I’ll be honest with you: I wish I was writing about anything else right now. The word forgiveness is near and painful to my heart. But this is the next post scheduled for the 30-30 series and now I think it is time. This has been one of my biggest lessons in life and it is one that I think I will be learning over and over again for a long time.
I find it easy to make friends. I love people deeply and easily. I am not easily offended. I have a lot of relationships in my life. I like people who are similar to me, but I have even more people in my life who are very very very different to me and I take delight in them. I make friends and keep them- often for life. People like me. I like them. I can say all this quite frankly for I am aware of it. None of my friends or family who know me would be surprised at this.
But when I am hurt and wounded in a deep way; that is a very different story. I have often struggled with deep bitterness and unforgiveness. It is one of the deep sins with which I struggle.
I have hated someone for two years.
How awful is that? I hated another human being.
Forgiveness is not an easy subject for me.
You and I all have struggled with it even though you might not go to such awful places in your heart as me.
I have a friend who mocks me for being a Christian from time to time but I know he likes me deep down so it doesn’t bother me. I remember a conversation we had once about forgiveness and he said he didn’t buy all that “turn the other cheek crap” that Christians say. I can’t remember his exact words but was something to the affect of that being a bunch of bullshit.
I went away and thought about this long and hard. He was wrong. Jesus is always right. That’s how I knew he was wrong. But I had to wrestle with this one a bit. Too often people (Christians – cringe, ugh!) throw around phrases like “turn the other cheek” and it just comes across as trite. Cheap. Cha-chi. Why was Jesus right even though my friend’s reaction had a lot of merit. Out of context bible verses and cliche niceties do not fix anything.
We are talking about the deepest wounds: Betrayals. Lying. Manipulation. Cheating. Rape. Slandering. Abuse. Abandonment. The list could go on. You’ve been there. You have experienced them. I have experienced them. And we are supposed to just.. forgive? A phrase like “turn the other cheek” just feels .. cheap. The wound is gushing and we turn to .. a band-aide? If I was my friend and people had thrown cha-chi Christian niceties at me when I was experiencing my deepest wounds in life.. I might have wanted to vomit and say they were full of bullshit too. Actually I did once. Not the vomit part. The bullshit part.
So how is what Jesus said true? I mean .. we are talking about Jesus who coined the phrase “turn the other cheek.”
I go back to this every time an issue of forgiveness comes up in my life. During the years of my hatred, the Lord weighed on me like an anvil. Jesus says in Matthew 6:
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Jesus said that if I didn’t forgive, I couldn’t be forgiven by God. Shocking. Scary.
I claim to know him. I have to forgive. I have been forgiven much. I have to forgive others. Jesus doesn’t mince words. I like that. But it makes me uncomfortable sometimes.
All of the painful memories, bible verses, and wisdom I had falling around me in terms of forgiveness welled up and finally struck me in the context of mulling over what my friend said. Why does what Jesus said about “turning the other cheek” even work in a real world of pain and brokenness? Spiritual truth does not live in the sky with fairies if it is true. It has to work in real life. God made it that way.
“Turning the other cheek” works because Jesus said that in between the Old Testament Law of Moses and dying on a wooden cross as a substitute. It was not free to turn the other cheek. It cost him his life. In the Law of Moses the cost of sinning against God or another person was a blood sacrifice. Everything cost something and it was always blood. Every year during the Jewish Yom Kippur or “Day of Atonement” an innocent white spotless lamb was sacrificed to “atone” for the sins of the people. It would make people clean again. Forgiveness cost in blood. Then Jesus thousands of years after the Mosaic Law was given goes around Palestine saying crazy things like “turn the other cheek” and to “love your enemies.” John the Baptist saw him and said he was the “Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world.”
That’s an odd title.
After three years of teaching and saying things like “forgive those who persecute you,” he went to a Roman cross.. to die for the sins of the people. He was betrayed. He was spit upon. He was abandoned by his friends. He was sold for 30 pieces of silver by a friend. He was mocked and whipped. He was nailed to a wooden cross. He was the only innocent person ever. As he died he said “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” and “it is finished.”
What is finished? There is a cost to forgiveness. It is blood. No longer would the blood of lambs be needed.. but the sinless eternal Saviour died to make it possible. You see Jesus was not being trite. No one could “turn the other cheek” without absorbing a cost. He would make the ultimate sacrifice to bring us to God.. so my forgiven-by-God-heart could be changed to forgive others.. because I have been forgiven much. It cost Jesus his life.
Forgiveness is not cheap.
It is not free.
It always costs someone something.
It is costly to the one giving the forgiveness. The wounded broken party has a cost to bear to give forgiveness.
They are absorbing something in a way.
They are saying “you no longer owe me.”
I can stop beating you up or verbally assaulting you in my head. (Notice how we always win those fights? I am fast and smooth and sharp as lightning with my words when I am shouting at someone in my mind. I always win.)
Forgiveness does not mean there is not damage. Forgiveness does not erase wounds. Forgiveness does not mean you will allow someone to continue to abuse you. Forgiveness is not light. It is not being a pushover. It is weighty. It is costly. It is not cheap. Forgiveness is grace. It is giving someone what they do not deserve.
All of these truths have pressed on me as I have continued to wrestle with forgiving people in my life. I can say it comes easier these days. When it doesn’t?
The deep wounds that you know people aren’t sorry for and you can’t change the fracture they have caused..
I plead to Jesus who has forgiven me for a lot.. to help me forgive. I remember it is not cheap. I need help forgiving. It is often not a one time event.
We did a night on “grace” this year with the students at one of our monthly “Story of the Soul” events. I picked this song to discuss as we looked at lots of different art and stories that illustrated “grace”. The song is sad. It makes me cry. It actually does not show forgiveness or grace. I picked it because it is real and it is what most of us experience in life when relationships end. This is what grace is not.
This song is not what is supposed to happen.
But then I remembered a video. I saw it tonight again. It made me cry even more than the Gotye song. So click on the song.. where we all live much of the time. Watch an even more shocking video and let me know your thoughts.
**the end of the story of my hatred was that the Lord changed my heart. He brought me to letting go of “what they owed me” and really forgiving them. They were not sorry. I knew this. But I felt a weight to go tell them I forgave them anyways. I expected to tell them and walk away. They were so prideful. But as we talked… and I told them of my journey to forgiveness.. they broke and apologized. Not an in-the-moment-I’m-saying-it-and-it-means-nothing. They broke down in tears over their own sin and were really sorry for all the damage they caused. I was shocked. I needed to forgive them even if they were never sorry.. but instead both of us found healing and our relationship was completely restored. It is even better now, nearly 7 years later.