As most of you know, I am of a genetic heritage (Sicilian) that is noted for resisting the notion of forgiveness. Some of us seem to have an alarming capacity to take our grudges to our graves. However, because I am a Christian, and I take the Bible seriously, I would like to make sure that I forgive those whom I still begrudge. Yet I frankly find forgiveness of these people to be next to impossible.
But I’ve got to forgive them! Even if I didn’t identify as a Christian, I’d probably still feel a need to forgive them, if for no other reason than that a lingering resentment doesn’t feel good. Resentments against others eat away at one’s mental health. If I weren’t a Christian, I would want to let go of these grudges for my sake. But because I am a Christian, it is not only for my own sake that I must forgive. It is for God’s sake — for the sake of all that is good and just and kind in this world. Look what Jesus said:
Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.
So if we want to be forgiven, then we need to forgive. That much seems simple and sound. But whether or not you are conversant with Scripture, these words of Jesus are likely to strike a puzzling note. Aren’t we Christians the ones who believe that we simply are forgiven? As in, no matter what we do?
Well, yes and no. There are Christians and there are Christians. A Calvinist might believe this. An Arminian might not. We could get into Romans Six and all that, but this single Scripture definitely appears to contradict numerous biblical references to the security of the believer. Have our names not been written on the Book of Life since “before the foundation of the world?” If I am a Christian, and I believe that God has already forgiven me, then why would I need to forgive anyone else in order to secure His forgiveness?
Although I’ve read numerous studies on the matter, they seem by and large to be rationalizations. One suggested that Jesus speaks in this context not to “believers” but to “people in the world.” But that doesn’t hold water. Jesus is simply speaking to everybody — to whoever has ears to hear — whether they believe Him or not.
So I pondered this apparent contradiction for a long time. Finally, I arrived at a reconciliation within myself, as a result of performing the following dialectic:
Q. What’s bugging you?
A. I think I might be going to hell.
A. There are three people in my life whom I have not forgiven.
Q. But aren’t you a Christian?
A. That depends upon what you mean by “Christian.”
Q. What do you mean by Christian?
A. A Christian (according to me) is a person who is in the process of being saved.
Q. Saved from what?
A. From the just consequences of our many misdeeds.
Q. Can you document this scripturally?
A. I can try. Romans 10:9 states: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” According to this Scripture, these are the two prerequisites for salvation.
Q. Do you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord?
Q. Do you believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead?
Q. Then why would you not be saved?
A. Because I haven’t forgiven these three people, and God says I have to forgive them if I want to go to heaven.
Q. Do you want to forgive them?
A. Oh yes!
Q. Then why don’t you?
A. I keep trying, but I keep winding up going back to the grudges. It’s not that I don’t want to forgive them, it’s that I don’t feel I have the power to do so.
Q. But as a Christian, doesn’t your power come from God?
A. Well, if it doesn’t, then it ought to.
Q. Then why not ask God to empower you to forgive them?
A. Good idea. I will do so immediately.
Q. Anything else?
A. As I asked God to empower me to forgive the triumvirate whom I begrudge, a thought came to mind. Something I’d never thought before.
Q. Really? What thought is that?
A. Since God knows all things, maybe God knows that ultimately, at some time in my life, I am going to forgive all three of them. Therefore, though I haven’t forgiven them yet — and would certainly go to hell were I to die on this very day — I am still nonetheless going to go to heaven on some future day, because by the time that future day rolls around, I will have forgiven them. And God knows this! I may not have forgiven them yet, but I will forgive them. I will then be free to depart gracefully from the present planet, and take up my throne in heaven.
Q. Your throne? Isn’t God the one on the throne?
A. 2 Timothy 2:12 & Revelation 20:6, dude. We’re all gonna be reigning in heaven. Remember: you are dealing with a person who actually reads the Bible. I’m not a person who blindly swallows every lie that comes out of the mouth of the preacher on the pulpit. Nor am I of the camp who absolutely refuse to open the Book, for fear of its contents. Nor am I —
Q. Excuse me!! What about 1 Corinthians 8:1?
A. Oops — I forgot. You actually read the Bible, too.
Q. Well, what about it?
A. What about what?
Q. Don’t dodge the question — what about 1 Cor 8:1? Paul clearly states that the pursuit of knowledge leads to arrogance, whereas the pursuit of love leads to encouragement and spiritual growth.
A. All right, I’ll admit it. My problem is that I’m too hung up on learning, reading, absorbing, acquiring information, and gaining knowledge. And despite all of that intellectual focus, the plain fact is that I just don’t have enough love in my heart.
Q. And Who is Love?
A. You know the answer to that. Luke 15:9 & John 4:8 come to mind. God is Love.
Q. Then Whom shall you seek, if you are to learn how to love?
A. Deuteronomy 4:29 & Jeremiah 29:13 hold the answer to that one.
Q. Wasn’t that a bit indirect of you?
A. Was Jesus always direct?
The Questioner is silent.
Obviously, I’ve arrived at a resolution that is quite pleasant, if tenuous. It would seem that my next move along these lines should be to forgive the three people whom I continue to begrudge. So, in Parts 2-4 of this series (if I ever get around to writing them), please expect me to go through great efforts to forgive the triad of traitors who so treacherously trapped, tricked, and traumatized me. I’m not going to mention them by name — of course. But I’m definitely going to delve into it.
Why? Because I must. It’s not just being Sicilian. It’s that I spent way too much time on the streets. There, the concept of achieving peace of mind over a troubling individual was virtually synonymous with the notion of getting even with them. If I wanted there to be peace between me and someone with whom I was quarreling, I didn’t even think about forgiving them. I thought about intimidating them until they were too scared to mess with me. It was only then that I would breathe my long-awaited — though highly temporary — sigh of relief.
Let’s put it this way. I may have Mafioso blood, but I sure didn’t have anything against any of these people before I had to spend twelve years on the streets.
TO BE CONTINUED
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