camp by American troops in April 1945. When Leslie spoke of these atrocities at Great Baddow High School when he was eighty-seven, he said, “We are all human whatever colour, religion or race…compassion is the best way forward if you hate people it breeds hate.”
Many years after the Second World War a study was carried out to see how those who had been in Nazi concentration camps were coping. It was found that those who had learned to forgive had moved on in their lives, whilst those who refused to forgive often suffered greater physical and mental ill-health and still lived as victims, despite their freedom.
How many times do I forgive?
On one occasion Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive others. Jesus answered, “I tell you not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Mt 18:2:2). His words would not be lost on anyone who knew the scriptures and take us right back to Genesis.
In looking back to Genesis 4:24 we read of Lamech boasting about killing a man, this far exceeding the punishment due to the crime (“If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times."). Jesus picks up on this showing that the forgiveness we offer is to be continual and a forgiveness that far exceeds what is really deserved. A fallen man wanted to be avenged seventy seven times whilst the ‘unfallen One’ tells us to continually forgive.
Another point of interest we can note before moving on is that Jesus is the seventy-seventh generation from God in the legal lineage of His foster-father Joseph. Therefore, and at risk of repetition, in Genesis, we see a man boasting and stating that he should be avenged seventy-seven times, whilst in Jesus we see God’s answer to man’s sin – the offer of forgiveness and reconciliation. In Jesus we see One who is willing to reach out to all people and it is often the change in those who have come to Christ that speaks so clearly to others as the following testimony reveals.
As a young woman Jackie Pullinger went out to work with drug addicts and the street people in China. She writes of the way Jesus reached into addict’s lives and the impact it had upon others, saying:
“Few of the junkies had had any exposure to Christianity before coming off drugs. Far from being a hindrance this actually helped them. Now they would arrive saying: “I have heard how Ah Kei (or some other friend) has changed. He says its Jesus who did it. I think Ah Kei is the meanest addict I know. If Jesus can change that one he can change me too.
Their faith did not depend upon any understanding of theological concepts but upon the seeing of Jesus working in others and the willingness to let him work in their lives too. Each time they prayed they were answered and their faith grew as they were healed… Most of our boys began to understand Jesus with their minds only after they had experienced him in their lives and bodies.”
Jackie Pullinger in ‘Chasing the Dragon’, p 159-60.
A Challenging Parable
Going back to Jesus’ words about forgiveness we then find Him telling His disciples a parable (Matthew 18:23-5). Please read it.
In the parable we see a man who had no real concept of what had been done for him. Perhaps he secretly thought that he deserved forgiveness, or that the king had suddenly realised what a good person he really was, or maybe he had been struck by a moment of madness. Then again the servant may have been pleased with himself, thinking that because of his outburst he’d been let off the hook so to speak. In reality the unexpected blessing was all down to the compassion of another as is every blessing we receive from God.
In the parable Jesus specifically points out that the kingdom of God is like a powerful master who has every right to bring judgement, yet instead shows great mercy and compassion. It was because of this master’s compassion that a debt that could not have been paid off in a decade of lifetimes was written off.
“The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”
Those listening to Jesus were already recipients of grace and mercy in one form or another, but did they know this? Many in Jesus’ day placed heavy burdens on others and forgot that they themselves had been forgiven much and were called to share a gospel of grace and forgiveness with all people. It is possible to receive grace and mercy and forget just how much we have received!
In the parable the unjust steward refuses to show mercy to his fellow-servant, who was struggling to pay off a debt and had him thrown in prison. When the king heard about this he was angry because he had expected his servant to show the same mercy that he had received (Mat 18:33). He then had the servant turned over to jailors to be tortured until he paid back all he owed (v 34).
When we fail to forgive or treat others as we have been treated, we reap the harvest of our own thoughts and actions. We are left in a world of difficulty and hardship with self as the jailor preventing us from receiving grace and healing. One man who experienced the bitterness of an unforgiving nature, yet then found healing in Christ is Sokreaksa Himm.
