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[Chapter 5] Restoring the Soul: Forgiveness, Now Itís Your Turn
The Moody Church ^ | Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer

Posted on 02/07/2011 2:59:09 PM PST by wmfights

“One of God’s better jokes, on us,” writes Lewis B. Smeeds, “was to give us the power to remember the past and leave us no power to undo it.”

We all wish that we had a magic cloth to wipe away the past. But there it is--as close to us as our present memories. We deeply believe that it happened like we remember it, and the hurt is buried within the soul like an open wound. And for some, the memories are not just of yesterday, but of today.

How does a wife deal with the lingering pain of coming home unexpectedly only to find her husband unclothed in bed with their daughter?

How does a child deal with the betrayal of a priest who lures him into a sexual relationship?

How does a grown child cope with the abuse of a father whose rejection feels like a sharp knife left to dangle in the heart of the soul?

How does a sibling deal with the anger toward a relative who has chiseled him out of a legitimate inheritance?

How does a mother cope with the ongoing pain of an evil and deceptive husband, whose cunning ways are destroying the children?

If we allow bitterness to find a home in our souls, it always brings its relatives with it. Depression, despair and resentment cling to anger like Velcro. The soul becomes protected by a shell of suspicion, bitterness and self-absorption. There is a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door of the heart. And yet, because we are social beings, such wounded souls will seek out friendships, but then will make demands that ensure that the relationship will come to an inglorious end. Thus they will accumulate stories of how they have been hurt, are presently being betrayed and why they have little hope for the future.

The purpose of this chapter is to understand the basis of forgiveness and show that it is possible to forgive even if we do not see justice meted out in our lifetime. God uses our willingness to forgive to restore and to heal. We can be comforted with the promise, He heals the brokenhearted, And binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:4). Unfortunately, many do not know that they are fighting a battle that can be won.

Let me give you six misunderstandings of forgiveness that I hope will cut through the layers of denial and rationalization that we have built up; let us tear down the bitterness that has been so carefully nursed.

Let me be clear: my express intention is to go beneath the defense mechanisms of the soul; I want to penetrate the shield of denial that has been built up over a period of years; I want to demolish the rationalizations that have served us well whenever the idea of forgiveness has crossed our minds.

Forgiveness is a great idea for others, but we think it is inappropriate for us.

Here are the misunderstandings.

1. That We Should Forgive Only When Asked.

When Jennifer was told she should forgive her alcoholic father for abusing her, she asked, “Why should I give him forgiveness, when he has not asked for it?” Down deep in her heart she knew that she might not even forgive him if he asked for it, but that was beside the point. Mind you she was not sure what she would say if he did ask for forgiveness, but that was quite irrelevant; she was quite sure that her alcoholic father would never ask for forgiveness for the whippings, the torture and humiliation.

Why should she grant what as not even requested?

If we say that Jennifer should not forgive unless her father asks her, then we are saying that her father (an abuser) is the one who will determine whether or not Jennifer will get healed. His daughter’s heart was held in his hands; he, then, has the power to keep Jennifer in a prison, for which he alone holds the key. Let me say it with clarity: your own peace of mind should not be held hostage to someone who has wounded you. Your inner healing should not be dependent on whether someone who has hurt you, asks forgiveness. That is a lot of power to surrender to an abuser.

Certainly it is better when we are asked for forgiveness. However, I believe we must forgive anyone, even those who do not seek it; there is such a thing as one-sided forgiveness, a kind of forgiveness that makes us willing to release our feelings of bitterness to God even if there is no reconciliation with the other person(s). In such instances, forgiveness means that we surrender our resentments to God, choosing to let Him deal with the offender.

There is a difference between forgiveness given and forgiveness received.

Only the choice to forgive makes healing a possibility.

2. That Forgiveness Means Reconciliation

Linda came home unexpectedly and found her husband in bed with their daughter. Caught without clothes and without an alibi, there was little to do but to admit to what had happened.

Her husband, Matt, admitted to the relationship that had been going on for the past six months. Linda confronted him with other suspicions she had about his relationship with a woman at work. Caught in a vulnerable moment, he confessed to numerous other relationships. She immediately recalled in her mind, other instances when her husband had been spending too much time in the office with a woman for whom he had a great deal of affection. Now, in a vulnerable moment, he confessed that he had been having an affair at work for over a year...in addition to his incestuous relationship with his daughter. Matt begged for forgiveness for these offenses and others like them.

Linda felt numb; her whole world had crashed and she was unable to function. There were times when she actually thought that this was a bad dream… Should Laura grant it... should she give it to him, and be reconciled, acting as if it never happened?

