Below are some fragments of thoughts the past several months, since about April, many incubating earlier. I may share more snippets later that focus more on perseverance and God’s sovereignty through pain and darkness. But these musings center more around forgiveness, justice, and God’s sovereignty. Some thoughts are my own, others are quotes that stood out to me that day, and others are straight Scripture. I’ve had a lot of questions and things too personal to share, so if this appears strangely fragmented, that’s why. Despite the incompleteness, perhaps something redemptive will come of sharing these ramblings.
Whether someone else recognizes a wrong or says they are sorry or not, we are to forgive. God commands it—and He did it to the fullest extent. What can be tricky for some of us humans is when you question if the other person truly did anything wrong or if you are overly sensitive. There’s something validating about an apology—a true apology, not the “I’m sorry ifs…”— that helps you to heal. At the same time, saying “I forgive you” can be difficult, not just because forgiveness is difficult, but because you are agreeing that the other person wronged you.
I remember watching a show once in which a woman finally apologized to a man about something that she truly needed to apologize for, that had been agonizing for both of them, and she needed to experience the full weight of forgiveness and needed to heal. (He did, too.) But the man basically replied by saying the apology wasn’t needed. He may not have held anything against her anymore, but he also withheld—out of a false sense of humility and grace and kindness—full healing and reconciliation. He blew it off. It hurt to watch, even though the show made it all look romantic and even as if he were a man ahead of his times.
One of the things that I really appreciate about the way we do church is that we pretty much reenact the Gospel every week. I may be secure in Christ, but I need to not only confess my sins (and hear others do the same) but I also need to hear the words “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven” and receive communion.
I’ve struggled to say, “I’m sorry”—and to accept apologies and say “I forgive you.” I’ve also experienced fake apologies or known people who seem to think they never do anything wrong. (And then others who struggle with false guilt and apologize for everything.) I’ve relied too much on needing to hear an apology to move on with grief and forgiveness and healing. Relied too much on it to validate what happened.
This is a secular article on forgiveness (and not an extremely academic one), but the author (Nancy Coller) says something interesting:
To receive a sincere apology is an incredible gift. We feel heard and acknowledged, understood and valued. Almost any hurt can be helped with a genuine, heartfelt I’m sorry. When another person looks us in the eye and tells us that they’re sorry for something they did that caused us harm, we feel loved and valued; we feel that we matter.
When someone apologizes to us, we also feel validated and justified for being upset. The apologizer is taking responsibility at some level for the result of their actions, intended or not. And when that happens, our insides relax; we don’t have to fight anymore to prove that our experience is valid, that we are entitled to our hurt, and that it matters.
Christ gave this up in forgiving us long before we acknowledged a thing, in fact, while we hated him, in the midst of his greatest suffering.
Coller ends with this:
When hurt by another, our bodies are hardwired to need an apology to relax, move forward, and let go of the hurt. But sometimes when we can’t get the I’m sorry we think we need, we have to learn to relax on our own, without the other’s help. Trusting and knowing that our pain is deserving of kindness — because it is — and that our truth is justified and valid — because it’s our truth — is the beginning of our independent healing process.
I don’t think I agree with Coller’s comments on truth, but I think she begins to get somewhere with the fact that we won’t always get the apology we need and will have to relax and receive validation elsewhere. Unfortunately, I can’t do that on my own. I do need someone else, but that someone else can’t be a human being, which is often what I’m looking for. That someone needs to be stronger than me, the source of truth who sees and hears and knows everything. The one who knows what true kindness is, who knows we are dust, who shaped and formed and redeemed us, who endured more suffering than anyone, and who paid for our sins and has the real rights to forgiving anyone.
Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day,
or like vinegar poured on a wound,
is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.
The human spirit can endure in sickness,
but a crushed spirit who can bear?
A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
Each heart knows its own bitterness,
and no one else can share its joy.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
Anxiety weighs down the heart,
but a kind word cheers it up.
27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
28 Do not say to your neighbor,
“Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—
when you already have it with you.
29 Do not plot harm against your neighbor,
who lives trustfully near you.
