“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
It is difficult to make sense of forgiveness, especially when it is extended to someone who brutally snuffed out the lives of innocent family members. Such was the response of a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Amish community in 2006, when five young girls were brutally murdered and five others severely injured. Not only did they forgive the shooter (who committed suicide at the scene), the Amish community extended their forgiveness by caring for his wife and three children who were left without a husband and father.
A similar scenario played out this past week in Charleston, South Carolina, where a stranger, welcomed into their church’s Bible study, murdered the pastor and eight others. Though still reeling from the loss of their loved ones, family members none-the-less made their way to the courtroom to extend forgiveness to the shooter as well as his family.
Where does such strength to forgive–such determination to face-off evil–come from? After years of working with people in the Counseling Room, as well facing my own personal challenges, I can assure you that such forgiveness never comes easy. Humanly speaking, we want to hold onto anger and hate; we desire to repay evil for evil. Yet even from a health perspective, we know that to allow such things to hold sway for very long, is to allow the acidic erosion of our thinking to separate us from the God who saves. James 4 speaks to the inward struggle we face:
“What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
You desire but do not have, so you kill . . . .You do not have because you do not ask God.
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives,
that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
The good news is that God desires better for us and calls us to Himself as the Shepherd of our hearts. In the end, forgiveness is God’s means of deepening a faith relationship between Himself and His people. Jesus said,
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.… “
Matthew 11:28, 29
That rest for your souls, is embedded in the knowledge that God, who is merciful as well as just, will not forget the burden you surrendered to Him. If not repented of, God’s justice will prevail. With this in mind, God asks but one question, “Will you trust Me in this?”
Forgiveness, pure and simple, is a God-thing . . . it is not something we can conjure up alone. What is the critical ingredient needed to face-off evil when life hits us hard? Forgiveness . . . that is grounded in the love and mercy of Jesus. As forgiveness is applied in humility and faith, the evidence of God’s Presence in the hearts of His people is revealed.
The declaration Paul made to his friends in Galatia, when they were in danger of entering into the bondage of legalism, is a good reminder to us when we are tempted to hold on to bitterness and anger:
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
- Forgiveness is a decision, that reflects the mercy received through God’s only Son.
- Forgiveness comes alive and is believable, only as acts of mercy follow it.
- Forgiveness chooses, to trust in God’s ultimate justice.
Forgiveness is the ultimate means whereby God’s people are truly freed–
to live for, love and serve Him with glad hearts.
All to His Glory!