We attended “Experience Night” at our church here in Rolla the other night.  Experience nights are rather new and novel for these Minnesotan evangelicals, but we came away from “Experiencing God’s Voice” back in March bemused and intrigued by the reality of God, and decided to attend “Experiencing Forgiveness”  this month since we were actually here to attend.

Okay, Lord, what do You want to teach me?

(And now, Lord, after 2 hours of writing and rewriting my few simple thoughts on forgiveness, grant clarity and cohesiveness to the words I’ve labored so hard to fit together!)

I’ve never had a clear picture of forgiveness.   I’ve struggled with lack of forgiveness, not really understanding WHAT it was I was battling.  I’ve learned much and have experienced healing in this area in the past few years, but I was eager to hear new insights.

As Matt described it, when we are wronged, something is stolen from us -our innocence, our possessions, a relationship, our time, our sensibilities, our pride,  the list goes on and on… and we are left feeling violated and angry.  (So THAT’S why it’s so hurtful!) We want those who wronged us to pay back what was taken.  (You bet I do!)  Revenge is the feeling we have when we want to “get even” – that is, we want THEM to suffer the way we have suffered.  (And this is WRONG??!)

Matt quoted a writer who stated, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”  Unforgiveness can become our security, our identity, and, sometimes, our prison.  (Been there, done that.)

Forgiveness is NOT just pretending the wrong never happened, nor is it making light of any damage that was done.  “Forgive and forget” is NOT the eleventh commandment!

Matt’s definition that spoke so powerfully to me is this:  Forgiveness is saying to God, “I release this person who has wronged me from paying back the debt they owe me, and I trust YOU will make it right.

Sometimes God makes it right quickly by reminding us that we were not totally innocent ourselves, and we bow in humility and acknowledgement.  God also knows that as we mature we understand that our perceptions can be skewed or our memories faulty (this is why we MUST not carry grudges from our childhoods!) or our understanding incomplete.  Sometimes we just need a gentle embrace until we can stand on our own two feet and accept both our own inadequacies as well as the failings of others.

When we are truly wounded, whether it is physically, emotionally, or spiritually, we truly suffer.  Wounds that are not taken care of properly may develop an infection, which can create all kinds of additional problems.  Wounds that don’t heal can be life-threatening.  Forgiveness is intentional.  We acknowledge that we are letting go of a specific something – whether it is a grudge, a resentment, a feeling of being betrayed, or the great emptiness that may accompany the loss of life.  Forgiveness means we look to the LORD to cleanse the wound so the healing can begin.  And He will do it!

Even wounds that heal oftentimes leave a scar.  A song by RIVER that I love has the line in it: “The only scars in heaven are the scars on Jesus’ hands.”  My scars will disappear in heaven, but until then, scars are real.  Scars CAN be reminders of God’s faithfulness and grace.  After all, we are living and can tell the story of how we got the scar and how we learned more of God’s love and faithfulness through the experience.

God IS sovereign.  He DOES know how I’ve been hurt.  He FEELS my pain, for He was misunderstood, betrayed and wounded by others.  Yet He never sinned – that is, He never said to His Heavenly Father: “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING!!! Your promise to give me all I needed is NOT TRUE and I am going to go get what I need NOW instead of waiting for YOU.  I CANNOT and I WILL NOT trust You.”

Jesus NEVER called God a liar, which is what WE do when we refuse to forgive.  He said, as His life was ending, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”  How many times do we not know what we’re doing when we offend someone?  And is it possible that one who offends us doesn’t know what he is doing?  Even if someone hurts us intentionally, we are not God, and we do not have the authority to call down judgment on that person.

God is the only righteous judge.  He is the ONLY one who knows all the facts and can clearly see.  When I refuse to forgive, I set myself up not only as judge  but jury and executioner too.  Unforgiveness is sin because we will NEVER know all the facts and background nor will we ever be able to judge fairly just because we bring our own preconceptions, biases, and prejudices to every situation.  To say nothing of our affronted pride when we don’t get our own way!

Jesus was VERY specific: if we do NOT forgive our brothers or sisters who have wronged us, God CANNOT forgive us.  What is this all about?  Can’t God do ANYTHING?  Why can’t He forgive?  Is His action TRULY dependent on MY actions?

Language tells us so much.  When I first wrote this next sentence, I was struck by the word picture it brought up: “It’s not that God WILL not forgive us when we harbor grudges and unforgiveness”..WAIT!  Harbor…ships…What happens when the harbor is full of ships – rotting, broken down vessels that are pulled up to slips, taking up all the room?  The big, new ships cannot land and disgorge their cargo or their crew.

The other strong word picture is that of NURSING a grudge.  What does a good nurse do?  She (I’m from the era of Cherry Ames!) keeps the patient comfortable and, as much as it is in her power, alive.  Do we WANT our grudges to be nicely taken care of so they will thrive?

Whew!  Uncomfortable thoughts!

Another picture that came to my mind was that of a petrie dish and its culture medium for growing bacteria.  When we forgive others; when we let God be God in all aspects of our lives, THEN we are able to confess OUR sins and then WE are forgiven and cleansed.  (I John 1:7)  The culture medium of unforgiveness is washed away, our petrie dish is sterilized by the awesome holiness of God, and that nasty bacteria (unforgiveness, bitterness, etc.) can no longer grow!

Do I hear a YEE HAW! about right now?!

When I was young we used to sing, ” TRUST and OBEY for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.”  Granting forgiveness is TRUSTING that our obedience to God’s command to forgive is MORE important than the pain and suffering we’ve experienced.  God makes ALL things new.   Even our pain and our woundedness.  Who would ever think a beautiful butterfly was hiding in that slimy caterpillar?  FORGIVE and let the transformation begin!

Your incomplete, imperfect-but-forgiven friend,

Jan Bloom