As a young boy Sokreaksa Himm was left for dead by the Khymer Communists, after seeing them butcher his whole family. For many years Sokreaksa carried the traumatic images in his mind, along with the bitterness and hatred that had built up in him. Yet, through Christ, he was eventually able to come to a place where he could deal with the emotional turmoil. Of that time he writes,
“As I gave up my desire for revenge and pulled out the root of hatred, anger and bitterness from my heart, I was journeying towards forgiveness and the healing of my soul and the wiping away of its tears…Forgiveness has been a special gift from God in my life. It’s a spiritual power, breaking the time which bound the images of the killers in my soul. It cleaned away the bitterness from my heart…since I have forgiven those who killed my family, my life has changed. The fire of hatred has gone from my heart and soul, though the bitterness has not been forgotten. By forgiving completely, I can move ahead, relying on God’s healing power. Forgiveness has released me from the emotional torment that burned within me for years and now my heart is lighter and my spirit has peace.”
Sokreaksa Himm in, ‘The Tears of My Soul’ pages 126-7
Jesus: Challenging wrong-thinking and reaching out to all people with amazing grace
In Matthew 9:1ff we read of a paralytic that was brought to Jesus by his friends. They were so desperate to get to Jesus that they broke through the roof of the house where he was staying and lowered the paralysed man on his mat (Luke 5:18ff). In Jesus’ day there was the underlying assumption by some that sickness was always a result of sin. The paralysed man may well have been caught up in all this wrong thinking and may have had a whole host of reasons as to why he would not be healed.
Jesus saw the faith of this small group of desperate men – including the paralytic and said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus then turned to the Pharisees and teachers of the law who were thinking this was blasphemy and said,
“Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." He said to the paralysed man, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home."
The title, ‘Son of Man,’ speaks of the humanity of Jesus as the second Adam (1 Cor 15:45) and here in front of the crowd was the incarnate Son of God, the Messianic One of Daniel 7:13 who brings reconciliation and resurrection to a fallen world. In Him, men and women could be raised to life by the One who was not tied up with the prevalent thinking of the day. He did not come to abolish the law, but to remove what it had become by way of man and to reveal the compassion and care of the One who gave it in the first place.
Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead and got alongside tax collectors, sinners and all who found themselves on the outskirts of life so to speak. Yet, He also engaged with those who thought they were religiously pure and encouraged them to rethink what they assumed they knew so well. His life was a life of forgiveness and in Him we are also called to forgive. As one man once put it, “Life either expands or contracts in relation to your power to forgive.” Another amazing story of forgiveness is as follows. Be encouraged!
One of the most famous pictures of wartime suffering was taken in 1972 during the Vietnam War. The picture is that of Kim Phuc, a young girl, who was splashed with Napalm during an air attack in Vietnam and is pictured running along the road naked and in great fear and pain.
Kim was severely scared and in later years spoke about how she hated everyone who looked normal. She gained an education, but generally kept herself hidden away, not wanting people to see her scars.
In later years Kim spent time researching religion in the local libraries as she sought to find answers to life. In 1982 she became a Christian and later spoke about how God helped her deal with forgiveness and all the pain in her mind. She wrote, “It was the fire of bombs that burned my body, it was the skill of doctors than mended my skin, but it took the power of God to heal my heart.”. She also wrote that whilst Napalm is very powerful, faith, forgiveness and love are far more powerful.
“When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is — that she is a sinner."
