One More Nail
Learning to Forgive
by Greg Wright
When I was a little boy, it was hard for me to read about the suffering of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It may well have been the first truly violent thing I had ever read, and it was more than I could handle. In fact, if I were reading through one of the gospels, I would skip the account of Christ’s passion and go straight to the resurrection.
But now, as I look back, I should have made myself read it. For today, when it comes to obedience to God, the greatest motivation I have is contained in the passion of our Lord. This is especially true when it comes to forgiving enemies.
Matthew 6:14-15 lays out the requirement:
For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (NASB)
Luke 6:27-28 goes further to lay out how we are to respond to our enemies:
But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (NASB)
Sometimes it is easy to forgive people. Other times, however, the hurt cuts so deeply that the memory is actually worse than the initial event. Each time the memory revives, anger and resentment rise, leaving the heart bitter, cold, and joyless.
God taught me a lesson in forgiveness, one day, while I was driving south on Highway 52 in North Carolina, on my way home from work. At that time, the drive was normally peaceful; there were many scenic views of farmland, and the road wasn’t heavily traveled.
Suddenly, it was back. The memory that I had tried a hundred times to put behind me, reemerged like a fanged demon in a child’s nightmare.
"How can I truly forgive when the memory won’t go away!" I cried out. "If only I could find the tape on which it is played and cut it. Or, if I could find the CD on which it is held, I would put a big scratch across it. If only there was some way to prevent the mind from replaying the worst of memories, like a scratched record that won’t advance to the next track."
Nevertheless, I made my best effort to handle the memory according to scripture. I verbally forgave my enemies; I asked God to forgive them; I prayed for forgiveness for myself for holding on to resentment; and I asked God to bless them. Still, I had no peace. The bitterness lingered like gasoline poured over the hands. No matter how much you wash, you still smell it.
Yet, even the smell of gasoline goes away over time, but time and failed to heal the hurt these memories revived.
As I drove, I recited a verse I had been meditating on that week, Romans 5:5:
And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (NASB)
"Dear God," I prayed, "where is this love I am supposed to have? Why is it so hard for me to forget the wrongs done against me? Why does my heart continue to cry out for revenge?"
Then, I paused to consider, "Just, what would it take to satisfy me."
First I thought about hell, the destiny of everyone who dies without Jesus. But, I had to admit that I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Yet, these very people who had sinned against me were doomed to pay for those sins for all eternity, unless they turned to Jesus Christ.
"Ah, that’s what they’ll do; they’ll turn to Jesus and get off free." I thought, resentfully."
But what if they did turn to Jesus? Had it not been the intention of Jesus Christ to pay for all of their sins, even the sins that were committed against me? Jesus cried, "It is finished." Do I dare say anything different?
All sin has to be punished, either in hell or in the atonement of Jesus Christ. Mercy and justice, such direct opposites, became friends at the cross. There the sins of all believers were laid on the head of our blessed savior. There, both the mercy of God and the justice of God were satisfied. If the passion of Jesus Christ was enough to satisfy the God of the universe, whose holiness is beyond my comprehension, who’s face shines with such pure light that if I were even look at it I would die, do I dare demand more?
What would it take to satisfy me: another barb in the crown that pierced our savior’s head, one more lash with the whip, one more mocker to add misery to his final hours, perhaps one more blow from the Roman soldiers against that sacred face.
I drew back in horror.
Finally, as my eyes were opened and my angry heart was quieted, I began to understand what it meant for me to refuse to forgive my enemies.
No doubt, the outside world had no idea of the transformation that was taking place inside that car. In fact, there was probably someone behind me who was wishing I would drive a little faster; there usually is.
But, unknown to them, that car had been transformed into a sanctuary. There I knelt before the cross of our blessed savior and with newfound joy repeated those precious words, "It is finished."
And, so it was there, by the grace of God, that I learned to forgive my enemies. Sometimes the memories return, but the sting has been taken away. For, now I gladly return to those words, those very words that gave me such dread as a young child, to that special verse in John 19:30
When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He Bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (NASB)
Oh Father God,
As we experience the sour wine of this life,
And as the sinful principle within cries out for revenge,
May we always remember
The cross of our blessed savior
And, there, may we say, for his sake,
"It is finished."
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