Jennifer’s story was one of family abuse. As a little girl, she watched her father beat her mother until bruises appeared on her face. She remembers walking on the sidewalk that led to their church entrance as her mom wore sunglasses to hide the bruises. She refused to remove them as they entered the sanctuary. Jennifer was hurt beyond words to see her mother treated this way, but she knew as a child of God, she was expected to forgive him.
But most people find forgiveness hard, if not impossible. Especially for someone entrusted to our care, such as a parent or family member. Neglect alone can be enough to harbor resentment and bitterness. If you’ve had someone in your life who is tough to forgive, you know it takes everything to be civil and polite, let alone forgiving.
But as believers, God makes no exceptions. He calls us to forgive everyone, even our enemies. No matter what they’ve done. So why does God expect us to do something that seems impossible? Even unjust? Something our hearts just can’t endure? Doesn’t God understand what this person did to us and how we feel? In reality he does. And God empowers us to forgive by way of another command; to love one another.
God says to us “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” To “fulfill the law” means to meet all the demands of the spirit of the law, which we do only when we love. And this ability to love comes only from God and is a part of the grace he has extended to us.
Love is the pinnacle of the Christian faith. And as the Holy spirit matures us to the highest place in the Christian walk, we love as God loves. And a natural part of loving others is forgiveness. The spirit of love is so powerful that it overlooks the flaws and sins of others. It’s not naive to the sins of others, it just chooses to focus on the redeemable value in someone. This is the way God looks at you and me through the eyes of grace. In short, we are able to forgive only because we love, thus fulfilling this command from God.
Surprisingly, Jennifer wasn’t angry at her father. She longed for her dad to be healed of whatever ailed him. Not too long after the abuse, her dad left them and was not to be seen for many years. But one day, after Jennifer was grown and had a family of her own, her dad wanted to talk. He appeared at a family function and wanted to come clean. He approached his daughter and apologized for what he had done. As Jennifer recited the story through broken speech and tears, she told us of her response; “oh dad, what is there to forgive?” as she embraced him and welcomed him home.
I nearly fell out of my chair when I heard her say those words; “what is there to forgive?”. It was apparent that Jennifer’s love for her Dad was much stronger than any other emotion she might had felt for him. Her unwavering love for her father overshadowed even the crimes he committed against his own family.
None of us would have the power to forgive, or do anything of the Christian call if we don’t abide in the love and strength of God. If we try to do anything apart from God, even something as noble as forgiving someone, we’ll fail. We must ask God for the ability to love, and forgiveness will follow.
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”
Luke 6:27 NIV