In Luke 7:36 we read of Simon the Pharisee inviting Jesus to his house for dinner and that whilst there a woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and poured perfume on them. In doing this she was exposing herself to ridicule from the group who must have known something of her background. She would also have done something highly unusual in letting her hair down in public, as did Jesus in speaking to her. Yet there was something else that was rather unusual. The unusual thing about Simon’s household is that nobody had offered to wash Jesus’ feet. Washing the feet of a guest would be normal practice in Jesus’ day. Perhaps the host and his friends did not rate Jesus very highly and were more inquisitive about him than anything else. Whatever the case may be, we see that the woman was not like this and had obviously thought through what she wanted to do. Like many others she must have heard that Jesus received sinners and could forgive sin (Luke 5:30) and placed her trust in Him. The Pharisee did not like what she was doing and assumed that Jesus could not be a prophet because he allowed the woman to touch him. Jesus then challenges Simon and in doing so crosses the line, standing with the woman, whom so many looked down upon.
Jesus then tells Simon a parable about two debtors (Luke 7:41ff) who were released from debts they could not pay – one from five hundred denarii and the other fifty. Simon is aware that the debtor forgiven the larger amount would love the one who had cancelled the debt more than the other debtor.
The point Jesus is making is that all have sinned and need forgiveness and that no-one has any means of paying. The Pharisee could do all the good works he liked but the truth remained – there was still a debt; he was still a sinner and should not look down on anyone. Jesus then told the woman that her sins were forgiven and that her faith – her trust in the only One who forgives – had saved her and that she could go in peace.
Forgiveness is a gift
Forgiveness is a gift that we all need to receive, no matter how we have lived our lives. No matter whether we think we have lived our lives as a saint or a sinner, all of us need forgiveness (Rom 3:23). In failing to forgive others we are near-sighted and blind and have forgotten what has been done for us (2 Peter 1:9).
“Jesus Christ came into this world to show men what God is. The fact is that until Jesus came into the world men had a wrong idea of God. They thought of God as the task-master, the lawgiver, the judge. They thought of God as that awful purity before whom every man is in default, and from whom every man can expect nothing but condemnation. They thought of God as the inexorable justice, which was bound to utter sentence of condemnation. They thought of God as the implacable nature bent on destruction of the sinners. Clearly men who held that idea would have but one idea – not to approach God, but to flee from his presence and to escape from his wrath, an obviously impossible task.
But the coming of Jesus Christ showed God in an entirely new light. His life of service and his death of love gave men a completely new idea of God. It showed God to men as the lover of the souls of men. It showed God is seeking the lost, It showed God was the One whose desire is to forgive and to gather men to himself in fatherly love.”
W. Barclay in, “The Mind of St Paul.”
The only way to salvation is through acknowledging our total dependence on the saving work of Jesus Christ. The fruit of this forgiveness and reconciliation is then seen in how we treat others. If we always hold grudges and never forgive, then have we really received forgiveness, or are we ignoring and trivialising what has been done for us? It’s as simple and as straightforward as that.
Another story that speaks about inner turmoil and initial lack of forgiveness is highlighted in the story of a young woman who found out that her husband was having an affair, five weeks after their wedding day. The marriage ended in divorce and she struggled with anger and hostility for many years until she learned to let go. She likens the way she sought to deal with her hurt as being handed over to torturers…
“During this time, I felt like I had been turned over to the jailers to be tortured as a result of my unforgiveness. I knew that Jesus’ command is to forgive others. But it was not until the poison inside me reached an unbearable intensity one day that I realised that forgiving this girl (impossible though it seemed) was my only option. It had to be done and needed determination and self-discipline on my part.
I first prayed for God’s help, then forgave the girl and released her from robbing me of my husband. Within minutes of praying and forgiving I felt a great peace flooding into me and replacing the turmoil. I could hardly believe that this inner change was so real.” She later writes, “The part I played in forgiving and releasing was so small compared with what he did. In taking away all my hatred and replacing it with His love and warmth, I became a different person.”
