I wonder how many of us can identify with this letter that I have received from a dear friend:
John, my heart aches for my elder son. As you will remember, his wife left him for someone else about 8 years ago. Now they are divorced. He has such bitterness and un-forgiveness for his ex-wife. There is also intense anger for the man who came between them. He needs to move on and forgive them. Do you have any suggestions on how to minister to him.
Here is what I wrote to my friend on the subject of forgiveness, with a few additions and alterations made for a wider readership:
The first time we went to Ireland I spoke in a live-in conference in Donegal which is well north in the country, but part of the Republic, not Northern Ireland. We crossed a bit of N.I. to get to Donegal, passing through Londonderry. [Republicans simply call it Derry.]
There was only one supermarket in the city, Woolworths, part of the British chain of stores. It’s difficult to believe, but republicans had burned it down – 3 times I think – because it was British, even though by burning it down they caused real hardship – to themselves!
I told Mary, “That’s like saying to someone, ‘I hate you, so I’ll punch myself on the nose!’ “
That ‘Northern Ireland syndrome’ is what happens when a believer – in fact, most probably everyone, believer or not – hates someone else, or even just cannot forgive them. Consider what Jesus said about the guy who was forgiven a huge debt, and yet wouldn’t forgive a fellow the small debt he owed. His own forgiveness was revoked! Jesus announced a shocking penalty for not forgiving when we have been forgiven.
Whilst one may have sympathy with your son, he really is only hurting himself by not forgiving and forgetting. Hurting himself ever so much more than he realises.
WHO DESERVES GOD’S MERCY?
Having ourselves been forgiven so much by our wonderful Lord and Saviour, it must surely be self evident to us that forgiveness is not given on the basis of merit. The reverse is true – it is essential to forgive no matter how much it is undeserved.
It is essential both because God actually commands us to forgive, and for our own well-being too.
Just look at what Jesus said:
Mt 6:14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
Mt 6:15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Mk 11:25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
Here is what Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossian believers:
Col 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
This isn’t simply a suggestion. It is a clear, unequivocal instruction to us all. There are no ifs and buts – such as ‘But he did this . . .’ or ‘If she does that . . .’
Now and again I have heard someone say that it is impossible to forgive another person who has hurt them deeply. That attitude actually deepens the hurt and keeps it alive and fresh in their thoughts – no matter how long ago the hurt, supposed or real, occurred.
We also need to note that nothing we are instructed by God to do is ever impossible, though it well may seem so. You can forgive – in fact, you must, and so must we all, of course.
HOW FAVOURED WE ARE!
Taking a broad view, I have long believed that life, in general, has treated me better than I deserve and, by and large, people have treated me better than I deserve. God has most certainly treated me infinitely better than I deserve. How wonderful He is! I’d rather fix my gaze on Him than be concerned about people who may have been cruel, hateful or spiteful towards me.
MERCY AND GRACE
I love the thought that God in His mercy has saved me from what I deserve, and by His grace provides for me what I do not deserve. It is by His mercy that I am saved from hell, and by His grace alone that I’ll ever reach heaven. I wouldn’t dare grieve the Lord and hurt myself by holding a grudge against anyone.
BLESS THE LORD AT ALL TIMES
If you think again about my leaflet ‘not healed – yet’ there is some advice that may be applicable to your son, and by extension, to yourself.
Rather than focussing on the hurt, pain and need, it is much better to set oneself to repeatedly bless the Lord and worship Him for having forgiven us and saved us from what we deserved because of our own folly and sin. God is so forgiving and loves us regardless of our lack of worth or our limited response to His forgiveness, mercy and love. Can we ever thank God enough for loving us as He does, and accepting us as we are?
A part of being a Christian involves the Christ-likeness of responding to hate with love, to hurt with forgiveness, and to rejection with kindness and love. May God help me, and help each one of us to excel in these things!
WHEN CHRIST IS CENTRAL
My dear brother, as usual, I’ve rambled on a bit. I think I’ve tried to say that if we give ourselves to being inveterate praisers and worshippers of the Lord, fixing our eyes and hearts on Him, then He well may sovereignly remove unforgiveness and hate from our hearts sooner than we think possible. The things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
I join you in looking to the God of all grace to accomplish that in your son’s life, and in anyone who may read this letter.