Ministry Tip of the Week
Mutual Forgiveness is essential to healthy relationships and flourishing community life. Without it comes frustration, division, constant miscommunication, grudges, bitterness, awkwardness, anger, and mistrust, just to name a few forms of the broken experiences un-forgiveness creates.
I am a sinner. You are a sinner. We live with sinners. That's just the undeniable, broken reality of things. Unfortunately, this means the question is not if you hurt me, but when - and how - you hurt me, what is my response going to be?
How well do we understand the call to forgive? Jesus is certainly clear on the teaching in Scripture: the measure to which we show forgiveness and mercy is the measure to which we ourselves will receive it (see Luke 6:38). He stresses it even more emphatically when he teaches us to pray. He chooses to elaborate upon only one of the lines in the Lord's Prayer: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15).
The teaching is clear, but do we have the desire? Do we really understand why forgiveness is so important? Do we understand that harboring un-forgiveness robs us of freedom? In those moments of hurt, betrayal, and wounded pride, the Christian rubber meets the road, as it were. We're faced with an intense decision to listen to Jesus' warning, or to burn bridges and to close in on ourselves. The choice is before us. As Moses put it, choose life - forgive.
I think it's helpful to view relationships through the lens of marriage (and family life), for here we see the brokenness of human relationship in all it's vulnerable intensity. Sinners are thrust together to live a common life together, forever. (Thank God Matrimony is a Sacrament, for how could we truly keep the vows we profess without the grace of divine life and strength?!) We enter into a covenant relationship with people we know will never be able to fully keep their end of the bargain, and knowing full well that neither will we. This doesn't, of course, justify our sinfulness, but it does make the mutual resolve to forgive a foundational characteristic of our most intimate relationships.
Mutual forgiveness is the secret to living out our vocation to love. Some people think they need to wait until they're perfect to get married. But that's silly. The whole point of the vocation is that, through it, we grow in perfection, in holiness. We learn to love. And loving a sinner (i.e. the person we marry) means learning to show mercy, to forgive. When spouses do this, they're drawn out of their sinfulness and they mutually call each other to a deeper, more perfect love. With both parties are on board, a beautiful (Christ-like) love begins to blossom.
It's easy to see this need in a marriage, but this kind of merciful love is called for in all Christian relationships. Where do you harbor un-forgiveness? (If you have students or children, pose this question to them often)
If we can't, or if we're unwilling, we're stifled in our desire to love and to be loved. Created in the image of love, our deepest freedom is found in our capacity to forgive those who have hurt us, no matter how difficult it is. If we can't, or when we refuse, we're no longer free.
Forgiveness is mercy. It's underserved. Our inclination is justice, not mercy - it just seems right on the surface. People should get what they have coming to them. It's just (and right) to be angry when someone hurts us. It really is! But "mercy triumphs over judgment"(James 2:13). Only forgiveness and mercy have the power to convert hearts and call people out of their sinfulness. Only forgiveness and mercy set us free to love in a world of sinners. Mutual forgiveness is an essential ingredient to a flourishing community this side of heaven. Only in humility can we lay down our hurt; only in Christ do we have the power to fully offer our hearts in forgiveness.