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How do I forgive people who have INTENTIONALLY hurt me? Made me suffer? How do I forgive evil? Will they get what they deserve?
God will bring justice.
“Lord, help me to want to forgive.”
This was the bold prayer of my friend who grew up with parents who were in a cult. They subjected her to every type of sexual and sadistic abuse you can think of.
This friend came to mind during two lectures I heard during my recent trip to Oxford. One exercise in particular got me thinking…
“Think of the three greatest lives that have ever been lived.”
I thought of my abused friend.
“Then imagine one of those lives and subtract all the suffering.”
My friend is amazing. But one of the reasons I know she is amazing is because of the ways I have seen her choose to let God transform her suffering into something good.
Contemplating my friend’s life, as well as these Oxford lectures, I wanted to share some of my recent epiphanies.
“Justice and Persecution” was the title of Tanya Walker’s lecture, so I naturally assumed it would be about social justice. I was wrong. It was a lecture on forgiveness.
Her three main points were simple but were unleashed with a convicting freedom:
1. Do not take revenge.
2. Forgive. (As He forgave us.)
3. Love our enemies.
Just rereading these reminds me why Christianity can be so contrary to every FIBER OF MY BEING.
Walker shared a story of a woman whose father repeatedly had sex with her and her sisters. The lecture hall was completely silent as she described the unfathomable: Jesus’ healing the woman’s wounds and enabling her to forgive her father.
I was sick, and convicted. And I don’t think I was alone.
Walker explained that we serve a God of justice, but not one who delights in judgment. Read that again.
She said when we expect God to simply be our big bully, we are misusing a God who takes no pleasure in the wicked dying. This is a God who wants everyone to turn from his or her ways and live in communion with Him. Walker explained how Christ gave us an example when He said, “Father, forgive them,” rather than, “I forgive them.”
Walker’s words led me to this realization: When I forgive, I am entrusting my desire for judgment into the hands of a just God who doesn’t long to see any of us suffer.
I haven’t suffered at the hands of a cult or a father’s evil perversion, but I have encountered evil. I have been deeply wounded. But I have realized two painful things about how I react as a “Christian” when the pain and memories resurface.
1. I want freedom from the pain, so I forgive.
2. In my own piety and desire for freedom, I have forgiven with the caveat of “I serve a God of judgment, and He will make that person pay. Big time.”
Am I alone in this?
“We and true persecutors stand in the same camp,” said Walker.
Yes, we are all sinners and because God wants all His children to turn to Him, I know Walker’s statement is true. But, at the same time, I still want to stomp my feet and say, “Yeah, but…!”
Let me be clear. We have our justice system in place for a reason. A father who rapes his little girl needs to go to jail, and parents who perform sadistic rituals need to be put in straightjackets, but what I am proposing is how to find personal freedom in the midst of people who choose to hurt us, people who choose evil.
I thought freedom from pain would come on the heels of seeing those who have wronged me or my friends suffer. But true freedom comes only when I realize and appreciate that Jesus suffered for me AND the people who hurt me. When I can forgive my persecutors and desire for God to forgive them without giving them their due…then I have truly forgiven.
Until I believe and appreciate God’s goal of bringing us ALL to Himself, I will try to manipulate God into a judgmental bully instead of a God of true justice who longs for us all.
One of the verses that has always made me feel this camaraderie with Jesus is when He tells the disciples shortly before He suffers and is crucified, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.”
Now, I know it’s heretical to change Scripture, but I wonder if this could work too:
“Joy, If the world hurts you, remember that it hurt me first.”
And what was Jesus’ response to those who INTENTIONALLY hurt Him?
“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
Is there hurt from a relationship that is too deep to let go? Have you suffered emotionally? Physically?
Jesus asked for the Father to forgive his persecutors because He knew they were lost and trusted the Father’s bigger story. Do you do this, or like me, do you want your persecutors to suffer?
Has God ever transformed your suffering into something good? Could He?
1 John 2
“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only butalso for the sins of the whole world.”
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Love and Respect (Now) is a division of Love and Respect. Please be considerate.
Three years ago, our business “partners” (church friends) shut us out of any/all communication, business meetings, etc. Decisions were made without our knowledge: unethical and possibly illegal ones. We had no say. All we could do was resign and then file personal bankruptcy to remove our name from whatever was going on behind our backs. We lost our savings, retirement, our home. I was really really really angry. In the middle of it all, we were infertile and they kept getting pregnant. It was a recipe for judgement and resentment.
