Quite a long while ago, I read something Corrie Ten Boom wrote on forgiveness.
She wrote about her own experience struggling to forgive one of her former Nazi captors, and she wrote this one phrase which hit me:
'...And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too.
Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.'
~Tramp for the Lord by Corrie Ten Boom
From my own limited experience--I should thank God that my life contains such a ratio of kind people--I have found that forgiveness is not only a conscious decision we make, but an ongoing, continuing decision.
When we forgive someone, ideally we are able to put the whole incident behind us and move on in our relationship on the foundation of reconciliation. In Ken Sande's immensely insightful and helpful book, The Peace Maker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict, he gives four guidelines for true forgiveness, which he calls the 'Four Promises:'
I will not dwell on this incident, I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you, I will not talk to others about this incident, I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.
Unfortunately, it seldom works that way. I find that bitter, unloving thoughts and emotions will continue to bombard me, long after I've made the conscious decision to forgive that person. Sometimes the very morning after. Like a Battlestar Galactica ride, my emotional state goes up and down, sometimes triggered by something I hear, sometimes by some unhelpful incident or thought of my own. The sense of peace and the desire to love that person, which is only possible for us to experience through the work of the Holy Spirit, isn't magically bequeathed to us for all time. At one moment I believe I've truly forgiven him. Two days later I find myself struggling to keep a good heart towards her, gripped by the same old sense of bitterness and resentment.
This is because forgiveness is not an emotion, but a conscious and ongoing decision.
Emotions are volatile.
Forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is purposefully recognizing each bitter, resentful thought as the sin it is, as the devil's little triumphs, and purposefully putting it away--refusing to dwell on it. Replace it with prayer for the person, or something that is 'true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy' of the person, if possible. (Philippians 4:8) Or, when the battle is at its bitterest and the very thought of doing that kills you, simply pray to God--thanking Him for His providence and His forgiveness towards you, remembering His grace and power.
Forgiveness is best exemplified in God's forgiveness towards us. Before we even attempt to forgive others we need to first immerse ourselves in this ultimate example of forgiveness through the death of Christ.
God's forgiveness is undeserved.
It enables us to forgive, in turn, as we never could without an acute sense of our own overpowering guilt, and the overpowering grace held out to us.
It is complete. Christ's death, in fact, does more than just erase the tally of our sins--it gives us His own perfect score, so to speak, and the close, free relationship with God that He had. When we forgive we neither forget nor excuse, as Ken Sande points out, but 'forgiving is an active process; it involves a conscious choice and a deliberate course of action.' (The Peacemaker) God doesn't give us an awkward handshake or sidehug and then shuffle off uncomfortably to ignore us; avoiding us, withholding His trust, privately brooding over our worst offences. even after officially declaring He's forgiven us. He throws His arms open to us. Come to me, my son. I love you.
As He forgave, so will He enable us to.
As He forgave, so should we.
If you are not speaking to someone--
--complaining to others, rather than honestly confronting and settling it between the two of you--
--resorting to hypocrisy because you don't want to rock the boat, but can't bring yourself to truly forgive and move on--
--and believe you are as spiritually healthy as you ever were, because you get more prayer time everyday than most people in your church, because you listen to sermons every Sunday, because you're serving and ministering--
please take care.
By all means, struggle to forgive. As long as you're struggling it means you're aware of the danger of your situation. Once we stop seeing forgiveness as a goal--even if we haven't actually reached it yet--it becomes a very different, much more destructive, because unrecognized, battle.
Failure to forgive inevitably affects our spiritual life because it shows a lack of appreciation, or understanding, of God's grace. Or, which is worse, a lack of obedience--which in turns indicates a lack of love.
I would hope that when this happens to me, someone who truly cares for me will be brave enough to tell me this, because it's a reminder I'm never far from needing.
And so I dare to say this here, though I don't know your individual circumstances, though I don't know whether you're struggling with forgiveness or being forgiven, whether you feel your resentment is justified or whether you realize, through the struggle to put away bitterness, just how little our human will and emotions count for, and how much relies on the forgiveness and grace of God in enabling us to forgive.
Let's paraphrase 1 John 4:8 in a way that makes us realize how inexcusable the call to love--in the context of this post, to forgive--is to all Christians:
Our love for God is only as much as the lowest common denominator of our love for our fellow men.
(this was, in slightly different words, a theme for the recent church camp I went to.)
In other words--the person you find most unlovable, the person you struggle most to forgive, is the most accurate indicator of how strong our love (and therefore obedience, in emulating) for God is.
I don't know about you, but I was sadly humbled. My love for God is not best indicated by the times when I feel soaked through with awareness of His goodness and love for me, when I sense His person in the virtues of people around me. It's the times when forgiving someone feels literally like dying to myself--the thought seems to kill that wild writhing part inside you. When swallowing my pride physically hurts. When these bitter thoughts swamp me and I want to embrace them instead of pushing them away. When fresh mistrust and hurt open an old wound and the need to forgive comes spurting forth even more urgently, but is even more painful.
We need to fight for forgiveness.
Let us try to forgive our debtors, as He has forgiven us.
I came across an entry in a journal of mine today, written during a time of crisis that revealed--as conflict so often does--the human heart's two depths of Christ-neediness: the blackened and the bleeding.
So much sin. So much confused pain.
...What a big heartache this all is, and yet there is truth, and with it a sort of awful beauty; the sort that burns you up and transforms whatever remains.
There is so much pain in this world.
