Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Power of Forgiveness (Part 5)

The Light (taken in Kurialand in Kenya above my favorite valley)
I remember talking with a friend about forgiveness and she was skeptical of the idea because she thought it would make her weak. After all, the one who offended her might see it as weakness. He might continue to take advantage of her goodness. She reasoned that force must be met with force, not forgiveness.

In Alabama, an army of pedestrians rose up and defeated a powerful public institution in one town. Later, all across the South, thousands rushed to volunteer in this army, swelling the ranks of soldiers. This unarmed army fought against enemies who had on their side fire hoses, German Shepherds, guns, firebombs and perhaps most fearfully, the Law.

The battles raged on, but the guns and bombs didn’t seem to matter. That army could not be stopped because they were immune to the weapons of their enemies. The proverbial sword still slashed and still drew blood. But suddenly, drawing blood didn’t matter. It seemed that they possessed a far more subtle power, a deeper magic. They were made more powerful by their wounds. Like Obi Wan when Darth Vader struck him down, these brave soldiers gained power with every baton blow, imprisonment and dog bite. Every weapon of their enemies was powerless.

Those who opposed that Southern army thought that men are ruled by fear, that hatred and violence are the ultimate weapons. But that army knew something more powerful, more unstoppable than fear. They were ruled by hope. And to the despair of their enemies, they wielded the most powerful weapon of all: love. Consider the words of one of their generals:
...throw us in jail and we will still love you. Threaten our children and bomb our homes and our churches and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead, and as difficult as that is, we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer and one day we will win our freedom.
This preacher started his statement the way he did because his family was threatened. His house was bombed. This man understood the secret and unstoppable power of forgiveness and love. Because he knew that secret, he did wear down his enemies by his ability to suffer, he and those he led. In the end, Dr. Martin Luther King and those who followed him were ultimately victorious (though skirmishes still persist today).

One of the great secrets of this life is that when we are hurt, we have all the power. We have the power to hold onto the offense, grasping it like a thumb screw in a torture device. But we may, if we choose, unscrew it; we may release the one over whom we have power. And by our mercy, we may gain a brother. Obi Wan’s post-death powers kinda sucked. But for us, when we are hurt, we gain the power to draw a person into our family, the Family of God, by forgiveness. If we hold onto an offense, two people are enslaved: we become enslaved to managing the debt, and we gain a slave by his debt. When we forgive, two people are freed: ourselves and our newfound brother.

And this is what makes heaven possible. Esau wanted to murder Jacob his brother; there would be nowhere on earth or in heaven where he would be free if he held onto his grudge. Heaven is a place for free men and free women; slaves of hatred or greed or lust cannot enter. And perhaps this is for the protection of the slaves; it would not be paradise for Esau to spend all eternity with his sworn enemy, now immortal and un-murderable. But after he forgave his brother, eternity with one he loved would indeed be paradise. The same goes for every grudge and affair and war.

Jesus sets the bar pretty high. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” This is why Jesus was so serious about forgiveness being a requirement for heaven. A person cannot take a grudge past the pearly gates. If he is to enter, he must leave it at the door. A burden so large just won’t fit. In the end, Hell will have no veto on Heaven.

In Heaven (that is, when Heaven comes down to Earth), there will be many sets of enemies mutually present. There will be Romans and Vandals; there will be invaders and invaded; there will be the cheated on and cheaters; there will be Nazis and Jews; there will be white plantation owners and black slaves; there will be robbers and the robbed; there will be murders and the murdered; there will even be Dodgers fans and Giants fans. How can it be paradise for them all? Why won’t the joy of some of them cause the misery of others? How can all these enemies share the same space? Only through forgiveness.

And so we may all enter together into the Light of Forgiveness. We all have offended our brothers and sisters and friends and enemies and mothers and fathers and even God. When we ask for forgiveness, we can all have debts forgiven. And when we bind together others of our brethren, drawing them in when we forgive them, we may leave at the great gates of towering pearl, all our debts: those that we owe to others, and those that others owe to us. This great pile of unforgiveness, hideous, dark and stinking, will be left behind to be burned outside the City like refuse. Then we will stand there before those wonderful and shining off-white gates before the City of God, and they will open before us. And we will be dazzled by the Light of God, unencumbered by our own debts or even our heavy book of debts owed to us. And then, to the sound of trumpets, we will run together into that glorious Light, free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty that we’ll be free at last.

"On Forgiveness" Table of Contents

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