30 Do not accuse anyone for no reason—
when they have done you no harm.
10 If you falter in a time of trouble,
how small is your strength!
11 Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
12 If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?
25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.
26 Many seek an audience with a ruler,
but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.
A few weeks ago I was really struggling with some things when I came across this section in Philippians 1…
Sometimes it seems there is a lot that is backwards, a lot of hurt and silent pain, and I can’t make sense of anything, but this was a moment in which I didn’t receive and answer, and yet I received an answer. God sees. He hears. And His purposes will prevail no matter how much we may feel we lose.
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Phil. 1:15-21)
If you have a conflict with another believer, and especially if you feel the need to bash them, just remember you eat the same bread/body and drink the same wine/blood.
I needed this reminder. Thankfully, I also have people living this out before my very eyes, they just don’t brag about it. I’ve seen it multiple times in my life, and it’s hard to watch. Very convicting. Growing up people pegged me as a nice person who was very tenderhearted, and I was told I have the spiritual gift of mercy.
But what I think they actually saw was at times a more compliant or laid-back personality (with maybe some God-given patience thrown in) and some compassion that could only be attributed to Christ working through a innocent child.
Then the world stepped in, and I’ve actually been challenged, stretched, and tested in the “area” of mercy and grace. My flesh has been given the opportunity to reveal itself, even if only to those who know me most. You aren’t tested in those areas unless you are dealing with actual offenses and a need for forgiveness. (If something doesn’t bother you in the first place, that isn’t the same as being merciful, even if you are empathetic.) Mercy and grace exist in the same realm as forgiveness.
And that, my friends, is where I know that I am not as merciful and gracious as I would like to be. I like to think of myself as standing up for the underdog, as being more lenient regarding things that don’t matter— but that is not the same as merciful or gracious.
I like to think of myself as able to “take it” for myself (a false form of humility that comes more from being too hard on myself, not wanting my problems to bother other people, fearing being too sensitive, etc.) but when I see some innocent sinner (yep, I said that on purpose) suffering at the hands of others, I become anything but merciful or gracious. My first reaction is not the same as Christ who prayed for his enemies. It is far more like David praying God would curse his enemies–at least just show them they are wrong, make the bully stop!— or James and John wanting to call down fire from heaven on people, not because they disagree, but because they are so downright mean about it. I’m actually not great with confrontation, and anytime I actually have to do it I do so with great fear and trembling. But I’m talking about the battle of my heart and mind.
But Christ came for those people. He came for me when I didn’t give a “you-know-what” about Him. And He puts up with me every second, with full recognition of my pettiness, pride, unholy anger, lack of faith…all of it.
And so while I don’t want to condone the actions, I have to let sink in what someone recently told me, and I’ll probably butcher the way he put it, but he talked about letting the arrows from others first be filtered through Scripture. If they don’t follow Scripture, then you don’t let them hit (meaning you don’t internalize them or let them define you), and if they do, then let them hit–within the context of Christ’s redemption. And you sometimes have to go ahead and give those that wish to crucify you the hammer and nails.
That’s hard to swallow, and I don’t want it to be taken out of context, but I hope the point is clear. Anyway, here’s to an older brother in the faith, St. Patrick, though it’s nearly two months after the special day of shamrocks and wearing green.
I’m sorry if…
I’m sorry it seems/appears…
Are usually not true apologies.
“I know I’m not perfect, but…” may be true and necessary to say at times. At other times it’s a way to “sorta” address the issue and mostly dismiss it. It’s pretty close to squirming.
Part of how I know this is I once shared a few small hurtful things a person had said with him that I just couldn’t shake, though I’d really tried and wanted to for a few years. These comments didn’t haunt me all the time, and by themselves they might not have been so bad, but they did make me feel more judged and uncertain around that person. For a couple of reasons, I was afraid how this person might respond. It was less about that person and more about my own insecurities and some experiences I had had with other people and some much larger issues (which is a pretty common human experience, I think.) I didn’t want to seem overly sensitive or petty or emotional. I wasn’t really even looking for an apology, I simply wanted to know if they truly saw me in that negative of a light.
