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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “One Bad Apple”
This episode concerns bullying in the traditional sense, which is, like most evils in the world, something the human race will likely have to deal with until the end of time. And since it’s a big problem for the younger generation, it was important for this series to touch on it. However, as a result of doing so, it also dealt more indirectly with related topics: making an effort to understand others, treating others how you want to be treated, forgiveness, and reconciliation. In a larger sense, all of those can be considered part of a greater subdomain–namely forgiveness.
Forgiveness is one of the biggest tenets of the New Testament. While it’s referred to in the Bible as a whole, it was one of the core precepts of Lord Jesus’ ministry on Earth and, as a big part of His purpose was granting forgiveness and absolution of sins, it took a whole new prominence in that portion. In Matthew 18:21-22, the Bible reads: “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.'” It’s important to realize when reading this passage that, within the Jewish tradition, seven is the “perfect” number and it can be thought of as simply meaning “a lot” or “many”. So in this passage Jesus is not so much assigning a definite value, with us being able to hate people after the 78th time, but emphasizing that you need to forgive others much more frequently than what Peter is thinking. And the reason behind it is clear in the ensuing parable about the unforgiving servant, as well as in this earlier passage in Matthew: “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.” (Matthew 6:14-15). Basically, if we expect God to continuously forgive us for our own sins, then we need to do the same to the people in our lives.
However, this isn’t nearly as easy as it looks. In some cases it might be. If someone got into a childish argument, lost their temper and said an insult they shouldn’t have, or if they did some minor infraction or act of selfishness such as blowing me off to go have fun on their own, or said something that manipulated me to get a favor, or the like…in other words anything that can be pretty easily redeemed or made up for…then it’s pretty clear in those situations that I’m willing to forgive them and seek reconciliation.
But many people in the world have to deal with far more severe wounds and hurt. My grandmother’s brother-in-law, for example, despised my father and uncle and wouldn’t have anything to do with my grandfather (his brother), even when he was sick and my grandmother needed help taking care of him as well as her sons, and things got so bad that he was thrown out of my grandfather’s funeral and he and my grandmother barely spoke to each other again until they both died. Never did he apologize for his behavior or express any desire at reconciliation or forgiveness in that time. I honestly don’t know if he would have if my side of the family had reached out to him, but he had hurt them so much over the years none of them ever even wanted to try. It always made me a bit sad knowing my grandmother left the world still hating someone down to her last breath.
Family grudges, hurt, and lasting pain from betrayal and pain are harder sins to forgive. Yet even those don’t compare to a lot of things. Some people came from families where the parents were verbally, emotionally, physically, and even sexually abusive. Sometimes they had to endure it for years and required heavy amounts of counseling and therapy to move past these events or even function from day to day, and many probably still have to deal with it on a daily basis in one form or another. Whether these offenders end up in prison or walk free to this day, it’s likely that they’re rather troubled, even frightened, by the call of Jesus to forgive these individuals; and rightly so. And that doesn’t begin to get into more serious offenders who might be guilty of things as terrible as rape or even murder of a friend or family member; perhaps even attempted murder of the victim. How can any sane individual expect the victims in these cases to forgive and reconcile? Especially if they refuse to acknowledge any wrongdoing and believe “they have nothing to apologize for”?
Well, it’s important to note two things. One is that while the Bible always encourages forgiveness, reconciliation is more of the ideal rather than always possible. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18). “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14). Something is important to note in both of those passages. While we should definitely try to live at peace with everyone as the ultimate goal, we should realize it isn’t always possible. That was certainly true in the New Testament days. Obviously, the religious leaders of the day were never going to get along with the emerging Church. Certainly not the Romans soon afterward when Christian persecution began. Trying to act like those individuals were going to be friends and “chummy” was insanity. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness means we no longer hold the wrong someone has done against us or allow it to dwell in our minds, while reconciliation is actually making amends and rebuilding a broken relationship. Forgiveness is always the loving, Christ-like thing to do. Reconciliation…perhaps not. If I had a parent who was drunk and physically abusive, it would be Christ-like for me to forgive them later in life for the wrong they did to me and not nurse lasting anger. It would be foolishness on my part, on the other hand, if they persisted in drunkenness and propensity for violence and I decided to bring my own child around them to visit; both toward them, toward my child, and even toward myself. The more loving thing to do in that case for everyone is to stay away.
The other part is to realize that forgiveness is almost more for our own benefit rather than for the one we’re forgiving. Paul cautioned in Ephesians 4:26-27, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” The verse acknowledges that getting angry is perfectly natural, but it’s important to resolve it quickly because, so long as we’re infuriated and carrying a grudge and hate inside ourselves, we’re leaving ourselves as open vessels to evil. A multitude of physical and mental health problems all follow from unresolved anger and pain. I had a family member who, as a child, tried to call out a member of his Church for abusing him, and this member of the Church twisted around the story to make it look as if he was the one at fault the whole time. This caused a massive psychological wound to this family member; leading him to confront every problem he faced from then on in with anger and aggression so he could “intimidate” everyone into not pushing him around as he was pushed around when he was a child, and after that day he didn’t cry again for over 30 years. In addition, his blood pressure went through the roof and he suffered bouts of depression that strained his marriage to the breaking point; all from one incident scarring him and from never resolving his hate for that one Church member. Whether or not this member ever got his punishment or expressed remorse for what he had done didn’t matter in this case. What mattered is that this family member had to resolve this so he could get on with his life, grow as a person, and not pass on the curse of “facing everything by getting angry” to his children.
Jesus wants us to be complete, mature, healthy individuals. We’ll never be that way if we’re arrested in development by past hurt and anger. And we’ll never be free of past hurt and anger so long as we’re unwilling to forgive the one responsible. It’ll continue to control us and repeatedly hurt us again…and again…and again…for the rest of our natural lives. To me, that’s why Jesus gave us such stern warnings about forgiving one another. Maybe we can never change the other person, but we can refuse to let the other person dictate how we live from that day on. We can set ourselves free.
Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for your Word, which encourages us time and again to follow Jesus’ example of never-ceasing forgiveness and to be free of all hatred and grudges that keep us burdened by pain and misery. Help us always to follow His example in forgiving others; for our own benefit if nothing else. And if there is lasting hate and resentment in my own life that I am unwilling, or unable, to let go, please direct me to the help I need to resolve it so that I will continue to grow in every way to be like Christ. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”