Forgive: (verb) 1. to stop feeling anger toward someone who has done something wrong 2. to stop blaming someone 3. to stop feeling anger about something 4. to stop requiring payment of money or something that is owed. Definition from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary
To be completely honest, I have felt so angry at someone for hurting me in some way that it very really evokes a visceral impulse of wanting to hurt them, badly. I have not acted out these impulses in any devastating manner, except to play it out in my head. In my sequence of thought, I reach for something, preferably a rock, brick or iron frying pan and hit the person repeatedly. While I daydream the scene, I can literally feel my muscles flex and tense, as adrenalin surges through my veins. There is an initial sense of release in unclenching my fists and exhaling, only after I imagine the object thrown striking my intended target and then watching the person crumple to the ground defeated. In my obsessive effort to make myself feel better (in my imagined reality of revenge), I find myself smiling at the limp person laying at my feet. I don’t consider myself a vicious victor but a justified woman, ready to turn and walk away – feeling fine. God help me!
Can we all agree that my freakish fantasy simply exposes the serious need all humanity has for wanting to feel vindicated? In the vein of full disclosure, I’ve spent a lot of time this year feeling really angry about being hurt by people who may or may not have known what they were doing. These circumstances made me definitely doubt that God knew what He was doing. During the end of this past summer, I was walking down the street, desperately attempting internally to process things. I mumbled aloud, “If only I had a stone ….” I pictured myself picking up a stone and, then, in the midst of my daydreaming, I heard Jesus say, “You who are without sin, throw the first stone” (John 8:7). I think I froze for a moment on the sidewalk, even glancing around me to see if anyone else was aware of what just happened inside me. Until then, I had not connected my primitive impulse to throw something at someone with the epic words that Jesus spoke thousands of years ago. I had conjured up throwing stones because it simply seemed like an easily retrievable hard object that could easily do damage. Obviously, I’m not the first person to think of that idea. This is an age old dilemma.
I went back to read the Biblical passage and realized a deeper truth to be grasped. In the Biblical passage, Jesus is confronted by folks who use the old mosaic law as their justifying effort to throw stones. It seems that they actually cared less about the woman caught in adultery, but that they wanted to make sure Jesus was on their side to condemn her too. It was like Jesus was looking right at me and asking me if I was without sin. And even though I’m not, I knew Jesus was asking me to forgive because of how I’ve been forgiven by Him. I took note of the verse “one by one, they walked away, beginning with the oldest” (John 8:9). Sure, there is the impulse to want pay back; but maturity quickly reframes that desire to want something else, to not cower over someone but to give them space to meet privately with Jesus. I felt so childish and ashamed of my foolish inner functioning. I can’t hide my true feelings from God. He sees and hears all that goes on inside my head; and most significantly, He knows my heart. I felt like my spirit crumpled to the ground that day in a way it never had before and I laid in a heap at the Lord’s feet. John’s gospels records that the woman was left alone with Jesus after everyone walked away. Jesus lovingly spoke to her and did not condemn her. I envisioned myself to be that woman as much as one of the crowd. In fact, the passage ends with Jesus telling the woman to walk away as well. He said “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11b).
Forgiving is a stop and go reality. It’s ironic, for sure, but also makes complete sense, depending on one’s vantage point. On one hand, it is not fair. Where is the justice in not punishing the wrong doer? Yet, it is freedom to move on/away from fixating on a person, action or situation, and to focus on the bigger picture God has created for us to envision AND act out. No doubt about it, forgiving is hard work. It is our life’s work to implement such controversial practice. We want to keep looking back at the object or our wrath and pain and reach for another object that can help inflict some sort of comparable pain to punish the transgressor, again and again. Let it be known, it was extremely difficult for Jesus to forgive. It was His life’s work and it cost Him His life. He endured the cross as payment for our transgressions that would have required us to be put to death. He died in our place; because He wanted to restore humanity to be something capable of living beyond frantic impulses. He wanted to make us capable of loving, despite what’s been done.
He is our example and intercessor. When I want to throw stones, He intercedes to turn my attention towards something better. Likewise, when I feel like stones threaten to crush my self-concept, He intercedes to prove who He is. God is love. In forgiving us, God does not deny our wrong doings, or the serious consequences that can ensue; His love gives us the capacity to stop repeating the wrong doings and stop obsessing about the wrong that has been done. The anger and hurt I harbor in my heart takes up space that God so earnestly wants to replace with His joy. There has to be an exchange. The more I can forgive (and accept that I’m forgiven), the more joy will live inside me. Maybe this seems ridiculous to you as you read this. But I have experienced a new kind of liberating grace this year that compels me to see God for who He really is – capable of forgiving. This perception then allows me to see myself and others as God sees all of us – capable of being forgiven. I think forgiving is the hardest thing to do in anyone’s life; but I think I’m on the path towards maturing, developing a more focused response to let go of my anger and pain in order to embrace the joy God wants so much to give me…so I can in turn pass along that joy to others who are worn out from holding so tightly onto anger and hurt too.
- Artwork in process; Sketch #2 by Jamie Wasson 2014
- Restorative Justice
- Prodigal God by Tim Keller
- The Forgiving Life: A pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating A Legacy of Love by Robert Enright