The crazy thing, was the person just out-right apologized. Genuinely, no “ands, ifs, buts.” No patronization. No arguments. No squirming and trying to justify or make me feel sorry for them for feeling so bad. None of the half-apologies mentioned above. And it wasn’t a particularly sensitive person who did this, either, so there was nothing mushy or saving face about it. I got to keep my dignity, and the hurt was validated. And we were able to move on.
When you have that kind of experience over something small, it shows you there’s a higher standard.
He will hold me fast. Remember….
“But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1-2)
“…for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God…” (Ex. 34:14b)”
1 Sam. 2:1-11
Luke 1: 46-55
From my favorite Narnia book, The Horse and His Boy
“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”
“It was I.”
“But what for?”
“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”
“Who are you?” asked Shasta.
“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again, “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all round you as if the leaves rustled with it. (Lewis 175-176)
When Abraham sent Hagar away with Ishmael, he gave her “some food and a skin of water.” Nicer perhaps than many others may have been, but still not much to go on at all. No direction, a lot of shame, completely cut off with little to no resources. Some may argue she deserved it or that it had to be done due to God bringing about his purposes with Isaac.
Still, God gave her more than Abraham did. He did not abandon her, rather he saw and heard.
When the water was completely gone,
when she was watching her son die in the desert and probably just wanted to die herself,
when she had been kicked to the curb and left with nothing to help her find her way or transition to whatever stage of life might be next,
when she probably felt unwanted, useless yet used up, shamed, forgotten, and judged–perhaps more harshly than those who ostracized her would judge themselves, as if she were the only sinner (not saying that’s what they did, but it would be easy for her to feel that way),
when nothing seemed good enough, when she was rejected and saw no hope of ever being accepted again,
when she probably questioned if God saw her the way others did, if He would treat her the same, proving them completely right and herself completely worthless.
That’s when He meets her. And the funny thing is, He doesn’t start addressing what she could have done differently or how Abraham and Sarah were right or wrong. None of that seems to be addressed.
But He sees and hears her, and he promises good things–and hard things. He lifts up her head, and He provides for her.
Thoughts or resources on forgiveness? I know God commands us to forgive, and I’ve found Lewis’s comments in Mere Christianity insightful and even helpful, though not easy. This has been a topic I’ve thought about a lot for at least ten years, and it’s on my mind again.
I think what might be hard is
1) if the other person never acknowledges what they did (or even flat out denies it) and especially if no one else seems to know or acknowledge, so it seems invalidated–and you cannot approach them to reconcile.
2) when you know and maybe even want to get to a place of forgiving, but you are still very much afraid of that person: the fear and pain and bad memories are too fresh or strong, and certain things trigger those memories and feelings (sometimes to the point of being physically ill) very easily.
Those shouldn’t be excuses, but they present challenges and questions. I also have heard people talk about healing and needing to be patient with oneself. I guess I’m really asking a HOW question, but I’m not asking for a formula either.
Is it enough to simply (but it’s still extremely difficult, not trying to minimize) to say, “God, I know you may be the only person who knows. I also know you command us to forgive. I need help healing, and I need help forgiving this person.”
I suppose it’s not just forgiveness, but how much power that person had/has over you as well.
Jesus forgave perfectly–and right in the middle of raw pain and the worst abuse. I know he forgave in our place. But as followers of Christ transformed by his grace, we are also to imitate him.
I’m also challenged by Betsie and Corrie ten Boom. Of course Corrie struggled, and there’s the story of her being faced with one of her old tormentors from the concentration camps–a former Nazi soldier who had converted to Christianity after hearing Corrie share the gospel once the war was over. He had come to thank her, but she remembered him and his former abuse of her sister. When he extended his hand, she wrestled with God and begged for help in taking his hand. Upon taking the man’s hand, she forgave the man and immediately felt love for him. I don’t think it always works that way, but it’s challenging anyway.
As comforting the words may be, as tightly as I’ve clung to them, it is so hard to be content with “God sees. God hears.” I suppose this is similar to the spirit being willing but the flesh being weak.
