What is the biggest thing you’ve ever forgiven someone else for? (Unless you just want to, you don’t have to give me an answer; the question is meant more to inspire reflection than pry into your personal matters.)
What is the biggest thing you’ve ever been forgiven (for)? (Ditto)
Forgiveness is Transcendant
You have probably heard of cases where a ruthless murderer is reduced to tears when forgiven by his victim’s family. Forgiveness is arguably the most powerful act one can demonstrate toward another, because it transcends the more visceral, human responses of retaliation, revenge and hatred. Anybody can respond in those ways, but it takes something more to rise above and forgive another who has wronged you.
Two of my all-time favorite church signs address this life-changing principle. One profoundly observed…
To forgive is to set a prisoner free, only to realize the prisoner was you.
The other made a similar point…
Forgiveness is the bridge over which we too must cross.
The times I have heard someone say, when recounting a wrong suffered, “I can forgive, but I won’t forget”, I cringe, because what sort of forgiveness is it that nevertheless holds onto the offense (more so the offender)? More on that later.
Our pastor recounted this story during one of his sermons years ago, and it impacted me. (The following is taken from http://justonemore.info/2009/05/all-is-forgiven/)
In his book, Capital of the World, Ernest Hemingway wrote about a father in Spain who had a son named Paco. Because of his son’s rebellion, Paco and his father were estranged. The father was bitter and angry with his son, and kicked him out of the home.
After years of bitterness, the father’s anger ended and he realized his mistake. He began to look for Paco, with no results. Finally, in desperation, the father placed an ad in the Madrid newspaper.
The ad read:
“PACO, ALL IS FORGIVEN. MEET ME AT THE NEWSPAPER OFFICE AT 9AM TOMORROW. LOVE, YOUR FATHER.”
Paco is a rather common name in Spain, and Hemingway wrote when the father arrived the next morning, there were 600 young men–all named Paco–waiting and hoping to receive the forgiveness of their fathers.
Forgiveness is Transforming
There is a scene from the 1963 movie “Nine Hours to Rama“, when Gandhi’s assassin approaches him, surrounded by a sea of people, and as he is about ten feet away from him, he draws his gun and points it at Gandhi. Naturally, the horrified onlookers part to either side, making a small clearing in the massive crowd of followers. I don’t recall if words were exchanged prior to the shot, but when the assassin fires, before Gandhi falls to the ground and dies, he looks his killer in the eye and says “I forgive you, my son.” The killer was stunned by this reaction, and I was profoundly affected by that scene when I saw it as a young boy.
Even if you are already familiar with Corrie Ten Boom’s story about being confronted with the prison guard who killed her sister in the concentration camp in Nazi Germany, I highly recommend reading it again (links to two excellent versions appear below).
Forgiveness is Expected
At some point since accepting God’s unparalleled forgiveness of my sin through His Son’s atoning sacrifice for it, the Holy Spirit made a connection for me between the deepest known location in all the world’s oceans, the Marianas trench, and forgiven sin. The scripture passage He used to tie them together was Micah 7:18-19, which says…
Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea. (emphasis added)
It’s Deep and Under Pressure
My wife and I became certified scuba divers so that we could dive in Cozumel on our honeymoon. In the almost quarter century since then, we’ve been diving at a few other very memorable locations, e.g. Key West, Jamaica, and Hawaii, but none of them very recently. Being parents has a way of moving recreational sports further down the list of priorities. Nevertheless, the deepest I ever went diving was seventy feet. I actually sat, Indian style, on the ocean floor and marveled at the whole different world I was submerged in.
Part of the training we underwent to earn our certification was classroom study of the science behind diving. While I don’t recall the exact formulas, the further down you go, the greater the pressure the water exerts on everything in it. Sailors on Navy submarines are fond of demonstrating this by tying a string from one wall of the sub across to the other before submerging, and then watching the string begin to sag as the sub descends into the deep.
The Marianas trench, depending on your source, has been measured to be roughly 36,000 feet deep. That’s almost seven miles. Because the deepest a human being can dive outside some sort of craft is nowhere near this depth, the location has been reached in manned vessels built to withstand the enormous pressure. When you consider that a gallon of water weighs approximately 8.3 pounds at 60 degrees Farenheit, and try to fathom the massive amount of water in the ocean, it is mind-boggling the pressure that would be present at that depth.
Even though the seventy feet I went seemed pretty far down to me, the Challenger Deep (as the deepest point in the trench is known) is more than five hundred times as deep as I dove. That’s incredible. It’s 3600 times deeper than the ten-foot deep end of a typical swimming pool.
Forgiveness is Godly
Granted, the verse in Micah doesn’t mention a specific location in the sea where God casts all our sins, since it is as much a metaphor as a literal truth. The point I got from this is that when God casts our sins into the sea, perhaps into the Challenger Deep, He doesn’t mean for us to go dive down and dig them up. Once they’re forgiven, they’re forgotten. If you don’t believe me, read Jeremiah 31:34, which clearly says
“No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Note the verse begins and ends with the phrase “no more”. That means what it says, no more.
In light of the well known passage in what is commonly referred to as the Lord’s prayer, Matthew 6:12, “and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”, why would we want to “forgive but not forget”, and then expect God to forgive us AND forget, when every one of us have sinned all the more against Him?
Right after the “Amen” that ends that prayer (which is where most people conveniently stop reading), Jesus goes on to say, verses 14-15, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
And of course, there is the most beautiful episode of forgiveness where Jesus, having been scourged and beaten to a bloody pulp is hanging on a cross between two thieves, says “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Jesus forgave asked for forgiveness for those men who had wrought unspeakable (and undeserved) cruelty upon Him. How much more should we forgive those who have assuredly done far less to us?
Now go back and read the first two questions at the top of this article. Anyone you need to forgive for anything? If there is, and you realize you can’t do it in your own strength, you need only ask the One Who not only has perfected the process, but Who embodies it.
Copyright August 2012
All rights reserved – wide distribution welcome and encouraged.