As Christians, we are called to confront suffering, which lies near the heart of the gospel. We of all people are empowered to face it, armed with the hope of an ultimate redemption and restoration, which liberates us from otherwise inevitable devastation. We of all people are called to embrace it when we embrace Christ, because of the hostile sin that pervades us and the world, making it so hard for us to be like Him.
We suffer, when we struggle against the sin that corrupts and clings to us.
We suffer, when we try to live as Christ would in a world that hates Him.
We suffer, when we try to love other unlovable sinners.
We suffer, when we make mistakes or bad decisions.
We suffer, finally, when tragedy strikes with no apparent reason--perhaps the sharpest pain of all.
And suffering changes us.
Suffering is senseless, and so is the pain that goes along with it, if it serves no other purpose than to destroy you.
Here's the rub: it must destroy something, and it's your choice what that will be.
Will suffering destroy your hope and your faith,
leaving you with nothing solid to stand on, alone and empty,
or will your suffering destroy the parts of you that tie you to the things of this earth
and keep your focus off the God of heaven?
Die Young by Hayley and Michael DiMarco
As the DiMarcos pointed out so aptly, suffering destroys something within us.
We cannot be the same again.
To complete our fear of suffering, we can't escape it. For whatever reason, in whatever situation, we will all inevitably experience suffering in our lives. That's a pretty bleak shadow to live under.
But even this can be to God's glory, and--even more unthinkable--our good.
I know I've written on this before--I've definitely thought over it many times--but when does this stop being relevant to our lives? This new perspective from the DiMarcos helped me in dealing with the very real, gory part of suffering--the emotions, which make it so painful, and which change us so drastically.
Suffering doesn't have to destroy what is good in us.
It may break our hope and trust--but perhaps, in a way that redefines and redirects both. It may tear us away from something--leaving a space, however bloody, for something greater.
If Christ's death, the worst possible form of suffering and tragedy to have happened on our bleeding, messed up earth, could be transformed into the best possible form of hope and redemption, of restoration and reconciliation for that very same messed up earth--what of our comparatively small agonies?
If, like me, you struggle with these things on an almost daily basis, you should realize that your life is a major grapple with (unBiblical) fear.
Because the ultimate product is fear.
A fear that, at first glance, seems to be of myself--my tendency to fail, to disappoint, to make careless or foolish mistakes; but in actual fact, really stems from a fear of others. Fear of what other people will think of me, what other people will say, will do. Fear of how my failures and limitations will affect my relationship with other people.
This is the fear that Timothy struggled with, as we know through Paul's exhortation to him in 2 Timothy 1:6-7. Timothy felt insecure about his youth, his inexperience, his ability to lead the church, and other people's criticism.
This sort of fear is crippling.
It limits our interactions with other people--we're scared to let them find out too much about us in case they glimpse our goriness; we're scared to do too much for them in case they get discontented or disappointed when we fail; we're scared to be honest, to be sincere. We're scared of what they might think of us or how they might construct what we've said or done, we obsess over a tiny action or word for hours later and spend the small hours of the night writhing in misery. Tell me I'm not the only one. I used to be haunted by the memory of something stupid I did or said--or something someone else did or said, that I thought 'maybe meant they didn't like me/were mad at me'; cue Blimey Cow's epic scream, 'They'll hate me forever!!!'--for weeks. I made myself thoroughly miserable by brooding over it, coming up with additional interpretations, replaying the whole incident (which probably was about five seconds in real time) until I was sick of myself and people in general.
This is when my short-term memory could actually have been useful. Of course, it immediately failed me.
I only managed to control this obsessive mental hoarding and replaying of my mistakes after I was converted, and realized that someone liberated by grace from sin should surely also be liberated from the depression that stupid mistakes and failures kick me into so easily. Of course, every now and then they still come persistently popping up. Even after I've forcefully put them away in my mind, they wriggle out of their drawers, sometimes years later, to make me writhe all over again. I can tell you about at least six deeply ingrained memories of this sort that come to mind right now, with the oldest dating from somewhere around my sixth year, and the newest being last week.
It limits what we dare to do, what we dare to commit to, what we dare to stand up for. Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I'm being dumb to give a different opinion--I don't have a great track record for being smart, after all.
Maybe this is way too far out of my comfort zone.
Maybe I should just keep quiet.
This last is probably thought in brains everywhere about a million times every minute. We all know that feeling. Not the self-control in the face of a I'm boiling over with self-righteous anger and I have plennnnnty to say if I let myself go---we don't see enough of that, unfortunately. The Eeee I feel insecure and inadequate, let's just sit tight and tell myself I'm being humble!
Crippling. That describes this fear, its effect on us--not just when we look back at the past (ugh) but when we face the present, and even the future.
In direct contrast, true humility is empowering.
Biblical humility empowers us because it doesn't just stop at acknowledging your lack of competency (ability; skill; love; forgiveness; smarts; etc) That's where unBiblical, crippling fear stops--and that's why it cripples. Who wouldn't be paralysed in the face of their own inadequacy and incompetency?
Instead, Biblical humility acknowledges God as the source of whatever quota of ability you were blessed with, and the source for more.
Power. Strength, skill, perseverance.
Love. Forgiveness. Empathy and intuition. Gentleness and selflessness.
A sound mind. Foresight, wisdom, tact, intelligence, insight....
And fearlessness. Once we stop relying on ourselves and our limited ability--once we start relying wholly on His limitless ability.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are