Thursday, 28 June 2012

Forgiving the hard stuff - Justice and Healing

Proverbs 15:13  A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.

The topic of forgiveness probably raises more questions than answers. There are two sides to the coin of forgiveness. That is, on one side we need to be forgiven of  the wrongs that we have done and on the other side is that we need to forgive those who have done wrong to us. Jesus commanded us to forgive as He has forgiven us. Matthew 6: 14-15 says  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. In this post I want to focus on forgiving others.

What is forgiveness really and what does it look like? If we were to honestly share about life, we would probably all say that we have been able to forgive many people for small offenses and hurts over the years and we do not even think about those issues any more. BUT most likely many of us also have had one or more big things that have happened to us, some one has seriously hurt, betrayed and offended us, a "dealbreaker" type of offense, and that is the where the question of forgiveness becomes the issue. As much as we would like to be able to live life again as if this event had never happened, we cannot and because we know we will never be able to entirely get beyond it, we feel like forgiveness is incomplete.
Sometimes when you watch the news and some terrible tradegy has occured, you will hear the victim's family say - "we want justice". It is within all of us to want justice to happen - " do the crime, do the time" is how we feel. But we also know that in many cases, even though a criminal is put behind bars for life, the hearts of the victims and the victim's family remain broken and in the case where a death has occured , the life of that loved one is gone and cannot be restored no matter how many years the criminal spends behind bars. Even with a verbal apology or a financial settlement, the heart remains sad and broken. So what is the answer? Part of the answer is that God, the character of God demands justice.  As human beings, we are created in the image of God and that is part of why we want justice. Even a small child knows when "it's not fair!"  So God  is a God of justice and we can see what that justice required in that Jesus the only begotten Son of God ( the second part of the Trinity ) had to die to pay for our sin in order to redeem us to the Father.  God required that kind of a sacrifice. We see it in Hebrews 9: 22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

I have heard many sermons preached on forgiveness and I believe that it has helped me to get a better understanding of what forgiveness looks like.
 First of all, it does not mean that we forget. Even God doesn't forget - He simply chooses not to remember. To place the expectation on yourself that when you forget, then you will have forgiven is just not going to work. If a life changing betrayal and offense has occured, forgetting is not about to happen.

Secondly, Time will not heal the wound that has been created. To just think that we can stuff our problems in the closet or under the rug is not going to work. I saw this happen to a friend who was abused as a child. Years later when she got the courage to confront the man who abused her, he denied all wrong doing. Nothing was done to solve the brokenness and the whole issue got stuffed away again. We wonder what the final outcome of such will be when God's books are finally opened. Sometimes we may also think that if we  busy our minds with all sorts of pleasures and do fun stuff and just not think about the problem any more, that somehow that equals forgiveness. I can tell you that also does not work either.

Thirdly, forgiveness does not mean that we are okay with what happened or that we are no longer sad or heartbroken about what happened. Nor does it mean that we are willing to allow the person who hurt us to hurt us again. It is okay to put up some boundaries and defenses in order to protect ourselves from such an offense happening again. In the old Testament in the story of Joseph, we see how he tested his brothers to see if they had changed and if they were truly repentant before he would allow his heart to be touched by them again.

 Fourthly, Forgiveness also does not mean that there should be no legal consequences for criminal actions. God has put the authorities in place for the purpose of punishing criminals. The problem is that what God counts as a sin and wrong doing is often not seen as a criminal offense in the justice system of our country. An example would be drunkenness, abortion or the breaking of the marriage covenant through an affair etc.

Fifth,  there is no point in waiting for the person who offended you come to make things right - to start treating you better or to apologize in such a way that it seems sincere enough that you feel better. The offender is not capable of realizing the degree of hurt that he/she has afflicted on you. The offense or betrayal that has occured is bigger than words. It will take consistant heartfelt restoration work on the part of the offender for you to ever begin to trust again and to start feeling better.  We know from the story of Zacchaeus that he offered to pay back 4 times what he had stolen from people. In Luke 19:8 Zacchaeus says - if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.

 If something life changing has occured, only God's Hand can heal.
I believe forgiveness is a decision that I make. A decision  that I personally will not punish the person who betrayed or offended me nor will I pay him/her back for what was done.  I will leave all that to God.  Vengeance is mine says the Lord, I will repay. I decide that I will allow God to be in control of the justice part of what has happened. I come to the realization that it is not my place to do what God says is His part to play. I decide that I will choose to treat that person with kindness knowing that it is to God that account must be given. God is the only One who truely knows all the details of the situation. He is a God of holiness and righteousness and He alone knows what is just, right and fair. With my limited understanding, I am not able to determine the appropriate consequences to make a just and fair call. To get to this place in one's heart after a serious hurt has occured is a process and it takes time to work these thoughts through our minds and get God's perspective on the situation. It is very freeing to realize that God will deal with the persons who hurt us. God will do it in His own time. We do not know if it will happen here on the earth or if it will have eternal consequences but we leave that determination entirely in God's control. We must entrust ourselves to Him and believe that He is faithful to do what His Word declares.
Romans 12: 18-20 is a very important passage to remember:
18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

Once we have come to the realization, that God will do the justice part, then we can begin to focus on HEALING. The Lord Jesus is the healer of our broken hearts. Psalm 147:3  He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. He will fill the emptyness with His love and care. The more we are hurting and reaching out to Him, the more He is reaching down to meet our needs. In His love, He is longing to be involved in our healing.  Daily, moment by moment, we can keep bringing our brokenness before Him and the healing we experience in this way is a direct miracle from the Hand of God!  In Luke 4:18, Jesus says   The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised

It seems to me that many times the Christian community and churches will put a huge focus on restoring the person who has commited the offense and will leave the victims to suffer and get through their brokenness more or less on their own. Somehow they think that if the offender ( whether it be through alcholism, drugs, sexual problems, money issues etc)  they think that if the offender just doesn't offend again, then the problems have been dealt with. I do not agree with this. The hurts that have occured to the victims and other family members is huge and much more compassion needs to be displayed towards the victims and family members.

There is so much more that could be written regarding forgiveness. If anyone reading this has a good insight to add or a comment, please feel free to leave your comments. May God's healing touch be real in your life as you experience the healing touch of the Master's Hand!  For further study on forgiveness, I recommend the teaching by James MacDonald from Walk in the Word ministries.

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