Forgiveness

Last week, on a friend’s recommendation, Carolyn and I started listening to the podcast “Dirty John.” It’s a six-episode true-crime story, reported and edited by Christopher Goffard of the LA Times. Worth a listen.

Anyway, the fourth episode is called “Forgiveness,” and, as we were listening, I found myself thinking, I don’t think I agree with that understanding of forgiveness. What was being presented as forgiveness (by one person — I won’t name who, so I don’t spoil anything) seemed like a brushing-over, a non-acknowledgment of reality; it seemed more like willful ignorance, choosing to pretend that some very real and important actions weren’t actually real or important.

Eugene Peterson writes (Living the Message, April 28):

The word forgiveness has been watered down by journalistic cant and careless practice. It frequently means no more than, “I’ll let it go this time — I won’t let it bother me — but don’t do it again.” It is the verbal equivalent to a shoulder shrug. So there needs to be repeated return to the New Testament to renovate the word, to discover its vitality, its strength, its power, its versatility; to realize that it is the most creative act anyone can engage in; to know that more new life springs from acts of forgiveness than anything else; and to believe that the parent who is called on to engage in an act of forgiveness is in a literally god-like position.

Another friend recently pointed me to Desmond Tutu’s The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our Worldco-authored with his daughter Mpho. My friend said it was tremendously helpful for his own processing and thought it might be good for me too; he was right.

Tutu begins by stating two simple truths:

there is nothing that cannot be forgiven, and there is no one undeserving of forgiveness. When you can see and understand that we are all bound to one another—whether by birth, by circumstance, or simply by our shared humanity—then you will know this to be true.

When you’ve been hurt, that can be hard to hear. It can be hard to want to forgive. It’s much easier when we’ve been wronged to feel justified, to cling to our grievance, to consider ourselves as having the moral high ground, perhaps even to hold on to our right for revenge. At the end of the introduction, there’s a prayer, which begins:

I want to be willing to forgive
But I dare not ask for the will to forgive
In case you give it to me
And I am not yet ready

Too real. And Tutu doesn’t skip over the very real feelings of those who have been wronged, acknowledging the reality and validity of our experiences, while also drawing us forward:

Know that what was done to you was wrong, unfair, and undeserved. You are right to be outraged. And it is perfectly normal to want to hurt back when you have been hurt. But hurting back rarely satisfies. We think it will, but it doesn’t. … Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us.

As Tutu lays it out, the fourfold path of forgiveness and healing is this:

  1. Telling the story: sharing the facts — what happened
  2. Naming the hurt: sharing the feelings behind the facts — what was lost
  3. Granting forgiveness: recognizing our shared humanity — learning to tell a new story
  4. Renewing or releasing the relationship: stepping into a future unfettered by the past
Rembrandt, “The Return of the Prodigal Son” (1669).

More often than not, we just do #3, without understanding that each piece is important because forgiveness is not just an act for us as human beings, but rather a process. It takes time to forgive — and not time in the sense that if we wait long enough, we’ll forget about it, but rather time in the sense that we may have to forgive over and over again until we have truly given up any right of revenge, any wish for retribution, any desire for the other’s ill.

With TIME Magazine declaring as their 2017 Person of the Year the Silence Breakers — the women and men who spoke up about sexual harassment and assault — #1 and #2 have broken their way into the public awareness, and that’s important. The journey of forgiveness begins with naming and acknowledging the full extent of what has happened.

But it can’t stop there; if we recognize our shared humanity, that all of us will, at some point (and sometimes the same point), be in a position of being the transgressor and the transgressed against. It is forgiveness that unlocks the cycle of retribution and bitterness, that frees us from our past, and opens the way forward.

For me, learning #4 was the most helpful insight. There can be a sense that forgiveness means we must go back to how things were before, as if nothing ever happened. It was liberating instead to read these two options:

Releasing a relationship is how you free yourself from victimhood and trauma. You can choose to not have someone in your life any longer, but you have released the relationship only when you have truly chosen that path without wishing that person ill. Releasing is refusing to let an experience or a person occupy space in your head or heart any longer. It is releasing not only the relationship but your old story of the relationship.

Renewing a relationship is not restoring a relationship. We do not go back to where we were before the hurt happened and pretend it never happened. We create a new relationship out of our suffering, one that is often stronger for what we have experienced together. Our renewed relationships are often deeper because we have faced the truth, recognized our shared humanity, and now tell a new story of a relationship transformed.

Wherever you may be on your journey of forgiveness, with whatever needs to be addressed — or confessed — and forgiven, I pray you’ll have the strength to keep walking.

The truth about dishonesty

A fun animation to go along with Duke psychology and behavioral economics professor Dan Ariely’s talk, based on his book The Honest Truth about Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone–Especially Ourselves. Includes some fascinating insights into confession, forgiveness, and sin, as well as the financial crisis.

What can separate us from the love of God?

Just a reminder. Romans 8:29-39:

God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

Do you hear the people sing?

The first time I saw Les Misérables was in 1996, when the show came to Hong Kong and my mom took me; and it’s been one of my favorite musicals–and stories–ever since, with tremendous set pieces, brilliant melodies, and explorations of law and grace and fortune and forgiveness and the marginalized.

The epilogue version of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” has got to be one of my favorite parts, though. I managed to get through all of the movie (which I saw last night) without tearing up. And then the epilogue came.

Here’s the version from the 25th anniversary performance (beginning around 1:45), with a bonus rendition of “Bring Him Home” by four Jean Valjean’s afterward.

Do you hear the people sing, lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light.
For the wretched of the earth, there is a flame that never dies;
even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord;
they will walk behind the plowshare, they will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward!

Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing? Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!

P.S. You can get the movie soundtrack for $5 on Amazon; not sure how long that’s going to last so you should snap that up!

Spurgeon: what a joyful Christian you ought to be!

Grateful for this reminder of perspective from Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening:

“Thou, Lord, hast made me glad through thy work.” Psalm 92:4

Do you believe that your sins are forgiven, and that Christ has made a full atonement for them? Then what a joyful Christian you ought to be! How you should live above the common trials and troubles of the world! Since sin is forgiven, can it matter what happens to you now? Luther said, “Smite, Lord, smite, for my sin is forgiven; if thou hast but forgiven me, smite as hard as thou wilt;” and in a similar spirit you may say, “Send sickness, poverty, losses, crosses, persecution, what thou wilt, thou hast forgiven me, and my soul is glad.”

Christian, if thou art thus saved, whilst thou art glad, be grateful and loving. Cling to that cross which took thy sin away; serve thou him who served thee. “I beseech you therefore, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

Let not your zeal evaporate in some little ebullition of song. Show your love in expressive tokens. Love the brethren of him who loved you. If there be a Mephibosheth anywhere who is lame or halt, help him for Jonathan’s sake. If there be a poor tried believer, weep with him, and bear his cross for the sake of him who wept for thee and carried thy sins.

Since thou art thus forgiven freely for Christ’s sake, go and tell to others the joyful news of pardoning mercy. Be not contented with this unspeakable blessing for thyself alone, but publish abroad the story of the cross.

Holy gladness and holy boldness will make you a good preacher, and all the world will be a pulpit for you to preach in. Cheerful holiness is the most forcible of sermons, but the Lord must give it you. Seek it this morning before you go into the world. When it is the Lord’s work in which we rejoice, we need not be afraid of being too glad.