Linda was told by a friend that as a Christian she should “forgive and forget” and move on from there. Linda says she could not do that. She could not forgive the lies, incest the betrayal and the sexual deceptions.

Reconciliation even under the best of circumstances is not easy. Asking for forgiveness and receiving it is one thing, but reconciliation is another. My point is that sometimes reconciliation is not achieved, for various reasons: sometimes it is because the offender does not hear you; that is, he does not acknowledge his guilt. But there may be another reason: he acknowledges his guilt, but trust must be rebuilt; or possibly the breach of conduct had such consequences that reconciliation might not be wise.

Or he might acknowledge the guilt, but minimize the offense. “It is no big deal; let’s just get over it.” Reconciliation is impossible because there is no common ground; there is no shared understanding of the nature of the offense. Seldom does the offender and the offended view the act the same; they weigh the transgression on entirely different scales. This often happens in marriages: the man might say, “OK I messed up; what is the big deal…let’s forgive and move on..” But for the woman, it might be a much bigger deal. She might be ready for forgiveness, but not for reconciliation. Reconciliation is a three legged stool: forgiveness, respect and trust.

3. That Forgiveness Minimizes the Offense

“So, do I just say the words and then pretend that everything is OK?” Susan asked me. The impression is that forgiveness cheapens the offense; but not so. Neither for us nor for God does forgiveness cheapen the offense.

She was to forgive a man who date raped her…he destroyed her virginity, her dignity and her to some extent her future. And gave her a sexually transmitted disease in the process. Forgive and forget? Get a life.

Forgiveness does not minimize the offense; it does not mean that the act was minor; indeed, when we forgive we learn how great the offense really was. In fact, the greater the offense, the greater the cost of forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean that the offense is easily dismissed.

To better explain why He could expect so much from His followers, Christ told a parable which in principle had happened many times. “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.”

You probably know the story. It is the end of the fiscal year and the king has to take account of his assets. As his servants are giving an account of their year’s work, he spies one who is woefully in debt, having made foolish investments with the king's money. Incredibly, he owed “ten thousand talents.”

But in the presence of the king he was forgiven.

Was this forgiveness free? Think carefully before you answer. To the forgiven servant it was free, but it was very costly. That year as the king balanced his books, he had to absorb the debt; he was short ten million dollars. He had to make a huge bad-debt entry, and take other assets to balance the ledger. A major chunk of his fortune was gone. Forgiveness cost him plenty.

Of course we should see ourselves in this story. Christ’s point is that we owe God more than we will ever know. We have offended his justice and spurned his loving overtures. We might not realize that we are that guilty, but from his standpoint our debt is infinite, for we have nothing with which to pay.

In fact, we are in a worse position than this servant. At least theoretically he might have been able to pay his debt. Perhaps a rich uncle might have died; perhaps he might have won the Roman lottery, if it existed! It was a long shot, but it is conceivable that he might have been able to pull it off.

In our case there is no possibility that we could pay what we owe God. What He demands we have none of; all of our good deeds added from here to eternity would not pay for a single sin. He alone can supply what we need, namely, the gift of His righteousness.

But the good news is that God personally makes the payment. For Him, like the king in the parable, forgiveness is very costly. He loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to suffer, bearing our sins so that we might be acquitted. We were not redeemed with silver or gold, “but with the precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19). The blood of Christ is of more value than all the riches of the world combined. Though it was precious and we were unworthy, God underwrote the price tag for redemption. Death and the curse were in our cup O Christ 'twas full for thee But thou hast paid the last dark drop ‘Tis empty now, for me...

You say “Forgiveness is unfair.” Of course it is unfair; that is the whole nature of it. In fact, if it were fair, it would not be forgiveness. Someone hurts me, and I let them go without demanding retaliation. The only reason why we are saved is because Jesus did what was not fair; He took our punishment, and although God deemed it just, it most assuredly was not fair.

We do not minimize the offense when we forgive it; we only are acting like our Father in heaven who paid our debt so that we could go free.

4. That Forgiveness Surrenders Justice

For years I wondered how to answer a young mother who said, “Why should I forgive...I’m the one who was wronged...he ran off and got married and does not send me child support and left me with the kids...why should he go free...where is justice?”

Where is justice?

There is an answer for this dear lady and others like her, who wonder why they should let someone off the hook who does not deserve such mercy. Thankfully it is possible to forgive without surrendering our desire for wrongs to be made right and justice to triumph.

