Jesus did not consider forgiving others to be not an option for Christians. He instructed His followers to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us” (Matt. 6:12, NLT). In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he wrote, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). These passages seem explicit, cut and dry, plain and simple. This ideal of forgiveness sounds reasonable. However, in real life practicing Jesus’ teaching isn't easy.
Kevin cannot bring himself to attend his parent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. Years ago when he married outside of his Korean culture, they boycotted his wedding. Ellen still has sleepless nights. She experiences nightmares about her father who abused her as a child. He’s dead now, but she can’t stop thinking about the pain he caused her. Joan’s “best friend” lied about her to her boyfriend, leading to their break up. Shortly after, Joan’s “friend" and ex-boyfriend began dating. She felt betrayed and can’t stop thinking about them. Tim found out his co-worker had been criticizing him to the boss and sharing misinformation about his work. The co-worker was promoted while Tim was demoted. Tim can’t stop thinking of ways to get even.
We’ve all been deeply hurt by someone we cared for and trusted. We know what it’s like to resent a person who has violated us. Yet Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness still applies. What about in cases where abuse, rape, murder or betrayal has taken place? Does Jesus’ command still apply? Are we as Christians required to forgive people who have deeply and irreparably damaged our lives? If so, what does this forgiveness look like? Is the relationship with the offender restored to its pre-offense condition?
During the next two Sabbaths, I will be answering these questions in a two-part sermon series at Chapel Oaks entitled, “Forgiveness and Reconciliation.”