Deceit. Manipulation. Abuse. Betrayal. Selfishness. Greed. Anger. Theft. Addiction. Gossip. Control. Prejudice. Victimization. Carelessness. Brutality…
Odds are that everyone who is reading this has been on the receiving end of one or more of these. The odds are also likely that everyone who is reading this has been on the distributing end of some of these in one way or another. It is also important to note that not only do we have pain inflicted upon us (sometimes beyond what we feel that we can bear), but also that from time to time we will inflict harm on others. We each can also inflict pain upon the person that we know and interact with the most, ourselves.
I am no stranger to the harshness of broken relationships and the feelings that come with them. Otherwise, I could not write to you relatably on this subject. I have struggled to seek forgiveness at several points in my own life. I have been angry with myself because of my own shortcomings, thoughts, feelings, and failures. At times, I didn’t know if it was even possible to forgive the people who have hurt me. I can sometimes struggle to forgive myself. And I can certainly admit that forgiveness is one of the most difficult principles to grasp and truly apply in our lives.
I am thankful that there is hope for all things to be made right one day. As I have mentioned in other posts, if we have repented of our sins, submitted our lives to the Lord to receive His gift of forgiveness and new life, and followed after Him, then one day God will fully renew us in a place where there will be no more suffering, pain, death, corruption, impurity, etc. (Revelation 21).
But how are we supposed to deal with this sin-marred and imperfect world now? How are we to bear with the unreconciled relationships we have with others while we are here on this earth? How can we experience a taste of that freedom from guilt, shame, bitterness, resentment, hatred, etc.?
The Unnatural Beauty of Forgiveness
Let me tell you a brief (very summarized) story that I researched for a sermon: On January 8, 1956, five missionaries in Ecuador (Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian) waited on a beach in the jungle to meet up with the Auca natives they had spent months building trust with and contacting in order to eventually share the good news of Jesus Christ with them. Something had gone wrong, and unexpectedly, the missionaries were ambushed at the beach and were speared and hacked to death. Their wives and families waited for a promised call that afternoon that they never received. Not long after the bodies were recovered, some of the family of these men continued to pursue this tribe. They even lived with them. Yes, the very people who killed their loved ones. Among them was Steve Saint, Nate Saint’s son. Amazingly, Steve ended up forgiving the man who actually killed his father, and he now maintains a father-son like bond with the man! How is this kind of forgiveness possible!? I strongly encourage you to watch the video testimony of Steve Saint with his father’s killer here.
While we may not see how it could be possible to find reconciliation with someone, learn how to forgive them, or even forgive ourselves, God is the great redeemer and restorer. Without Him, we are left to our own resources. We are left to the flawed methods of man to deal with unforgiveness which, more often than not, is rooted in our sinful habits, serving only as temporary fixes that typically give way to even more problems. You may hear a tempting voice in your head saying something like: Just indulge yourself in pleasure and distraction… Just stand your ground… You’re right and they’re clearly wrong… You do not have to forgive them, you just need to learn to cope with the reality you are left with… You can’t forgive them until they have apologized… Maybe invest in a self-help book… What about that TV preacher who says God will give me this and that if I just send in some cash… I’m sure if I make their life more miserable they will learn to treat me better… You will never be able make this better, so why keep trying… I can’t forgive THIS…
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus was talking to His disciples about how difficult it is for the rich to be saved and enter into heaven (because they are so tempted to love and trust in the riches of this world), and they wondered who could be saved since so many were rich? And Jesus replied, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26, NASB). In this we can rejoice!
The truth of the matter is that we can experience real freedom, reconciliation, and forgiveness now. No matter how tattered our broken relationships may be, regardless of the self inflicted pain that may residually haunt us, or how angry, restless, or hardened we have become, there is peace that can be found in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.