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SOME THOUGHTS ON FORGIVENESS


Bernard Meltzer was a United States radio host for several decades. His advice call-in show was called "What's Your Problem?" Meltzer said, "When you forgive, you in no way change the past--but you sure do change the future."


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Mark Twain had some sour thoughts about Christianity, but he had this much right: "Forgiveness is the fragrance that the flower leaves on the heel of the one who crushed it."


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Forgiving is hard but it is essential to spiritual and mental well-being. Noted religious author Agnes Sanford said, "As we practice the work of forgiveness we discover more and more that forgiveness and healing are one."


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A woman testified to the transformation in her life that had resulted through her experience in conversion. She declared, "I'm so glad I got religion. I have an uncle I used to hate so much, I vowed I'd never go to his funeral. But now, why, I'd be happy to go to it any time."


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Here is a sad story: A childhood accident caused poet Elizabeth Barrett to lead a life of semi-invalidism before she married Robert Browning in 1846. There's more to the story. In her youth, Elizabeth had been watched over by her tyrannical father. When she and Robert were married, their wedding was held in secret because of her father's disapproval.


After the wedding the Brownings sailed for Italy, where they lived for the rest of their lives. But even though her parents had disowned her, Elizabeth never gave up on the relationship. Almost weekly she wrote them letters. Not once did they reply.


After 10 years, she received a large box in the mail. Inside, Elizabeth found all of her letters; not one had been opened! Today those letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature. Had her parents only read a few of them, their relationship with Elizabeth might have been restored.


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The story is told in Spain of a father and his teenage son who had a relationship that had become strained. So the son ran away from home. His father, however, began a journey in search of his rebellious son. Finally, in Madrid, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in the newspaper. The ad read: "Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father."


The next day at noon in front of the newspaper office 800 "Pacos" showed up. They were all seeking forgiveness and love from their fathers.


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A man, who was telling his friend about an argument he'd had with his wife, commented, "Oh, how I hate it. Every time we have an argument, she gets historical." The friend replied, "You mean 'hysterical.'" "No," he insisted, "I mean historical. Every time we argue, she drags up everything from the past and holds it against me."


We call that "gunnysacking" -- packing up everything in this argument so you can dump it out during the next one. But things that have been dealt with in forgiveness should not be carried forward.


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Two little brothers, Harry and James, had finished supper and were playing until bedtime. Somehow, Harry hit James with a stick, and tears and bitter words followed. Charges and accusations were still being exchanged as mother prepared them for bed.


The mother instructed, "Now, James, before you go to bed, you're going to have to forgive your brother." James was thoughtful for a few moments, and then he replied, "Well, OK, I'll forgive him tonight, but if I don't die in the night, he'd better look out in the morning."


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Adults sometimes act childish. Rabbi David A. Nelson likes to tell the story of two brothers who went to their rabbi to settle a longstanding feud. The rabbi got the two to reconcile their differences and shake hands.


As they were about to leave, he asked each one to make a wish for the other in honor of the Jewish New Year. The first brother turned to the other and said, "I wish you what you wish me." At that, the second brother threw up his hands and said, "See, Rabbi, he's starting up again!"


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An anonymous story: I was assisting another pastor in a revival meeting when we visited a man who had been active in the church, but, due to a dispute with a fellow member, he had quit attending church. We reasoned with him at length about the need for forgiveness and returning to church. Reluctantly, he agreed, and we had prayer together. When we were leaving, he followed us to the car and said, "Now, I'll forgive him, but all I want is for him to stay on his side of the road, and I'll stay on mine."


Contrast that attitude with this familiar story: Clara Barton, the founder of the Red Cross, was never known to hold resentment against anyone. One time a friend recalled to her an especially cruel thing that had happened to her some years previously, but Clara seemed not to remember the incident. "Don't you remember the wrong that was done you?" the friend asked Clara. She answered calmly, "No, I distinctly remember forgetting that."


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George Arthur Buttrick, noted preacher of the last century, said, "God does not wish us to remember what he is willing to forget."


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After eighteen months in the ministry, a pastor went to his file cabinet to pull out the "Love" file. He discovered he didn't have one. Impossible! It must be misfiled. He searched among Faith and Fasting, between Healing and Heaven. Perhaps it was sandwiched by Christology and Christian Ed. After all, these have to do with Love, don't they? But it wasn't there, nor was it found after Money or ahead of Missions.


When he stopped to reflect, the Holy Spirit solved the mystery. The Love file was scattered, yet not misfiled. Parts of it were found under Patience, Kindness, Humility, Trust, Hope, Loyalty, and Perseverance. But the pastor found the greatest part of the Love file, squarely-centered and deeply-seated, in Forgiveness.


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C. S. Lewis was right when he said, "We all agree that forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have to practice it."


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Sir William Temple correctly observed that "Only one petition in the Lord's Prayer has any condition attached to it. It is the petition for forgiveness."


(From a sermon by Bobby Scobey, "Essentials #1-Forgiveness")

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