Anonymous Testimony in ‘Forgive, Release and Be Free’ by Joff Day, p 109
We are called to offer the same radical forgiveness that we have received from Jesus, yet forgiving in this way is not always easy. On one occasion, during her lifetime, Mother Theresa had a particularly obnoxious book written about her by a prominent atheist, Christopher Hitchin. Prof Mary Poplin, herself a one-time atheist and now a Christian, wrote about Mother Theresa’s response to all who (like Christopher Hitchin) spoke ill of her. She said…
“But Mother Teresa believed in radical forgiveness – the decision to let it go, ask God to forgive without anybody asking her to forgive. This, of course, is the kind of forgiveness that Christ gave as he was beaten and crucified on the cross, and the kind he asks us, with his grace, to extend to others.”
Prof Poplin in, ‘A Place for Truth’ (ed D. Willard) article: ‘Radical Marxist, Radical Womanist, Radical Love’, p 286.
Elsewhere in her article Mary Poplin also spoke of her own inability to forgive herself for two abortions she had gone through earlier in her life. She writes…
“Every opportunity, no matter where I was, whether I was at a monastery or a church or at home or wherever, I would begin to confess them over and over and over because it says in the Bible, confess your sins and God will forgive you and cleanse you from your iniquity, that is, those attitudes or motivations that caused you to sin.”
Poplin said she used to write on a card a list of things she felt she needed to be forgiven for and of the people she felt she needed to forgive. When she was walking along the river one day God spoke to her…
“The voice said to me, “Who are you not to forgive someone I forgave?” …I got out my card and I looked for who I haven’t written down on the card, and then I walked a little further and I heard exactly the same voice: “Who are you not to forgive someone I forgave?” The third time, I just knelt down on the ground and I said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about Lord.” Then I heard the following: “I forgave you the first time you asked, and I don’t want you to ask me again.” (p296)
We have been forgiven because Jesus paid the price for all our transgressions; as 1 John 2:12 states, “…your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.”
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”
Forgiveness does not involve taking the moral high ground
In receiving forgiveness all our debts were discharged, never to be held against us again. Yet, sometimes this is not the sort of forgiveness we offer others. Instead of offering true forgiveness we offer a worldly forgiveness that has little to do with the forgiveness we have received. This happens when we forgive others, but constantly remind them of what they have done whenever the pain of past events resurrect itself in our minds. When it does we can almost assume an air of superiority over those we think we have forgiven and subconsciously live as if they should always be indebted to us. This is not the forgiveness that Jesus gave us and it is not the forgiveness He expects us to exercise towards others.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Forgiveness involves refusing to look down on the forgiven. It recognises that all are valued by God and must be treated as we ourselves have been treated by Him: the One who keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor 13:5).
“With forgiveness we are set free to meet genuinely, to interact authentically, to risk being fully present with each other in integrity.”
D Augsburger in ‘Caring Enough to Not Forgive’.p6
In his book, ‘Forgive, Release and be Free’, Joff Day records the testimony of Harvey Thomas who was the public relations coordinator for Margaret Thatcher at the time of the Grand Hotel bombing by the I.R.A. in 1984. Harvey Thomas is a Christian and later wrote about the inner turmoil he constantly felt after the bombing and how he finally came to forgive the perpetrator of the crime
“It was 12 years before I could persuade myself to forgive the bomber Patrick Magee.” Thomas wrote to Magee, who was in in prison, in 1998 and revealed his identity. Then he wrote; “I forgive you as Christ has forgiven us.” He says that once he forgave Magee, he immediately felt free of the anger he had carried for years. He writes, “Forgiveness may not be deserved, but it is the only way out of bitterness.” J.Day in, ‘Forgive, Release and be Free’ p103
The damage that comes from withholding forgiveness
Sometimes we withhold forgiveness as a means of ‘payback,’ or as an attempt to exercise some sort of control over feelings that the actions of others have ‘birthed’ in our lives. Yet, in living this way we do not gain control. Instead begin to lose control and place a distance between self and God, whilst continuing to carry a burden that can affect us physically as well as mentally and spiritually.