The hurt of the betrayal was indescribable. I shudder to wonder if our marriage would have survived the brutal beatings of the suffering if we hadn’t found the tools of Love and Respect early in our marriage.
The subsequent physical / emotional / spiritual survival through this came from God teaching us about true forgiveness, like you wrote about above. I used to want to forgive them, on the condition that God would somehow make them PAY for the suffering they caused. Then I read “Grace Is For Sinners” by Serena Woods (www.graceisforsinners.com) and realized how un-Christlike my “Christian” attitude really was.
Yes, “We serve a God of justice, but not one who delights in judgment.” That is the key. Imitating Jesus and praying for the attitude of the Holy Spirit to completely permeate my being…. and remembering all that He has forgiven in me. I really have no say. I am saved by Grace. If none of this had ever happened and our business was uber-successful, I would literally not be sitting in this very chair this very moment in this town with this church and these friends on this God-ordained incredible journey. All I feel now when I look back at the anguish of those days is gratefulness ~ for how the ripping up of my heart opened it up to loving Jesus in ways that I never knew possible.
May Grace abound in my soul and flow out of my every breath so that there is room for absolutely nothing else.
I guess…. I dunno. I feel conflicted! Didn’t the Israelites dance when the waters closed in over Pharoh’s men? Marian sang a whole song… “The Lord has triumphed mightily; the horse and his rider he has flung into the sea…”
So I’m wondering where the balance between forgiveness and celebrating justice occurs. But at the same time… there’s nothing at all in your post I disagree with!
Maybe I’m trying to figure out how to *feel* about divine retribution. (!)
When Osama bin Laden was killed, I felt a thrill in my soul. Not gonna lie! My thoughts were, “FINALLY”.
That feeling probably wasn’t as prevalent in Portland. I dunno. 🙂
Anyway, thanks for the food for thought. I’ll be mulling!
Glad you are mulling, and I think your second comment started to get at my point more. You must keep in mind that I am far from being skilled in the writing departmentoidal. So give me grace for my lack of clarity. (-:
Of course we can rejoice when justice is served – especially when it brings safety to the innocent. You KNOW what a supporter of International Justice Mission I am. That kind of stuff is so in line with my heart. We see this, as you said, in scripture. But I think it goes beyond that when we are trying to work through the pain and questions.
My NEW revelation after hearing Tanya’s talk is that for ultimate healing of the person that has been persecuted or encountered evil – or for me in this instance…when I realize that God does what He needs to do for justice but does it in His own way, time and space and is not my big bully then I start to get a different perspective. I also want to remember that His bigger goal is bringing us ALL to Himself. So when I realize that I want Him to forgive me for my human shortcomings and sins, true forgiveness and release can come because in His eyes He loves us the same, not matter what have done. When I can ask that the He (the Father) forgive those who have hurt me then I am no longer asking Him to punish them. That’s hard to do, but when we believe we serve a God of justice, I think we can entrust the way He judges all of us to look differently.
Grace does not mean that I want the abuse, evil or ill will to continue. It’s about desiring salvation and believing God wants to forgive them and draw them to Himself.
I’m probably not doing justice to her talk, but it was really transforming for me. We could probably talk for a long time.
And I hear what you’re saying on praying for those who persecute you.
It’s REALLY interesting when Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Those guys were definitely not seeking forgiveness. It seemed to come prior to their request. Jesus’ “preemptive strike” has to be a model for us there!
Yeah, I think the part about “they know not what they do” is so interesting. Because we all know that they KNEW what they were doing. But I think it goes along with scripture that speaks to the fact that we can choose to reject God and our eyes and hearts can be darkened.
Also, I think it’s interesting to think about the below verse in light of the post…again remembering we serve a JUST God, but not one who delights in judgement. I think it can be hard for my mind to wrap around sometimes. Especially his timing and what justice looks like. Thoughts?
For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. – Colossians 3:25
This is just a brainstorm… but maybe what we should celebrate in God’s justice is the closure he brings for victims in returning to them what was lost. In the case of sexual abuse… he removes disgrace and shame and returns to the victim dignity, safety, well-being (ideally).
Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus not only took AWAY the punishment but also GAVE us an inheritance. Maybe it’s *because* of that inheritance (“more than we can ask or imagine”) that we don’t have to fret about “getting our own” back.
Just a thought.
Great discussion on a very important choice we get to make! Just saw the other night on the Documentary Channel: The Big Question: A Film about Forgiveness- it starts off with the Amish school girls being brutally murdered and the very active choice on the Amish survivors’ part to forgive.
