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In Search of Forgiveness

After explaining forgiveness as best I could at a large Christian gathering a while back, a large line formed to speak with me. Most were tearing up and grateful for the flashlight on their double-standard Christianity—you know—our guzzling up of the forgiveness of God while stiffing those who need forgiveness from our hands. Everyone seemed convicted, until a guy I’ll call Tom stepped up and shook my hand.

He was the exception. He was in his mid-forties and his sister had recently been run down and killed by a raging drunk. He spoke fast and was sure that he hoped the youth rotted in prison, no matter what. He couldn’t see things any other way at the time. Forgiveness looked to him like a band-aid applied to a hole that cut him from neck to abdomen. It was not enough.

As he went on, two thoughts swirled in my mind. The first thought was that we can never leave forgiveness to our emotions. To feel the deep desire to forgive comes with a most mature faith, often the result of days and days—years and years—of practice and an exceptionally tested surrendered-ness to Jesus’ directive.

A desire to forgive minutes after personal loss can come easier and easier, it is true, but only as we are healed and grown over time. And to wait for such a personal maturity before choosing to forgive would sabotage it happening at all. Lucky for us, forgiveness is a choice of will, not a flood of emotionally generousness.

As one friend of mine put it, forgiveness can be spoken while the heart convulses in anger and emotions rage, we are not, after all, the authors of forgiveness, only its loyal subjects. In other words, I can forgive you by speaking the name of Jesus Christ over what you have done and giving all of it and its repercussions to Him. That is the real thing, all feelings aside. When I forgive the matter is finished right there, even though I may still cry for days.

The second thought was that a desire to forgive can be summoned by consciously studying and embracing our own personal depravity. I don’t care how mad you are, if you go to Father God and swap stories, you’ll always leave with enough gratitude necessary to forgive anybody. The short of it is that our debt tore Jesus away from His own family and our mortal ugliness sent Him to His death. Because of you and me, Jesus was beaten past recognition, and right outside Father God’s living room window.

Think on this and you’ll not be quite so vindictive. God, He saw it all. Sensed it all. Heard it all. Yes, and now He still dreams of your tomorrows and hears your prayers. You and your bungled life with all its messes remains His concern. The teachings of Jesus leave no doubt that we wreaked havoc in a beautiful universe because we were so loved and so evil.

They longed for us even as the sins we nurtured threatened to sink our solar system. We careened over the meridian of a cosmos and devastated the lives of far more than one husband and his two little girls, and that was just the beginning. Surely there was a place for this youthful drunk and his tragic crime.

It seems to me, focusing on the loss sustained by Almighty God can address the most painful numbing loss, and lead forgiveness-ward. With the smallest of efforts, we can imagine Father God’s pain and open our hearts up to the raging drunk that kills our kid-sister, extending that same forgiveness Jesus choked out on the cross.

And in a way this can bring us nearer to God. In our devastating loss we no longer have to imagine God’s pain. In fact, we can feel His pain. Yes, we can cry and scream and know a very small touch of what Father God went through for us.

Clarissa Worley Sproul writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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About Clarissa Worley Sproul

Clarissa Worley Sproul

writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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