“As a physician for more than forty years, I can recall people with a variety of illnesses – from back problems, to ulcers, to high blood pressure, and even to cancer – who have had many of their symptoms abate as they learned to forgive. I have also been heartened in recent years to see research emerging that shows a relationship between forgiveness and health. We now know that lack of forgiveness – that is, clinging to anger, fear, and pain – does have a measurable impact on our bodies.”
Dr G. Jampolsky in, ‘Introduction to Forgiveness, The Greatest Healer of All’, p 24
Forgiveness is an act of the will
Forgiveness is an act of the will that has to be based on the word of God and not whether we think the offending party deserves it in any way. If we wait for the offender to have a change of heart before we are willing to show forgiveness then we are controlled by self. Self is no match for the trauma and pain of the past and therefore past experiences end up controlling us; when we follow our own rationale we are choosing to remain in mental slavery.
“…the bondage we experience is intentional. It is voluntary slavery. As sinners, our preference is to give ourselves over to our desires. We choose slavery.”
E. Welch in ‘Addiction: A Banquet in the Grave’, p46
Covered by the work of Christ
During the aftermath of the Japan Earthquake rescuers reached the ruins of a young woman’s house and saw her dead body through the cracks. Her pose was strange in that she was on her knees with her hands stretched forwards. A beam had hit the back of her head. The rescue leader reached through the gap in the wall and, on touching her, found she was dead. The team then started moving on. However the leader felt something was compelling him to turn back. He reached through the crack in the wall and with his hand searched the small space under the dead body and felt a small child. The 3-month-old little boy, in a small flowery blanket, was sleeping.
The medical doctor was called in to examine the boy. On opening the blanket he saw a cell phone in the folds. There was a text message on the screen, and it said, “If you can survive, you must remember that I love you.”
Our sins have been atoned for and we are covered in the work of Christ (1 John 2:2, 4:10). The word ‘atone’ (kaphar) comes from the root ‘to cover.’ This word is found in Gen 6:14 and, as already mentioned, speaks of Noah’s Ark being covered with pitch. The pitch surrounded the Ark and protected the Ark and its inhabitants from the waters of judgment. In Christ we have forgiveness: we are no longer under judgment (John 3:17).
I love going to the gym and have been weight-training for over thirty years. Many years ago I damaged my back whilst exercising and, after treatment, changed my training routine to strengthen the area that had been affected. Over the ensuing years I always had a dull pain, yet accepted it as being much better than the initial injury.
About eight years ago I was at a festival where there were free back check-ups by qualified osteopaths. The result of this check-up was to book in a few sessions after which the dull pain in my pack disappeared completely and has not returned. The osteopath told me that one of the reasons the pain had remained was because some of the exercises I thought were helping the back were building muscle in the wrong area.
As Christians we are called to measure all things by the word of God and not what we think. We are not a law unto ourselves. We are the most forgiven people on earth and are to forgive others as part of our kingdom living where love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor 13:5).
Difficulties in the ‘no record of wrongs’ church
In every church there are people from vastly different backgrounds who, in a worldly sense, have very little in common with those around them. In coming to Christ many find themselves amongst people they would not normally associate with. Building friendships as well as leaning a new way of thinking can be difficult and mistakes will be made. How we deal with those mistakes will be a clear indication of our spiritual growth or lack of it.
In reading Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we see that there were many problems in the early church. As already mentioned, people who were not used to mixing together and many who had lived with completely different world views were now learning what it means to be centred in Christ rather on self.
In 1 Corinthians 13:5 Paul reminds the congregation(s) that agape love is not rude or self-seeking or easily angered; nor does it keep a record of wrongs. Kingdom love is not a love that is centred on self; it is not ill-mannered and treats all with equal blessing. It is a love that does not marginalise people, label them, place them in categories or look down on them. In God’s called-out people there is to be no, “The world revolves around me” syndrome and no doing things for personal gain. But what does it mean when we read, “Love keeps no record of wrongs?” Does it mean that we don’t remember the things that have happened to us that have hurt our lives and have possibly distorted our view of self?
