The Big Kind of Forgiveness
Pray to love the one who has hurt you.
by LEE ECLOV
FORGIVENESS, AT LEAST TO A POINT, just makes good sense. You’ve probably heard the analogy that choosing not to forgive is like taking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die. We can forgive a lot (at least we like to think so), but there is a limit. There are offenses so painful that we simply can’t seem to find forgiveness big enough to wrap around them. There are offenders so brazen, cruel, and remorseless that it seems forgiveness just wouldn’t be right.
The Spirit at Work
Among Jesus’ last words from the cross are these: “‘Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing’” (Luke 23:34). When Peter preached on Pentecost, he said, “Brothers and sisters, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your leaders also did” (Acts 3:17). Nonetheless, they were still wicked, faithless, hardhearted, and cruel. Jesus’ death was on their heads. Despite that, Jesus opened the way to forgiveness, a gift any of them could freely accept.
What is easy to miss in Jesus’ request is that if God were to grant it, Jesus would pay for it. He would take into His own body and soul their terrible sin as though He Himself were guilty. He was asking the Father that He might suffer in their place for what they did to Him!
As our example, Jesus’ forgiveness runs much deeper than even the noblest forgiveness we see in other people. For one thing, Jesus loved those who rejected and crucified Him. He loved them! Generally speaking, forgiveness doesn’t require love; it just means letting go of the offense. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to hang out together. But that is exactly what Jesus’ love offers. He will come in and dine with sinners.
If we are to forgive as Jesus forgave, we must love as Jesus loved. That will only happen as the fruit of Jesus’ own Spirit works within us. When merciful love seems beyond our capacity, we should bow humbly before our Savior and pray, asking for His help to love the one who has caused us pain. Bulking up on Scripture will help us build the muscles of trusting obedience.
Here’s something else: Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:10, “We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body.” To forgive is to die to ourselves, smothering hurt with mercy. The payoff is that when we as believers die to ourselves, we experience the rarefied air of the resurrection within us.
The Power of Love
Maurine Young had been a Christian 20 years when her 19-year-old son, Andrew, was murdered by two boys looking to move up in a street gang. Maurine told interviewer Studs Terkel that she wanted justice, but she said, “‘OK, I know who I’m following.’ What would Jesus do? … He says: Love your enemies — I consider these little guys [the two 18-year-old murderers] my enemies that killed my son. … I kept thinking: I want to kill them … . But God says forgive. … And I kept going back and forth thinking, How do you do this? … Then I realized I could make the choice and trust that the power to do it would be there. Because I know that my faith, which is just my yes, is the glue that holds God’s power to his promises.” 1
She wrote to Mario, the murderer, and eventually met with him. He was deeply shaken, literally. She read Scripture, coming to Romans 12:21 (NIV), “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” She said, “Mario, that [verse] really meant a lot to me. Because I wanted to win. I did not want this evil thing that you and Roberto did to us to win. I wanted good to win. So that’s why I forgave you and that’s why I love you.” Later she realized, “That love, that forgiveness — I got a taste of what it must have been like for Jesus when he was here and walked the Earth among people that he loved so desperately, so wonderfully. I got a taste of it!”2
1Studs Terkel, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith (Ballantine, 2002)*
*Note: Source contains some views that are not biblically based.
LEE ECLOV is a writer, a retired pastor, and a seminary professor. He is the author of four books and writes a weekly column encouraging pastors for PreachingToday.com.
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