Over the last few weeks and months, tempers have been running as hot as Arizona asphalt, and our patience as short as the TSA lines in April. Some of us have been looking for places to vent our frustration. We might be tempted to post a harshly worded comment on social media. Other times, we might have unfortunately lashed out at a friend or family member who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even when we try to carefully and thoughtfully keep our emotions in check, sometimes we fail. And, while we might be able to delete what we posted online, the consequences of our words are not as easily recovered. What we say to others is not like sticks and stones. Our hot-tempered opinions and indigent outbursts can sink their poisonous roots deep in the human heart and hurt for decades.
So, perhaps we should be more understanding when we are on the receiving end of that harshly worded text or rant drenched in anger and rage. Maybe we should give our accuser the benefit of the doubt in the heat of the moment…
Unfortunately, in those tension-filled moments our initial response is rarely thoughtful or amicable. Sometimes, the damage has been done. A line has been crossed and there is no going back.
The next time we see that person, awkwardness fills the room. Do they expect us to have simply forgotten what was said? Are we supposed to let that awful moment slip quietly into the annals of forgotten history? Do they expect us to ignore the past or succumb to a polite case of amnesia? After all, that would be easier. If both parties simply enjoyed the shared delusion that nothing happened, we can just move on.
Yet, the awkwardness lingers.
That awkwardness filling the room is actually… the absence of something. A mighty force. A life-changing, restorative power that is far too often hiding in the shadows of pride and stubbornness: forgiveness.
Without forgiveness, we don’t really move on. The delusion eventually crumbles and words from the past echo their way into our future conversations. After all something was broken, damaged, injured, ruined. And now, there is a cost that must be paid.
One of the principles of forgiveness that is often overlooked is that there is always a cost involved. There are no free rides when it comes to forgiving someone. Forgiveness is more than saying the words, and acting like what was broken is suddenly repaired.
Let’s look at a more practical example. I own a very old, high mileage pick-up truck and my friend Jim happens to be moving. It seems like a match made in heaven. So, Jim borrows my truck and starts haulin’ cubes. However, during the big move, the fridge slips and punctures the tailgate and the quarter panel is dented with a garden gnome named Dwight. Plus, Jim didn’t reveal that he hadn’t driven a manual transmission in a while. So, while backing into the driveway with every item he owns piled into the bed, he burns-up the clutch. A few days later he brings the keys back, while my truck is being unceremoniously towed to a local mechanic.
We are left with a couple of straightforward options. First, Jim can pay for the repairs. After all, he damaged my truck. However, Jim borrowed the truck in the first place because he could not afford a rental. Jim is trying to start a new business, while helping his wife get through art school. So, Jim doesn’t have the money right now to pay for the expensive repairs. But, my truck is still broken and I have to get it repaired, since it is my only vehicle to get to work.
The second option is for me to pay for the repairs and let Jim off the hook. Were the damages his fault? Yep. Where they accidental? Eh… Maybe. Does it matter? Nope. The truck is still at the shop and someone still has to pay. If I decide to follow the second option, I will be forgiving Jim’s debt and paying for the mechanic myself. Either way, forgiveness comes with a price.
In reality, forgiveness is far more difficult than just paying the bill for a busted up truck. Maybe someone ruined your reputation. Perhaps they said terrible things about you or betrayed a confidence. Those debts can be far harder to forgive because the price tag is incredibly high.
Still, the options remain the same. We can try to make the offending party pay by forcing them to suffer as we have suffered. We can make them feel what we consider to be a justified amount of pain by tarnishing their reputation, or giving them the cold shoulder. We might even secretly hope that we get to witness their comeuppance, even if is not directly by our hand. But, does the debt ever really go away if we take this approach? Is anything actually repaired or made whole again? Or, are we really just adding to the overall debt, and becoming more bitter and cynical in the process.
Yes, forgiveness will cost us. But, think of it as an investment in something greater. When we forgive, we are taking an active step to restore a broken relationship or offering a true second chance to someone who might really need it. It is also a very real and tangible reminder that God’s forgiveness of us cost Him something. Asking to be forgiven by the Creator of the Universe is not a quick, thoughtless request that we just tack onto the end of a rehearsed prayer or throw up against the heavens in hopes that it sticks.
“Father, forgive them.”* These are the first words spoken by Jesus after being nailed to the cross, suspended above the earth He created.
Forgive the soldiers who swung the hammer.
Forgive the leaders who lied and brought the false charges against me.
Forgive the politician, who knew I was innocent, but cared more about keeping his position.
Forgive the friend who sold me down the river for a few pieces of silver.
Forgive the other friend who said he would never leave me, but a few hours later denied knowing me.
Forgive the folks who followed me during the good times, but ran off and hid in the shadows when life got messy.
Forgive the crowds who listened to me as long as what I told them met their expectations, and then turned on me when I said things they didn’t want to hear.
Forgive them, all of them.
The list is long. But, deep down, we hope that list is a little longer. When I read these words, I hope that when Jesus said, “them,” he was not just speaking of those around Him. I hope that I am included in “them.”
When we hear Jesus say the words, “Father, forgive them,” we also see the cost. Forgiveness is not free. In our case, our brokenness and all that we have broken cost God everything.
So, today, which option above will we chose when it comes to those who have wronged or hurt us. What debt owed to us is greater than the depth of our indebtedness? I am not trying to downplay the significance of the pain we might feel when we are injured or have been horribly wronged. When we forgive others, there is still a great cost to us that needs to be acknowledged. Forgiveness does not mean we will not feel the pain. Or, that we are somehow weak or selfish if we admit that we have been hurt. That is not the case at all. The trauma is still very real. But, forgiveness means that in the face of pain, we are choosing to have the courage and strength to overcome it and pay the price for the sake of someone else. Forgiveness is not a retreat from suffering. True forgiveness is forged in the furnace of fortitude.
* Luke 23:32