Forgiveness: A Sign of True Faith
Micah 7:18-20 and Colossians 3:12-17
The Lord's Prayer is familiar to many Christians. A line from it is crucial to this topic. In that prayer, Jesus says, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors". Other Christians say it this way, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us." What many of us think these words mean is that we should forgive people. But, if you read closely, what they really say is that we ask God to forgive us just like we forgive others. Needless to say, if you find it hard to forgive people, if you tend to hold a grudge, if you take a long time to say "I'm sorry", you might just find that God will do the same thing with you.
Some years ago, Dr. M.R. De Haan, founder of the Radio Bible Class, said, "You can't judge the spirituality of a Christian on the basis of his prayers, since praying is often done so it sounds good. Nor can you gauge a person's spiritual status by the loudness of his 'amens' and 'hallelujahs.' Even how much a person gives to charity is not an infallible test. It, too, may be done for personal recognition or to ease one's conscience. I'm convinced that the surest test of the depth of our relationship with God is found in our willingness to forgive others." Forgiveness is one true sign of true faith in God.
But forgiveness isn't easy. Five years ago, there was a party attended by a good share of the high-schoolers in town. Many of the seniors were there. All were having a grand time. Some of the seniors talked about going to college, others mentioned job prospects, while a few hinted at goals for the summer or the next year. Late in the afternoon, one of the seniors, Pete was his name, decided to go for a motorcycle ride to another party. A young girl named Carrie asked to go with him. On the road, the young girl told Pete that she forgot something at the first party. Pete pulled to the shoulder of the road, then did a U-turn on the road, but missed seeing a car behind him. As he pulled to the side of the road, the car sped up to go past just as he did the U-turn. The car hit them, killing Carrie instantly. Pete was thrown from the motorcycle with leg, rib, head and back injuries.
Two months later, after Pete was sent home from the hospital with lots of bandages and braces, it hit him like a ton of bricks. Carrie would not be coming home. Day after day, he grew more and more depressed. His friends tried to comfort him, but, he couldn't deal with the fact that it was his fault the girl was dead. At night, the young man would have nightmares, living through all the horror on the road again, hearing the cries amid broken glass, and seeing the blood. He dropped out of college after only a few months, and found a dead end job. His family thought he was beating himself up for Carrie's death. They were right.
Without Pete knowing it, his mother phoned Carrie's mother. The two had hardly talked. She called to try to save her son, even though this woman had lost her daughter. Pete's mother pleaded with the woman to help her son, and forgive the family for what had happened. Carrie's mother listened, shed some tears, but could hardly speak.
A week later, Pete was at home and the door bell rang. Pete answered the door, limping a lot of the way, only to come face to face with Carrie's mother. He was speechless. He couldn't move. All the memories flooded back in his mind. His eyes began to water. He wanted to run away. Instead, Carrie's mother walked through the door and gave him a big hug. As she did, she whispered into Pete's ear, "I forgive you, Pete. I forgive you for the accident and for Carrie's death. I know you blame yourself, but isn't it bad enough that one person had to suffer and die? You don't need to make it two!" Seconds later, the woman was gone. Pete never uttered a word. Tears came easily for the next few hours, and then, Pete was better. Carrie's mother and her forgiveness helped Pete to move on in his life. He'll never ever forget that day, nor that mother's gift of forgiveness.
Living without being forgiven and living without forgiving someone can be hard on the heart and soul. Like Pete, it is very easy to fail, to have an accident, to cause something bad to happen, and feel just miserable about it. Forgiveness brings healing. Still, people don't realize that if you do not forgive a person who wronged you, or if you say you forgive them but really don't… as you hold a grudge, you will find that your soul will also have problems. You will also lack healing. As it says in the Lord's Prayer, if you don't forgive another, God will not forgive you. If you hold a grudge against another, God will hold a grudge against you. So, you see, forgiveness is necessary in life, necessary for the healing and wholeness of those we forgive and those who forgive us. Will you forget the pain? Not always. But, you will have the chance at a new start, whether you are the one forgiving or the one who needs to be forgiven.
In Micah, chapter 7, Micah the prophet is talking about how great is God's grace. In these verses of praise, Micah tells us "Who is a God like you, who pardons sins and passes over transgressions? God does not retain his anger forever. He has compassion on us. He will cast our sins into the depths of the seas." (NRSV) These verses talk about God's ability to let go of sin, to forgive, to have compassion. This is who God is. Are you like this? Are you like God in that you can let go of sins and have compassion on those who do you wrong?
Sir Walter Scott had difficulty with the idea of "turning the other cheek". He believed it was a sign of a weak individual to turn the other cheek and forgive when a person did you wrong. He told that to one of his friends. A few weeks later, Scott saw a stray dog. He didn't want it hanging around his farm. He threw a rock at the stray dog to chase it away. His aim was straighter and his delivery stronger than he had intended, for he hit the animal and broke its leg. The dog yelped and cried, but instead of running off, the dog limped over to him and licked his hand. And when the dog did that, Sir Walter Scott's heart was warmed. He wanted to help the stray dog. He vowed to help it. The dog's ability to forgive Walter for throwing that stone that broke its leg changed Sir Walter's idea of the power of forgiveness. He no longer saw it as a sign of weakness, but a powerful way to show love. Later, Scott said, "That dog preached the Sermon on the Mount and forgiveness to me as few ministers have ever presented it." Scott said he had not found human beings so ready to forgive their enemies, or even their friends.
The apostle Paul knew that without forgiveness, people cannot come together and people cannot truly love God. Paul wrote in Colossians…. "As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. … forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." (NRSV) Paul doesn't see forgiveness as an option here for good Christians. He doesn't say you can choose to forgive. Paul calls forgiveness something you must do. You MUST do.
To close, I give you a story about Aunt Edna. As a new bride, Aunt Edna moved into the small home on her husband's ranch near Snowflake. She put a shoe box on a shelf in her closet and asked her husband never to touch it. For fifty years Uncle Jack left the box alone, until Aunt Edna was old and dying.
One day when he was putting their affairs in order, he found the box again and thought it might hold something important. Opening it, he found two doilies and $82,500 in cash. He took the box to her and asked about the contents.
"My mother gave me that box the day we married," she explained. "She told me to make a doily to help ease my frustrations every time I got mad at you." Uncle Jack was very touched that in 50 years she'd only been mad at him twice. "What's the $82,500 for?" he asked. "Oh, that's the money I made selling the doilies." She replied!
Forgiveness is crucial to marriage, to life, to faith. If you hold a grudge, you will always have a problem in your soul. If every time you look at a person you remember something bad they did to you, you have not given their sin up to God; you have not forgiven them in your heart. Because of that, it will bother your soul…. Because God will bother you about it. From the prophet Micah, to Jesus, to the apostle Paul, they all say the same thing. Forgiveness isn't an option, it is a must.... if you want to be faithful.... if you want to have a clean conscience.... if you want to see healing..... if you want to see heaven.