Keeping no record of wrongs cannot mean never remembering the wrong that has been done to us. If this were so then Paul could not have legitimately written about his experiences, saying that he had been beaten and imprisoned (2 Cor 6:4-5), whipped five times and even stoned on one occasion (2 Cor 11:24-25).
“Love keeps no record of wrong” is about making an active decision before God not to hold a person’s wrong-doing against them and carries the picture of an accountants ledger with nothing negative kept in it. We have been forgiven and there is no record of wrong – we are called to forgive and keep no account of wrong-doing. If we don’t forgive we offend God and ruin our own lives.
“One woman who’d been violently molested said, “Whenever I thought about forgiving this person who violated me so cruelly, I could not let that hurt go because he deserved to pay. The truth is, my thoughts of hatred and bitterness had absolutely no effect on him, but they were tearing my life apart.”
S. & A. Chapman in, ‘Married Lovers, Married Friends’, p62.
If I live with deep resentment towards others and a desire to judge and demand payback, then I find myself with plenty of power. Yet it is not the power to move mountains because it is not the power of God. Instead, it is a power that keeps me separated from my heavenly Father. It is as if I am in my own resurrection business and have become the potter who knows how to shape the clay. In reality, I continue to allow my life to be shaped by the events of the past, and can underline these events again and again as I use my methods of trying to even the score, as if it will erase or make compensation for what has happened.
Whilst many events of the past such as abuse and ethnic cleansing in war torn nations are undoubtedly no fault of the victims of these crimes, the way to deal with what has happened is their responsibility, no matter how hard this may sound. In Christ we do have the power to overcome all things and be free from the past as many victims of atrocities have testified.
Paul says that agape love is not the way of payback, the way of resentment or vengeance, as we attempt to make up for what we have lost or what damage has been done to us. We cannot go back and change the past and, in some respects, cannot forget the past. Yet we can, in His strength, learn to forgive if we really want to. One man who experienced the atrocities of war and ethnic cleansing is Miroslav Volf. In his book Exclusion and Embrace he has this to say.
“While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his son,” writes the Apostle Paul (Rom 5:10). The cross is the giving up of God’s self in order not to give up on humanity; it is the consequence of God’s desire to break the power of human enmity without violence and receive human beings in to divine communion. The goal of the cross is the dwelling of human beings “in the Spirit,” “In Christ”, and “In God”. Forgiveness is therefore not the culmination of Christ’s relation to the offending other; it is a passage leading to embrace.”
Miroslav Volf in, ‘Exclusion and Embrace’ p 126.
In the story of the loving Father and his prodigal sons (Luke 15), the elder son’s resentment towards his brother surfaced when his prodigal younger brother returned home. Up until that time everything about this elder son would have looked good – he was working for his father and living as a son was expected to live in the community. He was a son the father could be proud of and many people would probably have commented on how much better he was than his wayward brother. From an outward appearance everything looked good, yet outward appearances can be deceptive and God tells us that life is lived in the heart and mind.
“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”
All of us can appear to be going about life the right way, rather like the older son. We attend all the church meetings and get involved in new projects yet still hold on to resentment and unforgiveness towards others. The outward actions may look good, but there is no real growth where life is lived first: in the heart.
In the heart of the older brother there is anger, lack of forgiveness, pride, self-righteousness, self-centredness, and self-pity and, when he talks to his father, resentment soon comes to the surface.
What we hold in our lives is powerful enough to come to the surface and will do so when we are faced with certain situations. In the case of the elder son this resentment and bitterness came to the surface when he heard about the celebration at the return of his wayward brother and he is then the son who refuses to come home. In many ways the parable mirrors what was going on in Israel. There were many who lived a self-righteous life and did not like Jesus meeting with tax collectors and sinners; they had lost sight of God’s love.
“I see you as an evildoer. I feel hurt, resentful, angry, demanding. I am refusing to see you as an equally precious person of worth, value, dignity – in spite of wrongdoing. Forgiveness begins as I see you again with love.”
