Sunday, September 23, 2012

Forgiving the Unforgivable

Thomas Lake at Sports Illustrated, a magazine I used to read religiously in my youth, recently wrote a piece about how former NFL receiver Rae Carruth murdered his pregnant girlfriend, and remarkably the unborn boy survived. In probably the best piece of journalism I've read in a VERY long time entitled "The Boy They Couldn't Kill," Lake tells the story of how the boy's grandmother, Saundra Adams, has handled the cross of mourning the death of her daughter, caring for the miracle child, all while fighting for custody from the man who wanted to kill both her daughter and her grandson, and got away with only her daughter. Probably just as remarkable as the boy surviving is how the grandmother speaks of Carruth:
"I'm not gonna have anything negative to say about him," she says. "I thank him for my grandson. I thank him for my grandson."
There's no way I can appropriately summarize such a story. You've got to go and read it all yourself. You'll be glad you did. As for me, this story helped me think about something I've been struggling with for some time now—what the author refers to as the second kind of forgiveness:
The first kind of forgiveness is the easy kind. Someone wounds you, and in time this offender comes to see what he has done. He returns to lay the crime at your feet. And when you reach down to pull him up a sort of charge passes between you, a cleansing force that refreshes both souls.

Candle flame and volcano. The second kind of forgiveness is a rare occurrence that becomes rarer as the crime grows more severe. In this case the offender gives nothing. He never comes to you. And when you go to him, he turns you away. This leaves you alone with your open wound and a solitary choice. No one will blame you either way. But the wound is yours to keep, or let go, and that choice may plot the course for the rest of your life.
The past few months I have struggled with this second kind of forgiveness. The kind of forgiveness that every sin-stained bone of your body doesn't want to give. The kind of forgiveness that rarely those who you talk to who knows the sin says the other person is deserving of such forgiveness. The kind of forgiveness that you may never be rewarded with that "cleansing force" that comes when the brother or sister who wrongs you lays down the crime at your feet.

The wound is mine to keep or let go. No person will blame me either way. However, I am reminded of The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21-35:
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
 This parable comes immediately after a teaching from Jesus about your brother sinning against you:
"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone . . . And if he refuses to listen . . . let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."- Matthew 18:15-18
I have the choice to allow my brother to refuse to listen to me and let him be, but I do not have the choice to not forgive. And how often? Not just seven times, but seventy seven times, even if I'm turned away seventy seven times. For whatever I bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever I loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. While no person will blame me if I never forgive the one who sinned against me, my lack of mercy on my brother will be bound to me in heaven. Thanks be to God for the Christ who shows mercy on all of us who sin against Him and His creation day in and day out, and yet never ceases to forgive.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand? - Ps. 130:3

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