What Do You Believe About Forgiveness?
“What would I believe if I didn’t believe anything?” Great question – great book, by Kent Ira Groff. Among the many stories Groff tells, to put us in touch with what it means to embrace the spiritual life, is one about a chaplain who was asked by a prison inmate to connect with the pastor of the church he had burglarized to seek the church’s forgiveness. The chaplain made the phone call. The pastor answered, his official board would have to vote on the matter. Several weeks passed without a word. The prison chaplain phoned the church. The pastor reported the news – “the board approved forgiveness, and the vote was seven to five.”
How often have we taken what God has offered to us, out of a heart characterized by mind-blowing, extravagant love, generosity, and grace, and dispensed it from hearts hardened over with bitterness, grasping or reluctance?
Forgiveness is its truest and deepest self when I see it for what it is – a gift. I can’t withhold forgiveness from another person, while waiting impatiently, calculating what they owe me, or all that I require of them, in return for this ‘gift’. If my actions are meant to display any part of the character of Christ, they will need to come from the same source as the actions of Christ came from – the heart of God. Fortunately for us, God isn’t an enabler of our unhealthy, limited, manipulative responses. The deeper we invite God into our lives, the more God’s Spirit takes over, disallowing and dismantling our old ways; demanding complete freedom, and bringing about absolute newness in the way we live our lives.
Like the church board, described by Kent Ira Groff, I can fool myself into believing there is a “fairness” to forgiveness, and treat it like some quadradic equation, where everything balances out in the end. Yet a “calculating” forgiveness has nothing to do with actual forgiveness, which by nature, flows from the heart. A calculating forgiveness has everything to do with ‘calculating’ which, by nature, is formed in a mind that has become severed from a person’s heart.
We’ve all known people like this. Unfortunately, all too often I’ve been in their number. Lewis Smedes, author of Forgive & Forget, Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve, writes, “A major ingredient in free forgiving is respect for the person being forgiven. Respect means you let a person do whatever he or she wants to do with your forgiving…if you try to manipulate people into your contrived version of a happy ending, you are not forgiving…at all.”
What would I believe if I didn’t believe anything? I believe it would take a greater power than my own, to enable me to forgive another person, without calculating ‘what’s in it for me’. I believe it would require a more compassionate heart than mine if ever I am to fully forgive without further expectation.
I believe I’d never do it, entirely or completely right, if I didn’t have Christ to follow and if I didn’t have the heart of God from which to draw the abundance of love and grace I need daily.
Thank God that’s something each of us is offered!