Forgiveness

After 14 years, it was time to get my wife a better car, not a new one, but at least a newer one. She was so excited and I was too – I really appreciate the sacrifice she puts in by putting up with me – my schedule, travel and temperament. She deserved a “Rolls” but we found her a 2 year old vehicle – it was affordable, beautiful and immaculate. Were both thrilled, thankful!

About that same time I received a request from a men’s group to speak to them and the caller told me what topic to address, too. Now you might think that was helpful but I’ve found it better for me to ask God what He wasn’t me to speak on and roll with that rather than take my ministry cues from others. But, I knew this guy well, knew his heart and figured what the heck; the topic he wanted me to cover was one I knew very well from scripture, so it would be a relatively easy assignment – or so I thought. He wanted me to speak on forgiveness.

Well, as the Lord would have it, the day I brought the “new” car home, my wife got side-swiped by someone,(“jerk”), in a parking lot and left without a note or a way to get a hold of the perpetrator. Instead we were left with a huge scrape along the side of her car; drivers side, from bumper to front door.

Man, I was livid. I couldn’t believe my eyes. After all the years of saving up for another car, after all the hassle my wife has endured, dealing with her old car, mechanical failures, etc; I thought our repair days were over for a while.  But, NO; now I had to repair this one and had to pay for someone else’s mistake – in fact someone who didn’t have the common decency to leave a note and take responsibility for their screw up. Man, I was ticked and let everyone know about it!

As a result, I really blew it.

First, my son came out to the curb to offer a few suggestions on calling the police and insurance company. I ran him off by the steam coming out of my ears. I didn’t mean for him to take my anger at the anonymous offender, personally, but he did. I felt bad but kept blowing steam.

Then I made my wife upset with my relentless questions as to, “did you go into the store and see if anyone saw it? Did you speak to the manager to see how they handle hit and runs? Did you call the police”?, etc… blah, blah, blah. She slumped away and I was left there feeling really small. And I should have.

I guess my friend knew exactly what God wanted me to speak on AND what He wanted me to work on – forgiveness!

What I thought was going to be an easy academic exercise, suddenly grew into a very hard personal lesson. So I went to work on the issue.

First, I apologized to my wife and son, then I went to the Lord to ask forgiveness and to help me get a grip, and figure out what I should do now, to get the car repaired and get over this, emotionally.

God was gracious to forgive me but He was also faithful to teach me. And this is what I learned.

For starters, everyone has trouble here. We all struggle with forgiveness in some way or another. We have all been hurt by someone, we have all been left holding another person’s problem, which we didn’t ask for nor want. We’ve all been wounded by someone. The problem is we have not all dealt with the issues of forgiveness, biblically. We too often harbor a thought of retaliation, justice, or revenge.

Next, there is a question we must ask and answer. Why is forgiveness so hard to grant? Answer, because someone has to pay for the offense and it is the height of unfair humiliation that the offended one must pay for the price of the problem caused by the offender. This is what makes Jesus request for the Father to forgive those who crucified Him, so amazing! Yet he did it. He did it because He was willing to pay the price of their offense. Hanging on that cross was the proof of his willingness!

What that illustration leads us to is the most important and fundamental part of forgiveness – it’s based on redemption. Notice what the Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 1:7;

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace,”

There, that helps. Redemption first, then comes forgiveness and third, only by the grace of God can we execute such an upside down response to an offender.  Now that may not make the matter easy, but it, at least, explains it. We can forgive because His redemption freed us from the guilt, consequence and debt we deserved for our offenses against a Holy God, as sinful humans. Since God graciously forgave us, we can pass that along – and we should. In fact, the “Lord’s Prayer” says as much;

Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.
10 ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…  Mathew 6:9-12

So what is forgiveness? It is the dismissal of a grievance as a result of the outcome of redemption and as an extension of mercy (see Psalm 32, Luke 23:34; Ephesians 1:7). It is not the excusal of an error, offense, obligation or debt, no, it has to be paid, not dismissed. It’s just paid by someone other than the offender. Crazy, isn’t it?

For example, a doctor’s appointment may allow you to be excused from Jury duty but not dismissed. You will have to serve your turn, later. Or, you may not be able to pay your mortgage one month and get the mortgage company to excuse you, but they do not eliminate the debt, it is accrued to your existing debt. Therefore, whoever pays for the offense, acts in the role of a redeemer.

Another good question is; what is the fundamental example or baseline from scripture? Answer, It is Jesus. Both His redemption of us (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13, 14) and His command for us to forgive others (Matthew 6:14, 15), sets the baseline for this act, as a necessity for Christians.

Finally, I think it normal to ask, what do I get out of forgiving others? A review of the passage where Jesus addresses this question, to Peter, is instructive – Matthew 18:21-35. In this passage a King forgave one of his subjects a huge, unpayable amount of debt but the same man was not willing to forgive one of his neighbors even a small sum that he was owed. When the town’s people heard of this lack of fair play, they reported the unforgiving man to the King, who judged the man guilty of a lack of forgiveness and forced him to pay for his neighbor’s debts as his punishment for not passing along grace, as he was freely given.

So what is the point, that payoff? It is this. When you forgive, you release yourself from the debt, burden and drudgery of the offender’s burden. It is wise to forgive for why would anyone want to trade their forgiveness for the offender’s debt? It is stupid. Yet many of us do it.

Now I know this is a hard subject. Many of you who read this article have been hurt deeply by someone. Maybe that someone is not even living, yet you harbor a grudge.

I say to you, let them go, let the offense go. If they are alive, go to them and tell them you forgive them. If they are not, tell someone close to you, who knows the story, that you forgive them, and if you can do neither of those because the offense is so heinous, then write your words of forgiveness down, read it to the Lord, then burn it and let that burden roll off your heart.

I learned that forgiveness is very hard, yet totally necessary. In my case, the small example of a stupid car, showed me that redemption and forgiveness are linked. Think of it, I could have held a grudge and waited for the offender to fix my car but how stupid would that be? To do that would mean I was punishing myself by making my wife drive around in a wrecked car. Now, the right remedy was to pay for it myself and with the problem paid for, to forgive the person who hit our car and ran away, a coward and thief. Because of the example of Christ and the clear teaching of scripture, I decided it was ludicrous to pay twice – once by paying for the damage with my money, another to pay emotionally because I wouldn’t release from a my calloused heart the offender’s debt. So I forgave.

Then, what I found, was I was released; from hatred, from anxiety, from grumbling and from wrecking everyone else’s day. You can too; therefore, I recommend forgiveness to you!

CONCLUSION:  The car is one thing but personal issues are another. The car is just a parable. What about your issues with people?

Have you been redeemed by God?

Have you been forgiven?

Then…

  • Will you forgive others?
  • If you will, you will receive the blessing
  • If you will not – you will bear the burden
  • Forgiveness is a difficult but smart choice and it is based on self-interest.

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Matthew 6:14