Edward WallemanElder, Youth Ministry Leader
Read a message on forgiveness from Elder Ed:
Do You Want to Be Healed?
When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
– John 5:6
“Do you want to be healed?” It was a very insightful question then, and it’s pertinent to today’s struggles, too.
Right now we are hearing a lot about racial inequities, racial bias, and systemic racism; about racism and anti-racism; about police brutality and about police being brutalized; about meaningful protests and about rioting and looting; about dog whistles and about microaggressions. On every side we’re bombarded with arguments for this and against that. While we have been busy choosing sides, digging trenches, and lobbing arguments, there is one crucial element that we’ve been ignoring or even outright combatting against… Forgiveness.
We can never be free of bigotry and racism until we are free of hatred. And we can never be free of hatred until we learn to forgive.
Unforgiveness is a prison that we build for ourselves. It holds us captive to our own anger and bitterness. It overshadows and clouds our every impression of the world around us. It prevents us from truly hearing and understanding one another. It fools us into being offended by things that were not intended to cause offense. And it has kept us from discussing the really important matters for far too long.
It’s been said very often that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12), but the accompanying message always seems to end with a call to prayer. That’s good, but it’s not enough… We need to go deeper. We need to call each other to FORGIVE first, or else our prayers are useless!
Jesus Himself warned us, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25-26)
Every one of us needs to forgive, because we all need to be forgiven. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that crimes should go unprosecuted, but it does mean that we shouldn’t revel in the punishments that are handed down. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we can’t protest to put a spotlight on legitimate grievances, but it does mean that we aren’t seeking to harm anyone in the process. Prosecute crimes, protest injustice, vote your conscience, but do it without hatred in your heart.
Returning for a moment to Ephesians 6:12, my favorite translation of this verse is, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
We are not meant to fight against each other. We are meant to fight against the darkness, against the evil that currently holds the world in its power, primarily right now against Hate.
How do you fight against Hate? By refusing to give in to Hate. By refusing TO hate. By standing firm and saying to the darkness, “In the name of Jesus, I’m DONE playing your games! You can’t make me hate this person that I disagree with! It doesn’t matter how disagreeable they may seem to me in this moment, because I KNOW that they are made in the image and likeness of God Himself. No matter what I might be tempted to feel right now, I KNOW that He loves them! Therefore I will also love them, and I will forgive them!” Exercise your will by aligning it with God’s will. CHOOSE to love. CHOOSE to forgive, especially when you don’t think you want to.
How much are we required to forgive? Up to and including our own murder, if it ever comes to that. In Acts chapters 6 and 7 we learn that Stephen was brought before the local council for teaching about Jesus and was falsely accused of blasphemy. During his trial he preached about Jesus, and they ended up stoning him to death on the spot. What was the very last thing he said before he died? “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
While he was dying, he was forgiving the very ones who were killing him. That’s powerful. That’s the type of forgiveness that can change the world. Wherever did he learn that kind of forgiveness? He learned it from the very One he had been preaching:
“When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” (Luke 23:33-34)
For most of my life, I’ve consoled myself with the thought that people who escape getting caught will have to answer for their crimes when they stand before the Lord in judgement. I considered this a form of faith, and I used it to help me cope. It’s true that we will each face the Lord in the Day of Judgement, but it turns out that this was a very weak form of faith on my part. A stronger faith would honestly hope that EVERYONE (yes, even that creep whose face just popped up in your mind) would come to faith in the Lord Jesus and be forgiven, because if we’re not hoping for that, then it means WE haven’t really forgiven those people.
As a nation, we’ve already been lying here in this condition for a long time. So now it comes to it: “Do you want to be healed?” Or would you rather hold on to bitterness, envy, hatred, and strife? If you really want to be healed… if you really want our nation to be healed… it all starts with forgiveness:
Forgive the other person for not seeing your side. (They may be UNABLE to see it!)
Forgive our ancestors for leaving us this legacy of hatred, bigotry, and racism.
Forgive everyone who has benefitted directly or indirectly from slavery and from its repercussions. Forgive those who accuse you of complicit, explicit, or implicit racism.
Forgive the officers who have killed civilians. Forgive the civilians who have killed officers.
Forgive the leaders who haven’t done enough. Forgive the leaders who’ve tried to do too much, or the wrong things.
Forgive the person who tried to speak words of comfort, encouragement, or peace, but didn’t choose those words to your satisfaction. Forgive the person who attacked them for their choice of words instead of hearing what was intended.
And lastly: Don’t forget to forgive yourself.