The question always follows: Is He enough?
I keep going back to the same things, one of which is Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. This is the one book I’ve taken years to read—having to read and reread sections every few months. I’m not sure why. Here’s a few quotes from recent chapters…
Anger is always an attack on the brother’s life, for it refuses to let him live and aims at his destruction. Jesus will not accept the common distinction between righteous indignation and unjustifiable anger. The disciple must be entirely innocent of anger, because anger is an offence against both God and his neighbor. Every idle word which we think so little of betrays our lack of respect for our neighbor, and shows that we place ourselves on a pinnacle above him and value our own lives higher than his. The angry word is a blow struck at our brother, a stab at his heart: it seeks to hit, to hurt and to destroy. A deliberate insult is even worse, for we are then openly disgracing our brother in the eyes of the world, and causing others to despise him. With our hearts burning with hatred, we seek to annihilate his moral and material existence. We are passing judgement on him, and that is murder. And the murderer will himself be judged” (127-128).
“The will of God, to which the law is an expression, is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them” (147).
“How then does love conquer? By asking not how the enemy treats her but only how Jesus treated her. The love for our enemies takes us along the way of the cross and into fellowship with the Crucified” (150).
I have been thinking about a statement I made a few months ago, along with some other things.
I recently wrote the following to a friend. I hope my theology isn’t too far off, and I want to try the idea out here in a smaller setting before perhaps writing a related article to post more broadly:
“All that to say, the continual thought was: ‘If you are in conflict with another believer and feel the need to bash (or slander) him or her, just remember you eat the same body and drink the same blood.’
I say that because forgiveness has been very hard—I know that forgiveness doesn’t mean saying it didn’t matter. Rather it requires that you first admit a real wrong occurred. That’s where I’ve struggled….it’s hard to feel I have permission to forgive in the first place….the best I can do right now is be reminded when I take communion. I know people talk about reconciling before doing so and not taking communion in an unworthy manner, but I have asked God to help me forgive, and I know it’s a repeated thing. Communion actually helps—God forgives my sins, and I’m reminded of the truth above. I’m reminded that I eat and drink and partake of God’s grace along with the people who have hurt me—and we’ve all hurt God way more. The same grace is given to all.”
Two things I’ve watched in having younger brothers and teaching middle school boys in particular. I’m not sure why it seems a bigger deal with them in terms of seeming like a mile marker–maybe it’s just that I’ve been around the more than the girls, so please keep that in mind…
But two big steps in transitioning from boy to man that I’ve noticed are these:
1. Ownership: I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. (It’s also for both genders, but it has seemed a bigger deal when encouraging and pointing out growth in young boys. Again, I don’t mean to unfairly generalize.)
2. Humility/Empathy: This one is related, but there have been multiple conversations I heard or was part of that were often paired with the concept of ownership. One good example was of two brothers, both under the age of 14ish. They were wrestling, and the older brother (not knowing his own strength and size) accidentally hurt the younger one (not severely, but enough to bring tears to a boy who was usually pretty fearless.) His response was, “I didn’t do anything!” The younger boy was crying and said (or the parents pointed out), “You hurt me!” The older boy’s response was to protest, “No, I didn’t!” He wasn’t trying to lie, but because he didn’t MEAN to hurt his brother, he believed there was no possible way he could have hurt him. His parents had to explain to him that just because he wasn’t being cruel didn’t mean that his brother’s pain wasn’t real, or that he hadn’t caused it (especially when it was clear that he had actually, though accidentally, hurt his little brother and there was no attention-seeking or faking going on.) They were careful about not forcing apologies (wanting things to come from the heart), but they did walk this little boy through understanding that sometimes you can hurt someone without meaning to–and an apology is still needed. You aren’t responsible for other people’s emotions, and intent is important, but so is the action and how it affects the other person.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18, ESV)
27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,[e]
when it is in your power to do it.
28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again,
tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.
29 Do not plan evil against your neighbor,
who dwells trustingly beside you.
30 Do not contend with a man for no reason,
when he has done you no harm.
Proverbs 24: 11-12
11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?