D Augsburger in ‘Caring Enough to Not Forgive’ page 28.
The love of the father in the parable is seen in that he leaves the banquet to go and speak to his son. This part of the story would have been a shock to Jesus’ listeners because the host always stayed at the banquet, and therefore his departure could be perceived as an insult. Many religious people around Jesus were insulted when He left off speaking with them to go and eat with sinners. In the story the father is prepared to become vulnerable and goes out to his son, like a shepherd going after a lost sheep.
In his words to his father the elder son effectively accuses his father of favouritism, ‘He gets a fatted calf; I don’t even get a small goat.” Note that he refuses to call the prodigal ‘my brother’ and instead refers to him contemptuously as ‘this son of yours’. Resentment puts distance between people and categorises them in a way that seeks to justify looking down on or ignoring them altogether. Resentment always distorts the picture. The elder son did not see who his younger brother was - a brother – and only saw a man who squandered property on prostitutes (Luke 15:30).
Two other points we note before moving on is that the elder son failed to understand the love of his father, and failed to see that the calf was not given to his younger brother, but was the way his father chose to express his joy at the return of a prodigal. We are all important to God.
Seeing who we are in Christ can help us to forgive others
We are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27-8) and reconciled to God (Col 1:22) by the One who knows what it is like to feel vulnerable, marginalised, ridiculed and betrayed. We are indwelt by the Spirit (1 Cor 3:16) having been rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the Kingdom (rule and reign) of a compassionate and loving father (Col 1:13). We were once darkness, but now live as children of light (Eph 5:8).
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
2 Peter 1:3-4
As those who have been saved through Christ’s work alone we sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph Eph 1:13) who is likened to a deposit (Eph 1:14) and guarantees the things that are to come (2 Cor 5:5). We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9-10). We are the most forgiven people on earth and are to see ourselves in the light of what He says and not what has happened to us. We are a new creation and the old does not have the power to define us, no matter how powerful it may seem (2 Cor 5:17).
As kingdom people we are called to look away from ourselves to God, who reveals Himself through the covenant. God is the true light that reveals (Isaiah 45:7; 60:1-2; John 8:12; Eph 5:8), the power that releases (Ex 9:16; Job 9:4; Eph 3:6;6:10; Rev 5:12), the love that encourages and uplifts (Ex 34:6, Deut 7:12ff; Psalm 18:11; 1 Cor 13:4-7; 1 John 4:8-9), the strength that overcomes ( 1 Chro 16:11-12; Ps 28:7, 84:7; 1 Cor 1 :25, Phil 4:13, 1 Tim 1:12) and everything that is good and right and just is found in Him.
“Sir William Osler, a famous nineteenth century physician, said, “I treat, God heals.” Without God’s continuing providential care the human race would never have survived beyond the Garden of Eden…”
Dr Q.Hyder, ‘The Christian’s Handbook of Psychiatry’, page 36
As those set free in Christ we have been adopted into God’s family (Eph 1:5) and our past will never be counted against us (1 Cor 13:5). When God brings up my past it is because He wants me to learn something from how I dealt with it and become stronger in Him – not because He is holding it against me.
“Being in God frees our lives from the tyranny the unalterable past exercises with the iron fist of time’s irreversibility. God does not take away our past; God gives it back to us – fragments gathered, stories reconfigured, selves truly redeemed, people forever reconciled.”
M. Volf in ‘End of Memory’, p 201
In a hurting world where people often lash out at others, let us ask God to help us become a forgiving and healing community. Let us never seek to offer a superficial forgiveness that remembers wrong and has an air of superiority over those we have forgiven. Instead, let us build on what has been done by Christ in our own lives, by being open, vulnerable, and extending His love to others. In doing so we become a closer, more united, Spirit-filled community that grows no matter what we face, because we are open and actively seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit.
This concludes part two of two.