Jump Start # 1974
Ephesians 4:31-32 “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be king to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
One final thought about the Texas church shooting. The good that came from that tragedy, or any tragedy, is if we have learned some things and if it has drawn us closer to the Lord. Our final thought is about forgiveness. How do we forgive when we hurt so much? Can I forgive a person who is no longer even alive? This is more than just about a shooting on a Sunday morning in a small Texas church. Forgiveness is something that we all must face. Can a person forgive a parent that was neglectful or abusive? What if that parent is no longer alive? Can we forgive a person that hurt us and we have no idea who it was or where that person is? Can we forgive the person that destroyed our marriage?
One writer said, “Forgiveness is great until you have something to forgive.” Forgiveness is not a doctrinal principle to be believed, but a key to relationships that allows prodigals to come home and love to be shown. One of the controversial aspects of forgiveness is whether or not I have to forgive someone who never says that they are sorry. Our passage tells us to forgive just as God has forgiven you. If I refuse to repent and if I refuse to turn towards God, if I refuse to believe in Jesus, I will die in my sins. In that way, some say, unless a guy comes and says he is sorry for what he did, you don’t have to forgive him. Yet, I’ve noticed, the way some say that sounds as if they really hope the guy never says he sorry. There is an air about that statement that they are rejoicing that they don’t have to forgive. They can think mean of someone because he never said he was sorry. There are other issues here such as the golden rule, loving your enemy and praying for all people.
It seems that our verses today shows the upside and downside of whether or not we forgive. The down side is the first part of this verse. If someone has hurt me, then I’m not thinking very kindly about him. Likely, most likely, almost definitely, I am not inviting him to my home. My relationship is strained at the best and at the worst it’s over. I feel bitter, angry and want to make him feel the pain that he has caused me. I feel compelled to warn and tell others about what has happened. This slides very easily into slander and clamor. My insides are in turmoil because of what has happened. It robs me of sleep and it destroys my appetite. I can’t move past this. I’ve met people who bring up painful things and the way they talk, you’d think it happened only last week. Yet you come to find out, what happened took place decades ago and they have never moved on. This tragedy and wrong stopped their life.
Here is an interesting thing about hurts. The person who caused the hurt has often moved on and thought nothing more about it. This is especially true if he has little conscience and little love in his heart. He’s whistling down the street as if nothing ever happened. The person who was injured, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually, lies wounded and suffering. Their lives have stopped. They can’t move past the hurt. They think and talk about it all the time. They are consumed with it. Like a cancer, the hurt has taken over their life. It hurts the marriage. It hurts worship. It hurts how one feels about himself. And, the pain continues and continues.
If we say, the person has to receive an apology before he can forgive, then he is left in his pain for a long time. What if the person never says he is sorry? Are we to be consumed with this dark feelings forever? Must we wait on the person who caused the pain before we can begin to recover? Are we subject to him still? Does he hold the cards as to when and if we ever move past the tragedy? What if the person is dead? What if it was a parent who is no longer alive? What if it was someone like the shooter in Texas who took his life? Does that mean we never can have peace again? Does that mean that there will always remain an area of our hearts that are torn with anger and bitterness? What if a stranger hurt us? We don’t know who it is and he doesn’t know who we are? How can I recover if the person cannot or will not apologize?
The second part of our passage, the upside, tells us to be kind, tender-hearted and forgiving. That’s a choice. That choice is not made nor conditioned upon what the other person decides to do. I can be kind, even when someone else is not kind. I can be tender hearted when someone else is mean and thoughtless. I can forgive when someone isn’t sorry for what they have done. My forgiving does not mean that God has forgiven. That’s up to God and the person. But my forgiving means I release the pain and the connection to the wrong. I choose not to be bitter and angry any more. I will not be eaten up with hatred. I will not have every waking thought be controlled by the pain that has happened. I can let it go. I don’t have to wait for the person who hurt me to apologize. I don’t have to allow him to control the timetable. I can move on. I can release my feelings.
There is a wonderful story about Clara Barton, the woman who worked with nurses. She had been harshly criticized by an editor of a newspaper. At a banquet she was attending, a friend told her that the editor was going to be there. Barton said, I distinctly remember forgetting that. She remembered. She chose not to focus and dwell upon it. She moved on. We can do two things about the wrongs and hurts that have come our way through the years. We can bury them in nicely marked graves and return over and over to revisit and remind ourselves of those pains, or, we can put them in unmarked graves and never return to the site again.
We can forget a dozen compliments. But we never forget the one criticism. It can eat at us. Preachers need to learn to deal with this.
This tragedy in Texas reminds us, as in all tragedies, that some will move on, count their blessings and hold to precious memories and recover. Others, will be destroyed by this. Anger, bitterness and hatred will move in and they will never be the same again. Marriages can be strengthened or they can fall apart because of what a tragedy does to us. Our walk with the Lord can be brighter and stronger or it can stop all together because of what the tragedy does to us.
When I hear someone say, “I can never forgive for what has happened to me,” I begin to believe that they are right. They won’t. They may not want to. Jesus said in the model prayer, “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Mt 6:15). Nothing is more Christ-like than forgiveness. Anyone can be benevolent. Anyone can be nice. But to forgive, when we have been wronged, takes love, grace and all that is Christ. Forgiveness often doesn’t make much sense. What makes sense is to pop a guy in his nose. Forgiveness is hard. It is the master who extended grace to his servant who owed ten thousand talents, in Jesus’ parable. It is the father who ran and embraced his wayward, prodigal son. It is what God has done for us.
The call to forgive is the one true mark of Christianity. It is one thing that the world cannot do. It is the one thing that we must do. Easy? Never. Understandable? No. But in many ways, it helps us more than it helps the one who hurt us. James tells us that judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy (Jas 2:13). One of the most difficult things we must do as Christians is to forgive. Until we do, we are forever chained to the tragedy and are unable to heal and move on.
Borrowing from the hit song from Disney’s Frozen, we must LET IT GO. Let it go from our lips. Quit talking about it. Let it go from our minds. Quit thinking about it. Let it go from our hearts. Stop being the victim. Stop rehearsing what was done. LET IT GO. Focus on the goodness of God. Move on to greener pastures. Leave room for the vengeance of God. Let the Lord take care of it. You take care of yourself. Heal. Restore. Repent of wrong thinking. Walk in the sunshine of God’s grace. Surround yourself with God’s people and fill your heart with the praise of the Lord.
Someday we are out of here and all these problems will remain behind.
LET IT GO! Will you? Can you?