To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. – C.S. Lewis
Forgiveness is the heart of my faith. Throughout the Bible, God reveals a consistent character – one that is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. God repeatedly forgives those who betray him and cause him anguish. In Jesus, I find the highest expression of God’s self-giving love and forgiveness. In the face of humanity’s hatred, cruelty and selfishness, Jesus suffers and dies to bring about reconciliation between God and humanity, and among all members of the human family.
By living in Jesus – partaking in his life, death and resurrection – I experience a foretaste of the consummation of God’s forgiveness and love. There is a time coming when the Lord will “wipe every tear from their eyes” and unite humanity in the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. I am invited to live into this reality now.
But I find many barriers to this new way of living. Suffering is real, and my natural reaction to affliction is to fight or flee. When someone wounds me, the urge to strike back or withdraw is almost irresistible. Despite all my experiences of Christ’s love and his suffering witness on the cross, my first response is usually not very Christ-like.When Jesus was accused unjustly, he did not defend himself. When he was beaten, he bore it. When he was nailed to a Roman torture device, he prayed for his tormentors. “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing.” In his time of greatest agony, Jesus was concerned about the well-being of his executioners.
If this is what is required, “who then can be saved?” Jesus’ response to unjust suffering is so awesome; he demonstrates God’s ultimate power in weakness. Unlike me, Jesus knows to the depths of his being who he is, and whose he is. Jesus has nothing to prove.
One of Jesus’ greatest miracles is that he does not allow his own righteousness and the injustice of his suffering to distract him from the needs of others. Jesus did not deserve what happened to him; he would have been totally justified in defending himself. But instead, Jesus bore shame, taunting and torture, blessing those who persecuted him. He knew that his oppressors needed mercy far more than he did. If that is not power, I do not know what is.
My prayer today is that the living presence of Jesus will guide me into forgiveness for those who wrong me. Rather than succumbing to fight-or-flight mode, I pray for the power of Christ within to shine through me and allow me to bear suffering in a way that shows compassion for those who really need it. I pray for the strength to take my eyes off of my own anguish and to act with love and compassion towards those who hurt me. This seems impossible – but I know that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
What is your experience of forgiveness? To what extent does forgiveness depend on the repentance of the wrongdoer? What is the meaning of forgiveness when another person continues to behave in hurtful ways? Have you experienced unilateral forgiveness as being life-giving and empowering? How have you sensed the Holy Spirit within you, teaching you how to forgive?