Forgiveness is everything

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 8, 2006

Mr. Rogers – yes, THE Mr. Rogers, the “It’s-a-beautiful- day-in-the- neighborhood” Mr. Rogers – is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He is, as you might guess, a minister to children.

For many years, he and his wife visited one of his favorite seminary professors in a nursing home every Sunday afternoon. They would sing, talk, read scripture, and pray. One Sunday, the Rogers sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which included these words (some of which, unfortunately, are omitted in some current hymnals):

And though this world, with demons filled,

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Should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God has willed

His truth to triumph through us.

The prince of darkness grim,

We tremble not for him,

His rage we can endure,

For, lo, his doom is sure:

One little word shall fell him.

When they finished the song, Mr. Rogers asked his old prof, “Dr. Orr, when it says one little word will fell him, what is that word?” Great question: What word has the power to bring down the prince of darkness?

Dr. Orr replied, “Evil simply disintegrates in the presence of forgiveness.”

I don’t know if that’s the word Martin Luther meant when he wrote “A Mighty Fortress.” But it certainly fits.

Forgiveness is an affront to everything Satan seeks to accomplish in this world. He works for alienation in whatever form it may come – alienation of humans from God and alienation of humans from each other.

But God trumped the evil plans of Satan through the cross and resurrection of Christ. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding” (Ephesians 1:7f). Through a profound act of mercy, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, forgiving us where we didn’t deserve forgiveness (2 Corinthians 5:19).

And it is in response to this forgiveness that we choose to forgive those who have harmed us. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” Paul exhorted (Colossians 3:13).

Here’s the foundational truth behind forgiving others: we forgive not because it will heal us (though it often does), not because we’re such magnanimous people, and not because we’re trying to ignore the past. Rather, we forgive because we have received forgiveness from God.

I know a woman who recently made the bold move of forgiving the man who abandoned her and their children years ago.

Why would she do that? Because she understands how radical God’s forgiveness of her is. While she may not be responsible for the divorce (The old saying that there are always two sides to a divorce isn’t always true! Sometimes one person makes evil choices that impact others.), she knows that in her own ways she has contributed to the darkness in this world. She realizes that God has made a profound move, forgiving her in Jesus Christ. And now, in deep gratitude, she has responded with a grace-shaped heart of forgiveness for one who doesn’t deserve it.

Is there a bold step of forgiveness you’ve been putting off? Let me encourage you to take that first step. And here are some suggestions as you seek to do that:

1.Reflect long and hard on God’s mercy toward you. Immerse yourself in the language of scripture – of how God has, in grace, reconciled you, redeemed you, forgiven you, chosen you, and adopted you. Personalize those passages, seeking to recognize how unworthy you were of this gracious act. (If you have a hard time with that, then back up a couple steps and reflect on how heinous sin – all sin, any sin, your sin – is to God. That puts his initiative in perspective.)

2.Ask God to empower you through his Spirit, knowing that you need the Spirit’s sanctifying work.

3.Work through some of the rich Christian material written on forgivness such as Embodying Forgiveness by Gregory Jones and Forgive and Forget by Lewis Smedes.

4.Share your struggle to offer forgiveness with other Christians. Allow them to pray for you and encourage you.

5.Start by praying for the person you are wanting to forgive. It’s difficult to hold so tightly to grudges toward a person you are praying for!

6.Keep telling yourself: This is more about actions than feelings. It isn’t that we want feelings of resentment and bitterness to stay around; it’s just that we can’t directly do much about them. What we can do is choose to act in a forgiving way toward another. A reformation of the emotions usually follows – very slowly.

I think Mr. Rogers’ old seminary instructor was right. If you want to deal a serious blow to Satan and his evil work, then, out of an awareness of God’s mercy toward you, forgive someone. “One little word shall fell him.”

Compassionate Father, we know that you have forgiven us of our sin. You’ve removed our sins from us as far as the east s from the west. And we sincerely want to mirror that forgiveness with others. But our hurts turn into grudges which turn into bitterness, and before we know it they become a part of our being. So please, move us through the power of your Spirit beyond these hurts to the life-sustaining power of forgiveness. Help us to forgive as you have forgiven us in Christ, through whom we pray.

God Bless and GOOOOOO DAWGS,

Marshall Murphy is the Pastor at the First Christian Church in Demopolis, AL. He can be reached at the church office at 289-3615.