I have been reading in Romans this week, and I came across a few verses that gave me a light bulb moment. They are probably very familiar to those of you who have gone to church for any length of time.
"Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you heap burning coals on his head." Do not repay evil for evil but repay evil with good." Romans 12:19-21
I had this sort of epiphany when I read these verses that nobody can do this on their own. In our own strength and our own wisdom, we can't forgive like this - bless your enemy by giving them what they need; avoid the desire to get even. In our human nature, even the kindest of us can't aspire to this kind of forgiveness all the time.
It was today that realized that the answer lies in trusting God. The only way we can forgive like this is to completely and entirely trust God in meting out perfect justice.
Up until a few years ago, I would have told you that forgiveness is not something I struggle with. I tend to look at why people do the things they do, so I get into their shoes and try to walk a mile or two. Usually by the time I'm done, instead of anger or hurt, I feel compassion. However, a few years ago, I came up against a wrong that I had a really hard time forgiving and letting go of - probably because the consequences continued to ripple out long after the wrong happened.
As I struggled through the process of forgiveness, I learned a lot of things. The first one is that I am not quite as naturally forgiving as I previously thought! The second one is that forgiveness is a choice and not a feeling. If I had waited until I felt like forgiving, it would have never happened.
The third thing I learned was that forgiveness is often not a one time event, but a choice you have to make over and over again. Just when you think you are over it, something comes up that stirs up all those feelings again.
The fourth thing I learned is that we often cling to unforgiveness because it gives us the illusion of control. It makes us feel that we have some control over the person or situation. Logically, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but if we forgive then we hand over our right to exact revenge.
Part of this comes from the mistaken belief that forgiving someone means saying what they did was all right. This is kind of backwards. The first step in forgiving anyone is acknowledging the fact that we have been wronged or hurt. It's no use trying to stuff down any negative feelings and try to act like they aren't there. That's not forgiveness. That's denial.
When we look the hurt or wrong right in the face and really acknowledge to God how much it hurts or angers us, we are taking the first step on the path away from bitterness.
The second step - and probably the hardest - is to give the entire thing over to God, and not keep going over and over the wrong in your mind. He alone is the perfect blend of justice and mercy. We can shove whatever it is, whatever hurt, betrayal, rejection - whatever it happens to be - right into His lap and the burden rolls right off of our shoulders.
But this takes trust in God - in His goodness; in His sovereignty; in His perfection. This is where that whole issue of control comes into play. Usually, if something happens that is big enough to cause us to cling to unforgiveness it is something that makes us acutely aware that we really aren't in control of things. It's a scary feeling to realize life is out of your control.
There is a verse that has been a big comfort to me. II Peter 2:23 says, "and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously." (emphasis mine).
In order to feed our enemies, to give them a drink when they are thirsty, to bless them and not curse them, we have to entrust ourselves to God and believe that He judges righteously.
Forgiveness is not about stuffing all our feelings down. It's not about refusing to acknowledge we are angry or hurt. It's not about having control by continuing to hold whatever it is above the other person's head. It's about trusting that God has the whole situation under control - whatever the outcome.
I am not a Bible scholar so sometimes I have a hard time wrapping my mind around where God's sovereignty and people's free will intersect, but thankfully, I don't have to figure it out - God's got it under control.
For me, I like examples that allow me to wrap my arms around a concept. Abstract thought is all well and good, but a concrete example goes a long way in my comprehension of a subject. To me, this idea of forgiveness is like when my husband coaches and something happens on the floor - a bad call, a missed foul - and the player has a choice. He can approach the ref or he can let my husband take care of it.
My husband has been coaching for a very long time, and one of his rules is that the player does not approach the referee. If there needs to be a discussion, my husband is the one to point out where the ref went wrong (sometimes the ref appreciates this and sometimes he doesn't!). That player has to trust that his coach has his best in mind and will take care of the issue in the best way.
While this is not a perfect example, it helps to give me a visual of what forgiveness looks like in real life.
~ Blessings, Bronte