Learning to Forgive

A couple weekends ago I had one of those experiences where things line up in such a way you have to either discount it altogether as coincidence, or realize the Holy Spirit is trying to get your attention. I choose to believe it’s the latter.

I’ve been reading the book “Coming Clean” by Seth Haines. It’s an honest journal of Seth’s struggle with addiction and, as the title would suggest, coming clean. In his battle with addiction Haines discovers some powerful truths about unforgiveness in his past, and how these truths are shaping his present. His thoughts rang deep and clear with me as well.

Then on Sunday morning, with Seth’s book fresh in my mind, I sat at church listening to our pastor preach from Psalm 51, David’s song of confession and repentance after committing adultery and murder. I know this psalm. It’s one I return to often, probably more than any other psalm. Yet as I listened and scribbled notes down in my knock-off hipster journal, I heard the context of David’s horrible decisions and actions as if for the first time. The depth of his sin, the lack of regard for others, the deceit, just the terrible nature of it all. As it sank in afresh, I found myself getting quite judgmental at David, but then…shock to myself, angry at God for forgiving him.

What?

Yep.

I don’t think I’m alone in seeing another’s sin as worse than my own. The Pharisees live on in us all as we list our good deeds and thank God we’re not like…whomever we consider worse than we.

As we walked through the story, as the incredible love of God in Jesus was proclaimed, as that mind-blowing thing called grace was being splayed out for all to see and hear, I had a revelation: I am harboring anger and unforgiveness against some people in my life, and against God for His mercy towards them.

I want justice.

And yet Jesus says “Forgive as you’ve been forgiven.”

And to be honest, I don’t like it.

But He comes to me in my anger and, like Jonah, reminds me He is a God of mercy, a God of Grace, and no one has been the beneficiary as much as I. He is not condemning towards me, just lovingly lets me see how far my own heart is from His own.

I have also seen, quite clearly, how failing to forgive has stolen joy from my own life. I cannot change the past, and the hurt is real, but when it continues to affect my ability to walk in joy and love today? No bueno.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Matthew 5:43-45

I like Jesus’ words above when applied to me, not so much to my “enemy.”

One thing I know well: God’s ways aren’t mine. Another is: in between the cross and the kingdom, things don’t always go the way I think they should. And still another: the patience of God doesn’t mean His approval. He Longs for all of us to repent and return to Him. We take His patience as license, or, maybe worse, as lack of interest or care, but that’s simply not the case.

He cares…Jesus proves it.

Oh, another thing I know: my stone-hard heart is so far from Jesus’. Hurt has a way of reinforcing that. Yet Jesus reacted to crucifixion and scorn and ridicule with “Father, forgive them,” but I respond like the Sons of Thunder, calling down hellfire and brimstone.

But I don’t want to be that way anymore. I want to learn and grow and put the past behind me. I want to forgive so that I’m forgiven. I want to forgive so that I can move on. I want to forgive so I can be more like Jesus. But doing that requires a letting go, a laying down.

A few years ago I wrote a post Bitterness or Brokenness. It was, I felt, an honest look at how bitterness can destroy us from the inside out. I meant it, but as so often is the case, it’s easier to soapbox and pontificate than to “try it on for size.

I’m still trying to make it fit.


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