Archive for the ‘Forgiveness’ Category

(image from Gaudenscor)

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told his disciples when they asked (bet they regretted that one) that they had to be prepared to forgive someone who sinned against them seventy times seven (sometimes put seventy-seven times. Not sure which is more correct, but it doesn’t really matter – it’s A LOT).

There are lots of other verses about forgiveness spattered throughout Matthew and the rest of the Bible. You get the impression that it seems to be a good idea. It brings with it the idea of reconciliation and shalom (peace and wholeness) and joy and renewal and mercy and the general topsy-turvy nature of the kingdom of God.

Wonderful. Sounds like such a good theory, doesn’t it? Forgiveness seems to bring benefit to all, even the person who has to get out there and do it. And they all live happily ever after.

Only, I’m just not sure that that is always the case. What if the pain from the hurt is constant and ongoing? What if the person doesn’t recognise that they have done anything wrong? What if they act like you and your hurt don’t exist?

It seems that the jury’s out on whether you need someone to repent before you forgive them. I’m not sure either way. Certainly, it’s not a great idea to carry round a heavy burden of pain which could be laid to rest, but without any acknowledgement from the other party, sometimes it doesn’t feel like there is anywhere safe to put it. As sinners, we need God to forgive us, but the Bible is pretty clear that in order to turn to Christ, we need to repent of all the things we have done wrong.

But then if you look back into recent African history, you soon discover that the people there are good at this. They seem to recognise the value of laying down the burden which some see as being “trapped in a prison of hatred”. (see Rwandan forgiveness article) Terrible things have happened in Rwanda, to name just one country, but people have been prepared to be able to move on. So challenging for us.

Forgiveness hurts. It isn’t easy. It isn’t glamourous. It isn’t fun. And you might never gain recognition for it, because the person who sinned against you may never admit it either to you or to anyone else. They may never demonstrate any sort of remorse. Are you prepared to forgive, even without repentance?

Somehow the cross has to be central. Our burden of hurt is something we can lay down at the foot of the cross, knowing that our sins and those of the other can be met and dealt with there. Jesus died for me and also for the person who abused me. He died for me and those who have rejected me. He died for me, just as he died for everyone.

Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. And it never should. Forgiveness is just that. It means giving up our resentment against someone. It means we don’t harbour a grievance against them.

I think that the seventy times seven reflects the difficulty of this challenge. We have the choice as we wake up each day, as to whether we will forgive so-and-so or not. Seventy times seven. Surely, that’s the number of times we have to forgive each offence, seventy times seven different ones? (Though in some cases, maybe it is more than just one wrong.) It requires continual effort and grace.

It might be painful. It might feel (and quite frankly often does) totally crap. But it is somehow necessary. And the God who does not remain silent, the God who forgives us our sin, and who sent his Spirit upon us is there throughout, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Am I there yet? No. Do I want to be there? Maybe. On a good day. But I do have to keep on trusting in the goodness of God, in and through everything.

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The other day I went to a different church for a change. Also, partly because I didn’t get out of bed early enough to go the other one. Anyway, I went somewhere different.

It seemed a fairly normal service. Then the sermon started. And things got a little messy. Somehow, the preacher managed to link what he was saying to contemporary culture via the link of Jimmy Saville. As far as I’m concerned, that’s pretty bad news.

Yes, the news about Jimmy Saville broke a while ago. And yes, the abuse that happened to me was years and years ago. And through many a counselling session and many a good chat with a friend, it has been dealt with. With a few wounds along the way.

But I used to spend hours with my brother watching Jim’ll Fix It. We loved it. Jim even wrote a letter of support to my school choir once upon a time. He was a charismatic figure we all loved.

And he came crashing down from his pedestal when the news broke last year – I don’t even remember when. But then it was like someone turning the knife in the wound as day after day, I woke up to hear the headlines reporting even more allegations about him. Newspapers splashed his picture all over their front pages. He was everywhere. Truly, it was horrible.

Yes, what he did was completely wrong and he should have been brought to justice, a LONG time ago. But surely now that’s old news? The media got it very wrong, by making it be so present each day. And Fragmentz wrote a fantastic blog entry about it at the time and about being a survivor. Fragmentz – Some thoughts on being a survivor and Jimmy Saville

So when the preacher mentioned Jimmy Saville, I was angry. I didn’t need to go there again. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one there to have found it hard.

But then it got worse. Society can condemn Jimmy Saville because they consider what he did to have been morally wrong. But it considers sex outside of marriage as ok when it is between two consenting adults; something which the Bible tells us is wrong. Yes, I can see that point of view, in fact, I do believe that any sex outside marriage is not part of God’s plan for us. Yes, just because there are two consenting adults it doesn’t make it right.

However, by this time, something inside me was screaming You can’t liken sex outside of marriage to child abuse and paedophilia!!! I’m not even sure I heard the rest of what the guy said, as I was so angry. Abuse is morally wrong, and it has to remain separate from other sexual sins, simply because it is that. That doesn’t mean it cannot be forgiven, but it seemed to me like comparing the stealing of a penny sweet to murder.

After the service, I calmed down a bit. Spotting the preacher by the door, I decided to talk to him about what he said, and tell him that it had been totally unreasonable. That abuse affects something like 1 in 5 people (maybe even more) and that what he said would have been very difficult for many people to hear.

As I talked to him though, it turned out that he had no intention whatsoever of likening sex outside of marriage to child abuse. He hadn’t quite thought through what he had said enough to make the link – it had been a total accident. He accepted my criticism, said he would write it down for the future. And Jimmy Saville had also been one of his childhood heroes.

Instead of me seething throughout the rest of the day, and possibly descending into a place which I might have regretted, I felt alive. I had a life-giving conversation with someone who treated me as a valid conversation partner. And I’m hoping it made a difference for the future.

And whatever, it was another battle won for me. Another time when I didn’t descend into the dark and lonely place from where it seems impossible to escape. And I only hope that when someone gives me friendly criticism, I will be as ready to listen.

“If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” Matt 18:15

Preachers – just don’t go there with Jimmy Saville. It’s not cool, nor is it helpful. And please, read through what you have written before you proclaim it to a congregation…just in case. These things do happen.

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Well. Forgiveness. It’s a big one isn’t it? Somehow, it is something that always sounds really, really simple and easy. For those little things. But then something big comes along and you realise that you have to forgive there too.

And sometimes, you see people on the news, or on a TV programme (I remember they showed us one like that in R.S. at school) where there are people who have had terrible things happening to their families, and yet they have forgiven those who did it.

But as for me, I’m still angry sometimes. Sometimes I need to be reminded that it’s not about the big, public gestures but the everyday things. The choices I make and the attitudes I take. Do I remember each and every day that I have forgiven, so I will not carry that particular load any more. Somehow I doubt it.

For me, I have to keep forgiving something massive – the abuse from when I was smaller. But also the neglect from those who should have realised that there was something wrong. Somehow, that seems harder – I mean, surely it was at least noticeable that things weren’t right? That I wasn’t eating. That I was alone always. That I completely stopped talking.

What will it take to completely let go of all of this? I don’t know.

But one thing I do know, is that I have been forgiven much as well. Maybe not as much as a child molester, but let’s face it, I can’t stand right before God by myself. I am a sinner, but I have been made clean. And I think that is where I have to start.

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