Summary: Forgiveness is a critical relationship skill.
The Jailor Is The Jailed: Relationships Skills from the Bible for Today
Matt 18:21-35 May 30, 2010
Once upon a time there was a man to whom a great harm had been done. The exact nature is of no consequence, as long as we know the hurt went deep. He felt it continually, the pain was searing and relentless, and even the most basic tasks of life were exceedingly difficult. In his mind, heart, and spirit this harm was ever present; it whispered, it screamed, it cluttered every thought, interpreted every word heard, and manipulated every decision. The man was deeply wounded, yet believed he had to carry on. He believed he had to make do, be tough, keep going; so he held his head high, pulled himself up by his bootstraps, and walked through life as best he could.
Over time, he learned to cope. He learned to ignore the hurt that had been done – the voices were still there, he just stopped listening – sort of – and believed he was “fine”. The defences got stronger, the walls got thicker, and the man thought “This is a good thing – I am protecting myself from other, new hurts, and I am containing the old ones where they can’t get out, where no one else will see, and so I can continue through life with everyone looking at me and admiring me for how strong and tough I am.”
Meanwhile, the one who had hurt him lived on. This one knew that their actions weren’t the best, and (deep inside) regretted them. In fleeting moments of honesty, they recognized they had been in the wrong; but then their own voices spoke up – “it’s not your fault, really…”; “he had it coming you know, he isn’t perfect either…”; and, most devious of all, “look at him, he’s doing fine, it obviously wasn’t a big deal…”. And so this person balled this same experience up like a piece of used scrap paper and threw it away.
The one who had been hurt became withdrawn, cautious, guarded. He could never really trust – that requires vulnerability, honesty, letting someone behind the wall. And so he kept his relationships shallow, temporary, fleeting. If someone got too close, he backed away. And the walls grew thicker still. He became extremely safe, like a nuclear bunker a mile below the ground, and extremely alone. The other person suffered none of this – they were free to engage, they tried hard to not hurt again, though sometimes they did, and then they did as before – justified, rationalized, balled it up and chucked it out, and moved on. This second person formed new relationships, some deep and caring, and lived life with abundance, while the first was locked away in lonely safety.
It’s Not Fair:
What do you think of my little story? Does it resonate as true? Is it fair? Does it make you feel angry, or sad? Do you see yourself in either of the two characters?
This morning we are going to do some hard work together, on a difficult relationship skill, but one that is most essential. Because I think we all have been in the same spot as both of the characters, and we can all especially remember being in the same spot as the first character. And in fact, I want you to think right now of a person who has hurt you deeply. I want you to think of their name, and say it in your mind and your heart. I want you to crack a little window through whatever wall you might have put up to protect yourself, and I want to say that it is ok to face the hurt, to acknowledge the pain, and to let yourself feel it. I’m not going to ask you to share it, or to talk about it, but I am going to ask you to admit it to yourself. And with that in mind, let’s talk about the critical relationship skill of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is NOT:
As many of you know, one of the things that frustrates me most is when good things of God get twisted into something barely recognizable. I’ve spoke before about how we don’t really understand the Biblical idea of “peace” – we reduce it to an absence of conflict where hostilities are repressed but still present, and call that “peace”. NOPE! Or, one of my favourites, “love” – we reduce it to a sappy, romantic sentimentalism that would never challenge, offend, or require work or pain or sacrifice. “Forgiveness” is another.
Forgiveness has been reduced, for many Christians, to an automatic duty. We expect it automatically from God – all we have to do is say “oops! Sorry God. Let me off the hook, ok?” And, in fact, we sometimes even get mad at God if there are lingering effects of our sin, things we call “consequences”, because we see them as messages that we are not really forgiven, that somehow God continues to “punish” us when He was supposed to let us off the hook. And then we guilt ourselves into thinking it means the same in our relationships with others. If someone hurts us, we think “well I’m supposed to forgive them, so I guess I have to forgive them.” And we THINK we let them off the hook, remove any consequences, forgo any punishment, because to do otherwise is to not forgive.