“Forgiveness” is not an easy pill to swallow, especially when you are on the receiving end of some hurt by another person. The deeper the hurt, the harder it can be to bring ourselves to the point of forgiveness. And yet, as a Christian, we have a command from our Lord that is as clear as day that we MUST – not just that we ought to – forgive others. There are no caveats to this imperative, there are no circumstances that are exempt, there is only forgiveness.
While this can be hard, it helps for us to remember what we ourselves have been forgiven of. We could each echo the cry of Paul who said in I Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
Christ came to forgive even the worst and vilest of sinners, and each of us has been in Paul’s shoes. Why is it so hard for us to forgive others sometimes when forgiveness is so readily available for us?
Matthew 18:23-35 tells the parable of the unforgiving servant. It tells the story of a servant who was forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents (one talent was worth about 15 years’ wages) and yet would not forgive someone else a debt of just 100 denari (about 100 days wages). The last verses of this chapter make it clear how our heavenly Father views and will deal with those who do not forgive others. Verses 34-35 read like this, “His master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My Heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
Christ Himself, while being crucified at the hands of those He came to save, pleaded to the Father that they be forgiven. No matter the hurt, Christ calls us to be a people of forgiveness. This week I read an article about the forgiveness that Ronald Reagan had toward his would-be assassin, John Hinckley Jr. that highlights this principle well. Craig Shirley, in an article written for RealClearReligion, wrote the following:
“The diagnosis was devastating, but he took it calmly.
To a person, no one ever came forward and said Ronald Reagan ever felt sorry for himself, ever asked God, "Why me, Lord?" He never got down in the dumps, never moped around, simply accepting and working around his Alzheimer's disease -- and maintaining his uncanny optimism.
Always a man of devout faith, the experience of having narrowly escaped death drove Reagan's Christian faith even deeper into his character.
From Harrison to Lincoln to Garfield to McKinley to Harding to FDR to JFK, all were elected at twenty-year intervals, and all had died in office, including four via an assassin's bullet. Reagan, through the grace and hand of God, the speed of his Secret Service detachment, the decision of Jerry Parr to go to George Washington Hospital rather than the White House, the skill of the attending physicians, nurses, and staff, and his own strength, stamina, and mental toughness, broke the curse; he did not succumb to the assassination intentions of John Hinckley.
But no one would really know Reagan's immense capacity for Christian forgiveness until 1983 after Hinckley's incarceration at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a mental institution in Washington, DC.
Astonishingly, Reagan sought a meeting with Hinckley to tell him in person that he forgave the young man. Reagan had first raised the idea of talking to Hinckley with the White House physician Dr. Daniel Ruge one weekend at Camp David. After Ruge initiated the conversation, Reagan reached out to the head of psychiatry at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, Dr. Roger Peele.
"Ruge said that Reagan would like to talk with me," Peele recalled. A call was arranged but "the striking thing for me was how modest they were. They were concerned about interrupting my schedule." Reagan and Peele chatted amiably, and Peele said he recalled the kindness and professionalism of Reagan and his staff asking several times if he was being inconvenienced in any way. Further, he told of Reagan saying he wanted to pardon Hinckley, not legally but "personally" and "in private."
As Reagan’s heart was toward the man who wished him dead, so must ours be toward those who wound us. We must understand that by holding a grudge against others, and being unwilling to forgive them, that we are in direct disobedience to the commands of Scripture and that God will deal very severely with us if we do not lay our wounds at His feet and pray His prayer of forgiveness, “Father, forgive them.” Take a moment and ask the Lord to help you develop a forgiving heart and give your hurt to Him.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.