By Joel Hess –
Everybody loves ‘forgiveness!’ Who would disagree with the importance and blessing of forgiveness? Sure, Christianity emphasizes it probably more than any other religion or philosophy. But it would be foolish to conclude Christians enjoy a monopoly on mercy, right?
As I was preparing for last week’s sermon I thought I would google the words ‘forgive’ and ‘forgiveness’ to see what people are saying. You know, street cred. (No, I wasn’t looking for a sermon to copy.)
Everyone has something to say about forgiveness. It isn’t just a religious term. The mayo clinic recommends it like vitamins. Psychology Today applauds its mental benefits. Even PBS promotes forgiveness in its mein kampf for a new society.
Each article I read prescribed forgiveness for its good mental health benefits. Mayo Clinic defined forgiveness as “a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge.” Even Max Lucado says, “forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realize you were the prisoner.” And an oft repeated quote I read was “forgiveness is not something we do for other people. It’s something we do for ourselves and move on.”
As I was feeling all warm and fuzzy, an alarm woke me out of my 21st century sleep – we have been robbed! Someone stole the idea of forgiveness and replaced it with a counterfeit psychobabble piece of self-centered manure! How typical of our society to think it can replace religion with therapy! So predictable, that our motivation to forgive should be found in whether or not it benefits – us!
Now certainly there are secondary benefits to forgiving that can be enjoyed by the forgiver. But if ‘feeling good’ is your prime compulsion to forgive – you ain’t ever gonna get it. Forgiving is for GIVING! It’s a gift not to yourself you selfish narcissistic emotional mess! It’s a gift to the person you are forgiving! If it isn’t that, it ain’t forgiveness! Forgiveness is not simply a feeling of letting go. It’s an action that has real tangible consequences experienced by that son of a gun who hurt you. Yeah! Forgiveness is supposed to make him feel better! Forgiveness is freeing your enemy from his well-deserved chains!
Oh, now you don’t really like forgiveness, do you?! “What about me?” your ego cries.
The one who wronged you does not benefit from your stupid feelings. She does benefit from your refrain of punishment, even justice. She does benefit from your refrain from smearing their name in public. She does benefit from your smile, your kind words, your warm embrace, your general demeanor that treats her as if she never did nothing wrong! That is forgiveness. If your idea of forgiveness doesn’t look like the above, you are not forgiving!
Who cares how you feel, you might as well put your enemy in a headlock. Forgiveness is primarily not about your peace. It’s about your enemy’s peace. Capiche? Real forgiveness is hard and it seems almost impossible. Probably no matter how much we desire to accomplish it, we defile with our unclean hands and mouth.
The good news is Jesus OWNS forgiveness. Everybody might talk about it. Many religions might extol it. But Jesus owns it! Christianity, alone, owns this word!
All mankind is in debt to God. More than that, we are enemies of Him and all that is good. We are enemies of one another. Yet God sent His Son, not to collect on the debt nor to condemn the debtor, but to forgive.
Christ paid our debts on the cross. He didn’t simply forgive in His heart but with His own blood, even His life. They mocked Him, and whipped Him. They spit on Him and punished Him. He took it all upon himself; every hateful word, every shaking fist, every lustful look, every broken vow, every perverted desire, every violent swing, every stolen penny, every bruising word. Everything, everyone, fell upon Him with every hammer blow until he cried – it is finished.
Our debt has been paid, our sins forgiven. More than that, God does not hold our sins against us. He does not treat as released convicts, but welcomes us into His house as if we were perfect from birth!
He forgives you not because it makes Him feel good. He forgives me not because it gives Him peace. He forgives us because He loves us, because He truly desires us to have peace. He gives us forgiveness.