Summary: Christians whose tenuous relationship with God hangs by some vaporous thread of hope all the while they continue clinging and subscribing to worldly ideologies are seeking forgiveness in the mouth of evil.
I was on a phone call this last week with someone very near and dear to my heart. Just before we ended the long, cheerful Thanksgiving day conversation, I asked a question that I’d not contemplated or asked before. I felt a bit weird even asking it, but there it came out.
For some strange reason I asked them about their son – someone who I’d only met once quite some time ago.
What was an innocent query of concern quickly revealed an old hurt – pain from a past decision that they had made that has left the relationship between them and their son in a damaged state.
So for the next several minutes I listened to the story they pulled from their memory – all the while, their voice told its own story; one of regret, second-guessing and deep pain. I don’t know why I asked – perhaps I just assumed for all these years things were OK, so their response took me by surprise.
For years on end, they had been living in the pain of worry and regret; living over half of their life in the abject misery that comes from blaming one’s self for something and feeling hopeless to do anything about it.
Three things immediately stood out as I listened to the painful story about their son.
• The first thing is that three decades of pain hadn’t accomplished anything positive. Through all of this time, all those years, the only thing that the two of them have to show for it is pain and the memory of pain.
• The second thing is I came out of the conversation seeing first-hand how regret is the evil twin sister of worry.
• Lastly, what was made very clear to me is the striking reality of the need for forgiveness.
This person whom I love and have known for a very long time has said that they are a Christian, and that they do have an abiding faith in Christ. And I felt genuine sorrow come into my heart as they talked because I could feel the pain and suffering they expressed.
I wanted to help remove the pain.
But I sensed that like so many Christians, although their relationship with God is genuine; it is perhaps genuinely distant.
It may be distant for many reasons, but likely because of the lack of the fruit of real forgiveness in their life.
As is the case in my own experience, it’s far, far easier to forgive someone else than it is to forgive yourself. Our lack of forgiveness stems from many things – not the least of which is the acute awareness of a spiritual condition called sin.
Part of the struggle in other relationships stems from the lack of self-forgiveness, and some of it stems from the lack of forgiveness coming from the other person. And in this case, their son for many, many years just won’t return their phone calls or letters.
So it’s a vicious cycle.
If they do manage to forgive themselves even a little bit, that step of progress will soon be a leap backward when the bitterness from their son seeps into what little communication – or lack of it – there is.
So the cycle continues for years, and at least in this case, for decades.
And so likewise, many a Christian lives in defeat due to unforgiveness.
If we implicitly trust God’s word, if we trust what He says very clearly about His forgiveness, then we can boldly say that it does not require the other person to reciprocate.
To be sure, if you have trespassed against someone, you really do need to try to restore that relationship – through prayer and asking for forgiveness after expressing genuine remorse for your actions.
Scripture lays out a principle for living with others pretty simply in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”
In my own personal experience, it is far better to gain acceptance of an apology and enjoy the restoral of friendship, but sometimes that doesn’t take place.
It certainly does make it more difficult when there’s no reciprocation or acceptance, but today I want to help you see something very important here – those words in Romans 12:18 don’t say, “Live peaceably with all men [period.]” Scripture goes out of the way to prefix the principle of living peaceably because it says, IF it is possible.. IF, and not just IF but this clause is additionally followed up with “as much as depends on you.”
Did you catch that? Scripture comes out and tells us it may not always be possible, and, not just that, but there are factors that are going to be out of your control that can and will affect your ability to live peaceably with all men.