Re: vengeance- Romans 12:19-21 I’m glad God calls us “beloved ” when addressing us on this subject. He knows wrath is a powerful emotion and we have been created with the capacity for it. He also clarifies where to “give place to wrath”. Phew** It is His, not ours to take. Thank you Jesus for that! It’s too heavy for me anyways.
RE: Forgiveness- God has got that covered too! Thanks be to the Father who loves us so much He substituted His only begotten Son for the wrath of our sins. We absolutely deserve death because of the wounds we inflicted on His innocent Son. The justice of the Holy God is served on the cross with His Son bearing our sins and dying in our stead. God’s mercy is satisfied in that we have the opportunity be able to enter into a covenant relationship with him as a living sacrifice because of the His Son’s cleansing blood! Thanks be to the Father, the death of His Son was not a permanent arrangement. He is Alive-God raised him from the dead! We also are sealed w/ the Holy Spirit of promise as a guarantee of our inheritance (Ephesians 1: 13-14). Praise God! So there we are as humanity- standing in need of forgiveness, tender mercy and grace and it is freely given by God! We are given plenty enough to share too! WOW!
NO reason to be greedy with all these gifts.
For me forgiveness is easy because it deals with what has happened. It’s the past-can’t change it. That’s in God’s hand.
Loving my enemies is a little bit harder for me because it deals with the present and future. How will I learn to trust again? To what degree will I enter into reconciliation with the offender? What if the offender refuses to reconcile, what is my responsibility in the process? Should we forget as a part of forgiveness?
God instructions to bless and pray for my enemies is a good mirror into my person too. In learning how to bless my enemies, God has revealed to me, that I’m not to take the privilege of prayer and use it abusively. That means curses, witchcraft prayers (control freaks are prone to stumble in this area), or cruel petitions are cast to the side along with fleshy desires to get retribution. Doing good to enemies and even feeding my enemies just takes it to another level that tunes the heart to be more like the Father (Matthew 5:38-48). The Father is really who I want to be like in all my idealism, wounded reality, brokenness and shortcomings. Freedom is in the blessings the Father has provided for us!
Well I know I’m really late on this, but maybe God saved it for me just for this time. I have been struggling with this for a time and just yesterday was talking to a wise woman about how to truly forgive. My whole life I’ve just been told – “you forgive because God tells us to.” Ok, I understand that. But how? How do you take the steps when I live in fallen world and am a sinful creature. Of course I want justice and revenge! But there are steps and there are wise people that can help with this. Ultimately the bitterness and anger hurts me and my relationships, current and future. I choose to be a healthy person, body, mind, soul, spirit. So I must acknowledge this person did wrong, it is not ok, they owe me something, but I CHOOSE to forgive the debt. Because God deals out the punishments and justice, it’s not mine to hold on to. Whoo, had to get that out. Thanks for sharing. Wise words and great post!
I am so happy to hear this Beth. Not the part about your struggle, but the fact that it came at the right time for you. This has and will continue to be a tough thing for me. You should check out the organization http://www.potsc.com/ Their whole mission is giving grace and understanding forgiveness. I will be praying for you and thank you for sharing.
if god wants to forgive people’s evil deeds that’s up to him.. I say god forgive them, I don’t know how to forgive and wouldn’t even pretend to know how to embark on such greatness as forgiving people…I have been wronged and short of brainwashing myself I don’t know any other way of removing these wrongs from my memories. however I do get the strength to continue to live with these wrongs not always on a peaceful measure either… I sometime think if god had been a bit more forgiving to adam and eve in the first place then maybe all this could have been prevented… I question wether I forgive god for being so unforgiven in the first place.. … god then sent jesus to prove his forgiveness..does god forgive us????? and do we forgive god????
My stomach was turning reading the opening to this blog post… BUT I totally get forgiveness. After 3 years of actively working on forgiving a person, I am proud to say that if I ever saw her, I would be able to smile and greet her. I pray for her often. It is SO freeing to forgive someone. I love the way Joyce Meyer puts forgiveness, “Choose not to remember”. It has helped me so much over these last 3 years when dealing with forgiving this person. It started off small, not fantasizing about ME committing violence against her, then not violence in general, then I was able to use softer language when referring to her, then I was able to say her name out loud (and in my prayers for her), and finally, just a few weeks ago , I smiled when I thought about her and prayed for her. I shared this post on facebook,. I know a lot of people who this may help if my other posts about forgiveness haven’t clicked to them.