Summary: After 4 weeks talking about anger, we will dive into what forgiveness means.
January 31, 2010
Eight people entered a glass enclosed biosphere in September 1991, in Tucson, Arizona. Four men and 4 women volunteered for a 2 year experiment of isolation. All were scientists and had undergone intense psychological evaluations. Yet, within months, the scientists split into two groups of four; eventually one group would not speak to the other.1 Eight people lived in a self-contained environment split by an invisible wall of anger and unforgiveness.
Frank Reed is an American who was held hostage in Lebanon. He said after a minor dispute he didn’t speak to one of his fellow prisoners for months. What makes this story all the more remarkable is that during most of his imprisonment, that fellow prisoner and he were chained together.2
Can you imagine what it’s like living with someone who won’t talk to you. Even to be chained to someone? In her book, The Liar’s Club, Mary Karr wrote about an uncle in Texas who sawed his home in two and moved one-half of the house to another part of the property so that he would not have to speak to his wife. They lived on the same land, but didn’t speak for over 40 years. The reason this all began was over how much money she spent on sugar.3
These are all examples of anger. But, ultimately they’re also stories of people who could not forgive. It seems we almost enjoy holding grudges against other people, people we love and live with. Why do we find it so difficult to forgive? Even to ask someone for forgiveness can be so difficult. After all, saying, ‘I am sorry’ is not all that easy, is it? Even when you know you were wrong.
Forgiveness doesn’t seem to be natural. Revenge and retaliation feel better than forgiving. So how do we go about forgiving one another? Should we even become friends with people who have hurt us? And what does it mean if I think I have forgiven someone, but later, I feel anger at them, have I really forgiven them?
Over the next two to three weeks, I will answer these questions and more.
Can someone who causes physical, emotional and spiritual pain; all in one violent act, be forgiven? Can the parent who abuses their child, really be forgiven? These are difficult questions, and the answers are even harder, because many times we don’t want to forgive these monsters. Our intense anger wants them to suffer and rot. Jesus describes hell as a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. And we think that’s too good for them.
We end up thinking our unforgiveness will help promote their suffering. But in reality, the one who suffers from unforgiveness is the one who has been wounded. When we cannot forgive, we continue to suffer. We really don’t want to suffer, we just can’t release the anger and memory. Furthermore, we think if we forgive that person, we need to talk to them, and maybe even reconcile with them, and ultimately, we fear they might invade our lives again.
The process of forgiving another means you’re becoming more Christ-like; and this is not always an easy process. Usually it’s painful, and forgiveness can be painful because we don’t always want to extend it.
Remember Peter’s question to Jesus? “How many times must I forgive my brother, seven times?” Peter thought he was being pretty good, better than the rest of the people. He could forgive someone even up to 7 times. But Jesus tells him you must forgive 70 times 7 times. In other words, you must always be willing to forgive.
I don’t think that’s the answer Peter wanted to hear from Jesus. It’s not really the answer we want to hear, either, is it? Most often we like to offer forgiveness only when it suits our purposes and needs. We don’t want forgiveness to be difficult, we want it to taste like our favorite dessert, ice cream or cake or whatever you really enjoy . . . but we all know forgiveness for some of us, maybe most of us . . . tastes more like our most disgusting food . . . for me, it’s raw celery.
If we want to forgive others, it is imperative we understand what it means to be forgiven by God. What holds so many of us back in our relationship with God is the fact that we don’t know what this means or feels like. God looks at you with the tenderest of eyes and tells you, “I forgive you and I love you.”
So, at this point, we’re going to jump onto the Systematic Theology bandwagon. That may sound daunting, but hopefully by the time we’re done you’ll have a better understanding of what it means when God says “You are forgiven.” If we don’t know what it’s like to be forgiven by God, even if we don’t understand what is behind God’s process, we will struggle even more than we already do with forgiving those who sin against us and hurt us.