Summary: There is another way to say it. Jesus forgives people we wouldn’t forgive if we were God. And he saves people we would immediately send to hell.
Father, Forgive Them
Here is part of an email from a friend:
Do you have any suggestions for getting rid of bitterness? What do you do when you are dealing with a situation where you cannot go to the person and discuss the issue with them? Of course, we both know that that is the ideal way to handle a situation, but we also both know that sometimes that just isn’t possible. What do you do when you are bitter about something that happened to you years ago, so long ago that the person at issue is no longer a part of your life and may have even forgotten about it? Or worse yet, they may well remember what you are talking about and be at an absolute loss to understand why you are bitter about it.
At the end of the day, I think that some issues just have to wait until we get to heaven to be dealt with, because in certain circumstances, it just isn’t possible to talk to people about things on this side of eternity. Sometimes talking to people only causes more problems than it solves. I have decided to just deal with this as fully as possible between me and the Lord, and then if he wants me to talk to the person, he can provide me the chance to do so. What do you think of that course of action? How would you recommend accomplishing that goal? Any suggestions? I eagerly await your response.
And this is part of my response:
Your email spoke to a common problem that many people have. And I know what is like on a personal level to struggle with bitterness regarding things that happened many years ago. As your note indicates, there is no quick and easy answer. After writing a book on forgiveness several years ago, I came to the conclusion that forgiveness is first and foremost a matter of the heart, which means that it is a process not a one-time event.
It may be that our Father intends that you should struggle with this on some level for a long period of time. I know that flies in the face of the feel-good theology that we both reject. The struggle to forgive can ultimately make us stronger because it humbles us, causes us to realize our need of the Lord, destroys our pride, helps us to see our own sin more clearly, and causes us to rely on our brothers and sisters in the Lord for help.
Give God time to work in your heart. If the opportunity arises to talk to that person, go ahead. If not, lay it at the foot of the cross. And keep letting go of bitterness.
It’s Friday morning, a few minutes before 9 A.M. Killing time. Outside the Damascus Gate is a road and on the other side of the road is a flat area near the spot where the prophet Jeremiah is buried. Up above is a rocky outcropping that, if studied at a certain angle, looks like a skull. You can see eroded into the limestone two sockets for the eyes, a place for the nose and maybe a place for the mouth. Skull Hill, they called it. Golgotha. It was the place where the Romans did their killing. And Friday was the day and nine o’clock was the time. The soldiers were ready to do their dirty work. They were Roman soldiers. This place called Judea was foreign territory to them. They weren’t from Israel. They weren’t followers of the law. They were simply soldiers who had a job to do. And it happened to be that they were on the death squad. They were in charge of crucifixions.
On this particular Friday morning their workload was a little bit light. Only three this week. They didn’t know the names. They never did and it didn’t matter. They were just the executioners. From their point of view, it didn’t pay to stop and think about what they did. That was for someone up the ladder. Guilt or innocence wasn’t their business. They’d go crazy if they started worrying about things like that. They just had a job to do. And to do their job they needed two things. They needed toughness and they needed good technique. If they did a sloppy job, they were certain to hear about it later.
So it’s nine a.m. and up the road comes a group of people. The soldiers know that two of the men being crucified are just average, ordinary criminals—the kind that you find in any big city anywhere in the world. That’s no big deal. But the third man, the one from up north, the preacher from Nazareth, his case is different. They don’t really know who he is. They know it’s important because they sense the buzz in the crowd. There are more people than usual. By the way, that was one of the fringe benefits (if you want to call it that) for being on the crucifixion squad. You never worked alone. There’s something morbidly fascinating about watching someone else die. The people of Jerusalem, at least some of them, loved to come out and watch the crucifixions. Well, maybe they didn’t love it but they couldn’t stay away. Some strange magnetic force drew them back to Skull Hill again and again. But today there were more people than usual, a bigger crowd, noisier, rowdier, milling to and fro, waiting for the action to begin.