Sunday, March 10, 2013

Forgive us as we forgive others

God has forgiven me of much. I am a former child abuser. Never having been reported to CPS or never having a record of my crimes does not change the truth. Yes, I have sought help, and yes, I have changed by the grace of God. Although my past doesn't dictate my future, my present doesn't erase my past.

I realize not all parents are abuse survivors who struggle with breaking the cycle of abuse. But we all struggle with forgiveness from time to time.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in our injuries, the slights and disrespect toward us that we fail to see how we have injured and disrespected others.

Yes, we are all broken people. No, I am not excusing those who intentionally hurt or abuse others physically, emotionally, sexually, spiritually, or otherwise.

I think, though, that we often have an unrealistic view of forgiveness. Somehow, we've gotten the message that forgiveness not only erases a debt, it obligates us to continue to put ourselves in situations where we can again be hurt or taken advantage of. Such is not the case.

Forgiveness means forgiving a debt. When someone has wronged me and I choose to forgive, I am releasing that individual from the obligation I feel they owe me. I am choosing not to let resentment over that obligation build, and I am choosing to move on from the situation. I am NOT ignoring any damage that was done, and I am NOT going to put open myself to being wronged again, especially if that individual is in a pattern of abuse.

I have found that forgiveness, especially in cases where I have been deeply wronged, is a process. I have to continue to choose forgiveness instead of resentment. I must choose to erase the debt instead of expecting certain behaviors or responses from the offender.

I find, though, that I am quick to seek forgiveness and grace for myself, and quick to seek justice for others' wrongs against me.

The parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18 always speaks to me.

Christ tells of a king who was taking account of his servants. One servant owed the king 10,000 talents. We have no idea whether the talents were gold or silver, but frankly, it doesn't matter. A talent is 57 pounds, which means in today's market, the servant owed $896,610,000 in gold or $16,530,000 in silver. For most of us, that is an unpayable debt!

The servant resorted to his only recourse: begging for mercy and promising that he would pay the debt over time. The gracious king forgave the servant's debt, no strings attached.

The relieved servant went out from the king's presence and chanced upon another servant. The second servant owed (from what I can deduce) something akin to $4,100 to the first servant. While still a lot of money to most of us, it is a debt that could realistically be repaid.

One would think the first servant, high off his recent experience with grace, would be anxious to share such mercy with his peer. Instead, he grabbed the other by the throat and demanded immediate restitution! When the second man couldn't immediately come up with the funds, the first had him thrown into debtor's prison.

The other servants saw this injustice and told their king. The king immediately called the first man to him and reminded him of the great debt that had been forgiven, and asked why the servant had not had compassion on his own debtor. Apparently, the king was so angry, he rescinded his forgiveness of the original debt and delivered the unforgiving servant to jail.

This is where the phrase "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" comes into play.

I think the take away from this parable is not just the injustice of being forgiven and refusing to forgive, but it's also how we forgive (or don't) affects how God forgives us.

That's a mind-bending concept.

One is tends to think that a gracious God forgives because He is gracious. We often forget that God is also a Being of justice.

Why, then, should I harshly punish my children for slights against me (back talk, failure to follow instructions, etc.) when God has forgiven me of so much more? Why do I expect those who have offended me to come groveling in humility while I too often wave my hand or roll my eyes when confronted with my own offenses?

"Father, forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Help me to remember the debt I owe You, and let it soften my responses to others.