September 24, 2016

Forgive and be forgiven

Whatever I offer to God in service could have a caveat. That is, if there is something in my life that displeases Him, my offering is of little value until I get that something cleared up. The only way to do this is God’s way.

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:23–26)

Lest this sounds harsh, when someone is upset with me, I am agitated and troubled. I want it fixed. I certainly don’t want it to become a nasty fight or a legal battle. More than that, I don’t want to be disqualified from serving God because of it. If I feel like that, no wonder God tells me to take care of it.

However, reconciliation is a tough assignment even though admission of guilt and a sincere apology often produces wonderful results. Up front, going to a person I have offended is agony, yet a restored relationship is worth it.

The agony happens because of a great fear that forgiveness and reconciliation will not happen because the other person is not interested. If that happens, then what?

I remember the worst thing anyone ever did to me. Apologies were not part of the aftermath. I was angry and in pain for some time before I realized my anger was hurting me. I wanted that person to be sorry, to ask for forgiveness. I also wanted to forgive that person, but because we lived a long distance apart and I had no phone number, I offered forgiveness by a letter. There was no answer.

Someone told me the next best thing was to do it as if that person was deceased, so I pulled up two chairs, sat down and imagined the other person in the other chair. I said aloud how badly I had been hurt and then offered forgiveness. It was a long and one-sided conversation, but at the end, my burden was gone. I no longer held on to any anger or bitterness. It was the final step in putting the ball in the other person’s court.

I’ve never known if my forgiveness set that person free to serve God, but I do know that Jesus says whoever is concerned about the harm done needs to do something about it; either forgive or seek forgiveness. We cannot fight with one another and expect God to use us.

The other issue is that I may not know if someone has something against me. In Canada, jokes are made about how often we apologize to people, even saying “I’m sorry” for being apologetic! Yet a mere couple of words do not necessarily clear things with someone who has been offended.

I think of a child who does something that makes another child burst into tears. Mom tells the offender to say they are sorry, and even if the child knows what that means, the apology comes out mumbled and obviously not sincere. He could grow up thinking that “I’m sorry” will fix everything.

Reconciliation is not like that. It cannot be faked or used as a band aid. When done from the heart, there will be a sense of sweet release without a lingering cloud that ruins trust and intimacy. The best way to know how it works is to understand the forgiveness and reconciliation to God that I have in Jesus Christ. He was not only willing to forgive me, but willing to take the punishment from the Father that I deserved. Because of Him, I can forgive and be forgiven. 

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