Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Matthew 6: 14-15
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.
We’re getting ready to start a new 4 week series in our Jr. High Fuel groups. The overarching theme is “Healthy Relationships” but the emphasis is on forgiveness, both asking for it and extending it to others.
A week ago, yesterday, I sat down with Chris and Kyle (the new student ministries’ intern) to work on plans for this series. It’s something Chris and I (Kyle just started in January) have been doing through each of the different series we’ve be doing for the small groups. It’s a process I’ve come to really enjoy. I find it quite valuable brainstorming about things and bouncing ideas off of others. I’ve also enjoyed partnering with Chris during this process.
(For some reason that humbles me each time I think upon it, he truly values my opinion and input. And that means a lot. I love working with Jr. High kids and I know I have a special heart for them that must come directly from God. But I would do it regardless of how valuable or appreciated I felt; so to feel valued and appreciated is a side-benefit I’m trying to learn to be okay with… I will have to analyze that some at a different time as that is totally tangential to the point of this pondering).
Back to the topic at hand…
During the planning for this session, I felt less-than-useful. Thankfully there were two guys there (and another one a little later on in the meeting), so the fact that I was struggling with retreating into my head was probably not as apparent to the rest of the world as it was to me. Because for me, every fiber of my being was screaming at me to retreat… to beg off for this series, to suggest a different one, ANY thing, besides the topic of unconditional forgiveness…
Now don’t get me wrong. I like a lot of the things that are going to be conveyed by this series. For example:
ö You should own up to your mistakes and your humanity by asking for forgiveness
ö Being truly sorry and seeking forgiveness involves action not just asking
ö Forgiving is not forgetting. There are appropriate and inappropriate ways of guarding yourself from further harm.
All good things for anyone to learn. What I wanted to reject was the following idea:
ö In all things, and for all things, we should forgive.
Several times, for several of the lessons, Kyle wondered if some kind of debate might be fashioned. At one point, a debate could have ended up looking like this: Things that should be forgiven vs. things that are unforgivable. Chris mentioned that he wasn’t sure about doing something like that because that would require us allowing someone to argue that something or several things, were, in fact, unforgivable.
I’m still struggling with this. Isn’t not believing in and accepting Christ’s sacrifice “unforgivable?” Isn’t it that by accepting the forgiveness that is offered through Christ’s death on the cross the only way that God can forgive us? And thus, there are even things that God doesn’t forgive? And don’t the above references point towards an unwillingness or inability on the part of God to forgive when we won’t or don’t forgive? If there are things that even God cannot forgive, how can mere humans forgive all?
And I’m simultaneously in awe that the way God works in today’s world is to use fallible human beings as His messengers of Grace and Truth. We are in no way perfect and holy as He is. And yet, we are the ones who get to be the expressions of His being.
I still don’t have answers for those questions. They remain apparent inconsistencies I’ve been struggling with for a while. But some things I DO know:
ö God is not an inconsistent being; thus the inconsistencies are an inability on my part to see the reconciliation of truth, not actual inconsistencies
ö I might not have solid answers for those questions, but I don’t need them. Because really all they represent are excuses for me to hold on to… so many things… that I just need to let go my hold of and hand over to God.
There have been several times in the past when I’ve been extremely grateful to be a leader in this ministry. Because the nature within me that fought against the hypocracy of the church when I was younger still lies within me. I can’t get up and talk to Jr. High girls about the way they should act or react to God’s truth and then go and do the opposite in my own life. (Well, I can, because I’m a sinful human being, but it’s a LOT harder to do and I can’t, in good conscious, do so in an active manner.)
Knowing that, I felt actually sick to my stomach over the idea of having any type of lesson where I would have to admit to the truth I know is from God about forgiving in all circumstances. Because there’s a difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge when it comes to truth. Though I’ve read Matthew before, the two passages I quoted at the beginning of this post have never stood out to me as starkly as they did when we were discussing them at the planning meeting. Now, I must admit, there has been a time in my life when I’ve known God’s truth and actively ignored or disobeyed anyway. When I did it was a literal choice I made. Though I’ve been struggling with the issue of forgiveness for awhile, it was not me choosing to ignore God, but actively seeking to understand His intents and purposes in the area.
But that day it became clear to me. And for me to hold on to bitterness or hatred and refuse forgiveness would mean quite an active decision on my part to blatantly ignore the truth that was revealed to me. And I learned my lesson that one time… that doesn’t work out too well… All well and good, right??… My search had (though in a time and place I wasn’t expecting it to) led to answers and now I am set free and should be at peace, right?… But it’s a funny thing living here in a fallen world. Even peace takes time and effort. And knowing that if I didn’t actively want to refuse God’s truth meant that I would have to actively accept it? I love you, Jesus. I really do. But it’s not the easiest thing in the world to hear what to do without hearing how to do it… How do you tell the widow who’s policeman husband was shot in the line of duty to forgive that criminal? Or how do you tell the parents whose child was kidnapped and killed to forgive the person who turned their world upside down? How do you convince a Jr. High girl that the friend that stabbed her in the back and spread that rumor, forever ruining her reputation, is also precious to God and should be forgiven?
…And how do you forgive the person in your life who stole your innocence; the people who ignored it; the people who covered it up; the people who blamed a child for the acts of a man that child didn’t even understand at the time?
How do you let go of the anger and the pain?
How do you get back what was lost and allow any guy to come anywhere close to you?
How do you forgive a family that has defined “family” as a place of lies and secrets, abuse and false-blame, pain and anguish?
And how can that child forgive herself?
The only way I can think of is by believing that you aren’t a contradictory God and that You are who You say You are and You will do what You’ve said You will do. I can do all things with you, Lord Jesus. Be my Strength when I find I have none left; be my Accepter of truth when all I feel is rebellion; be my Belief when all I can see is disbelief; be the Grace I need to extend when everything in me only wants justice; be the Love inside me when I feel I will be overcome with hatred and anger; be the Kindness in my heart when I’m overwhelmed with self-loathing; and be the Truth that drives out the darkness within my mind, my heart, and my soul. You are a God of Truth and I know that Your Truth WILL set me free. Thank you for being Faithful to me, for making your truth known, and for helping me accept that truth.