Saturday, 4 February 2017

Forgiveness

Growth in the Christian life requires both prayer and study. One of the major problems causing retardation of growth is the inability to forgive, or even being unaware of any such a necessity. Forgiveness can commence at any time following conversion and, indeed, forgiveness is usually a prolonged process whereby the many layers of hurt and pain are progressively removed and thereby healed.
     The start of forgiveness is primarily a re-ordering through Jesus. It is coming to terms with the past and then, with that objective know-ledge of the way things actually were, placing the situation before Jesus and giving away the pain and the anger to Him. By this means, the wound of the past is quenched and we fear and feel nothing any more; and forgiveness can then proceed. This makes the situation sound easy but actually great sacrifice and courage are needed. It is hard work.
     For courage, we will need to know ourselves intimately. Such a knowledge is a pre-requisite for any form of effective form of discipleship, and can only achieved through much prayer, study of the bible and a giving over to Jesus of everything in our lives - loves, ambitions, aims and self. Such a knowledge of self is the start of all humility, that is, a knowledge of the goodness present within ourselves but simultaneously knowing it to have come from Jesus. The pride that stops us from asking for help can then be overcome and forgotten.
     The central instrument of forgiveness is the cross, although that theme may only be implied at first sight. Any thought of implication can only be fleeting though because the sole reason for the cross is forgiveness, both a lasting and a complete one. In fact, it is God's forgiving of us.
     There is no point in being a Christian without the cross because it was on the cross, at Easter with Jesus suspended, that the devil was defeated finally and for good. Forgiveness can commence since Easter means that the eternal consequences of sin are no longer applicable. There is a catch though, which is most conveniently expressed by a line from the Lord's Prayer "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."
     The forgiveness of Jesus on the cross --- hitherto considered to be our 'reward' for conversion, unearned and for nothing --- suddenly appears to have a terrible price. We can only enjoy full forgiveness after we ourselves have forgiven everyone and in full.
     Our forgiving of all who hurt us is a costly and humbling process. Again, it is words from the cross which strike a raw nerve: "Father forgive, for they know not what they do". This clearly implies that no one causes injury if they are fully in control of themselves and in their right minds (i.e. in Christ). This is not an excuse for their actions and God will repay them in full if they refuse to sow seeds of remorse. The phrase is therefore meant as a help for us.
     Our forgiving of those who caused the pain (even unintentional pain) does not mean that we have to live with, talk with or even grow with them; that far would be full reconciliation which can only occur when the consent and co-operation of all the people involved is given. It is solely forgiveness to which Jesus is calling us.
     Wherever change and love link hands, then Jesus is there, giving of his strength and courage while difficult decisions suggest their own urgency. The relief engendered following forgiveness is amazing although the recipient is still the same person despite being forgiven. The fruits of forgiveness can only apply therefore to the giver and will only affect that particular Christian's relationship with God.
     Forgiveness is a many stranded, multi-layered and subtle thing. This is a way of saying that effective forgiveness can almost be 'tricked' out of us and against our will. Although cowardly, and fairly stupid, we cannot ignore the fact that forgiveness is essential if we are to grow as Christians, that is, grow to be acceptable to Jesus.
     How does the healing process of forgiveness occur? Firstly, Jesus is asked to take the pain away — no more. This use of an intermediary is almost akin to God's use of Jesus. With the clarity of vision engendered by the removal of pain comes the realisation that the recipient is also wounded and is therefore incomplete. Even if such people acted - perhaps still are acting - irrationally and with malice and calculation, they still have a need for the healing of Jesus. They need compassion.
     The pain starts its slow dissipation from this point, although it can still resurface: recurrence is to be expected because of human fallibility. We hate what has been done and hate what is still being done. But the feelings against them is no more. Hating someone, particularly if they were once loved - or still are - is mind destroying and not healthy.
     In summary:
  1. Forgiveness requires faith - faith that Jesus will actually deign to help us in supporting and anaesthetising while we analyse and remember.
  2. Forgiveness requires humility --- we must recognise that, what ever happened to us, we are also at fault if only in having refused forgiveness to a fellow creature; and all God's children are loved by Him.
  3. Forgiveness requires love --- we love Jesus and wish to do what ever he wants us to to. This love inevitably leads to emulation of Him; and since Jesus was always willing to forgive, we must be too.
  4. Forgiveness requires guts because hatred and clinging to thoughts of righteousness, however just in the eyes of the world, are a crutch we use to support ourselves. Without this crutch, we need to shift our balance, to find a different means of support.
  5. But forgiveness gives release, it brings a joy the like of which childbirth can only envy. It is a new beginning and another step as radical as first becoming a Christian. As forgiving people --- and hence as forgiven people --- we can finally face the world with poise and love as the womb of dawn approaches.
This is an act in faith in a world of uncertainty, but it's a world where forgiveness gives out freedom even if its mode of action is not understood. In such a world, the following prayer of Thomas Merton may be useful:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore, I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever near me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

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