Helmut Thielicke once said, ‘The business of forgivness is by no means a simple thing… We say, “Very well, if the other fellow is sorry and begs my pardon, I will forgive him, then I’ll give in”… “The other fellow has to make the first move.” And then I watch like a hawk to see whether the other person will flash a signal to me with his eyes or whether I can detect some small hint between the lines of his letter which shows that he is sorry. I am always on the point of forgiving… but I never forgive, I am far too just.’
When I feel wronged I can find a hundred reasons against forgiveness.
- He needs to learn a lesson.
- I don’t want to encourage irresponsible behavior.
- I’ll let her stew for a while; it will do her good.
- She needs to learn that actions have consequences.
- I was the wronged party – it’s not up to me to make the first move.
- How can I forgive if he’s not even sorry?
- I could forgive them IF they would just admit their mistake.
- I want God’s justice to prevail. He knows that I was right.
- It has hurt me and my family so deeply, I just can’t forgive them.
I still remember that fateful 7th Christmas dinner in NE Brasil. We chafed at the choice comments of the two fathers who blatantly declared that Martin Luther was undoubtedly not in heaven. After suffering through the discomfort of the table talk of those two men, my wife, children and I hurried across the quarter mile expanse of grass that separated our two houses. I don’t know if we were sweating from the intense summer sun or under the weight of the laser beam comments of my colleagues. Once inside our doors, we felt safe. It proved to be a false sense of security. Later that afternoon I was startled by the unscheduled visit of the two husbands. Their demeanor said that they weren’t coming for dessert or to exchange niceties. I wasn’t mistaken. They were coming for a serious confrontation.
“You are too open-minded with the people with whom you have fellowship and invite into your church to speak. They ought to be only fundamental Baptists. If they aren’t, they aren’t acceptable. You are on probation until you decide to change your behavior. And from now on, we can’t tolerate your teaching and work in our Bible College. You need to change your convictions about what it means to be a Baptist, but until then you are no longer fit to work with our students in the Bible school.” They were not open to dialogue, and as they left I fell into culture shock.
These two men, my senior missionaries held to a very strict view of what it means to be a Baptist and starting that day they excluded from their circles anyone who differed. It wasn’t enough to be in the body of Christ, you had to be the same kind of Baptist as they were.
That unbending decision on their part eventually led to a deeper, far-reaching, rift. The network of local pastors who had been my good friends stopped coming to our home or inviting me into their pulpit. Within a few weeks if a believer affiliated with their churches dared to visit our fledgling congregation they were automatically excommunicated from that local church. At their instigation, one of my closest friend, a national pastor, secretly knocked on the doors of our core members inciting them to mutiny stating that I was unqualified, unfit and unworthy to be their pastor.
It got so bad, that if one of my former missionary colleagues crossed my path on the street they looked the other way and did not even say hello. Our family and our church were literally islanded.
For twelve months, I stewed over the insanity of it all. If anyone bothered to ask what had happened I gladly spilled out my anger, my deep sense of injustice. “Let me tell you what the two of them did most recently,” I would say.
The Lord let me boil and stew in my own pain for about a year. Then out of the blue, I heard his voice, “I want you to imagine Samuel that the leader who hurt you the most is like the prodigal in the parable in Luke 15. IF he were to come knocking at your door tomorrow asking forgiveness would you be ready to welcome him and receive him as a valued friend? This is your chance to practice the truths in the Sermon on the Mount. In your heart I want you to get ready to receive and welcome him with open arms just like the father in that story.”
So against all odds, a sense of injustice, and my longing to be declared innocent, I chose to forgive and let God deal with the injustices. What I discovered in the process was that the one who was truly freed from the chains of guilt and blame was me.
Because the first and often the only person to be healed by forgiveness is the person who does the forgiving.” Lewis Smedes.
How about you? Have anyone your struggling to forgive?
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