Christ taught us the path to follow. “... and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:2). Christ was willing to be mistreated without setting the record straight. The angels in heaven were at the ready, waiting for a word from His lips so that they could punish His tormentors and deliver Him from their devises. But Christ was willing to let the Father take care of it. He chose to entrust His case to the Supreme Court, believing that justice would be meted out with precision.

Two thousand years have passed and those who mocked Christ have not yet been brought to trial. But in the Day of Judgment, they will give account for their deeds and get exactly what they deserved; not one mite less and not one mite more.

That’s why Christ did not feel the need to “even the score” on earth, though He had the power to do so. He was willing to wait because He had confidence in the Judge of all the earth. In the courtroom of the King every case tried on earth will be retried; every secret crime will be revealed and every action of human beings will come under scrutiny.

Having accepted God’s forgiveness, we are forever obligated to forgive.

This is why only a Christian can forgive; he believes in another world. If you don’t believe in God, or if you do not have a god who judges, then this life is the only place where the wrongs will be made right.

5. That We Must Wait Until We Feel Like Forgiving

A Christian counselor told a client, “you do not have to forgive until you are ready to…” What if the person is never ready? Fact is, we are never ready to forgive.

Now of course, forgiveness takes time, in this sense: if a girl is date raped, we do not expect her to wake up in the morning saying, “I forgive you.” She will feel rage, revenge, anger and the betrayal of being violated. It might take some time for her to forgive, but if she does not eventually do so, then, the bitterness and anger will fester, affecting all of her relationships. But be assured she will never feel like forgiving, but forgive she must.

Forgiveness runs against every ounce of our feelings. What we want is to see the person suffer; we want revenge. We want that person to feel as much pain as we felt, and a whole lot more. Nothing, we think, could be fairer; nothing could be sweeter. Homer, the Greek Poet says that revenge tastes so sweet that we swirl it around on our tongues and let it drip like honey down to our chins (Smeed, 7). “Hell would just be perfect” said a woman to me, regarding her husband. Just the fantasy of seeing him burn, gave her a buzz.

Forgiveness is not an emotion. It is a choice to make; we can forgive even if we don’t feel like it. If you wait until you feel like forgiving, you will not forgive. We must choose against those feelings of bitterness that would like to control our attitude and behavior. God chose to forgive and so should we.

Through forgiving, we ourselves are made free.

6. That Forgiveness Is Easy

You say, “I won’t forgive because it is so difficult.”

Forgiveness is so difficult that we all seek for an alternative. There is a second alternative to forgiveness: it is to live in denial; it is to pretend that we have forgiven, and go on from there. Just as it is possible to say, “I love you” and not mean it, so it is possible to say, “I forgive you” and not mean it. You can say the words and yet think to yourself, “I forgive you but I regard you as nothing but scum...and I think you are much lower on the totem pole than I am…”

If God paid our debt at high personal cost, what makes us think we can pay the debt of someone else without accepting some loss? Of course as we shall see we have much more to gain by forgiveness than we have to lose, but to forgive is to be willing to do what is difficult. It is to set someone free who does not deserve it. C. S. Lewis put it so well, “Forgiveness is a beautiful word, until you have something to forgive.”

“Forgiveness,” said Mark Twain, “is the fragrance that the flower leaves on the heel that crushed it.” Someone said that bitterness is like drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to die.

What I am asking you to do is, to take one last long look at revenge; and then to pour it like a bucket of water unto the sand. I am asking you to believe God who says, “Vengeance is mine…I will repay.” I am asking that you give up your bitterness and begin the process of wholeness.


TOPICS: Charismatic Christian; Evangelical Christian; General Discusssion
KEYWORDS: forgiveness
You say “Forgiveness is unfair.” Of course it is unfair; that is the whole nature of it. In fact, if it were fair, it would not be forgiveness. Someone hurts me, and I let them go without demanding retaliation. The only reason why we are saved is because Jesus did what was not fair; He took our punishment, and although God deemed it just, it most assuredly was not fair.


1 posted on 02/07/2011 2:59:15 PM PST by wmfights
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To: wmfights
“Vengeance is mine…I will repay.”

And yet, Bin Laden is still alive.

2 posted on 02/07/2011 3:20:42 PM PST by Soothesayer9
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To: Soothesayer9
And yet, Bin Laden is still alive.

Not forever! ;-)

I know I don't want to be near the Throne Judgment when he and his ilk come before Jesus.

3 posted on 02/07/2011 3:31:58 PM PST by wmfights (If you want change support SenateConservatives.com)
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