Several years ago, a father told one of our small groups how his son was murdered in the midst of a robbery and the man who killed him would be going on trial in just a few days. With tearful eyes, he described the struggle he would face, day after day sitting in that courtroom listening to the gruesome testimony and watching the legal maneuvering to protect the murderer, the man who cruelly took away the life of his son.
For a long time after he spoke, no one said a word. What could you say? As I looked around many of us were rubbing our eyes, reaching for tissues or just openly crying. How could we help someone in so much pain who we knew was about to experience even more heartache?
After a long silence, the group leader stood and called on us to pray. Before he could start however, someone as if on cue got up from her chair and stood over the father and gently placed a hand on his shoulder. Quickly all of us stood up to join her so that we were all gathered around him with hands reaching out to gently touch. The group leader asked for God to give the father Holy courage during the trial. He prayed for God to continually offer comfort in the midst of the pain. He prayed for justice to be done but he also prayed for grace for the father and for the murderer.
After the prayer was over, everyone, still wiping away tears, hugged the father, hugged each other and slowly took their seats. The father then said: “Thank you. You have helped me more than you will ever know. For months I have suffered in silence while being strong for my children and others. You gave me an opportunity to cry. Maybe someday I can even forgive”
Advent refers to a time of preparation before the birth of Christ. How should we prepare? Nothing is emphasized in the Bible more often than forgiving love. It’s all part of a Christmas present called God’s grace. Is forgiveness ever easy? Of course not, but it is a vital part of learning to put our complete faith and trust in One who so graciously forgives us. Here is the best part: As you learn to forgive others, you begin to heal.
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
It sounds so simple and fair. Forgive others and you will be forgiven. Jesus tells of a servant who is forgiven a huge debt by the king, but when presented a similar opportunity to forgive someone else the servant chooses punishment instead. The king finds out and is outraged. “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured. (Mat 18:32-34)
Someone forgiven of millions promptly rushes out to bash someone’s head in over five bucks. This is a no-brainer, Jesus! Of course the idiot should be tortured — right? But the last verse sneaks up on you. “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive from your heart.” (35)
“Wait a minute!” we all want to shout. “Surely you can’t be talking about me? You don’t know how much I’ve been hurt! My spouse abandoned me. I was abused as a child. My business partner skipped town with all the profits. My employer has been an unmerciful tyrant. Surely you’re not suggesting that I could be tortured for not offering forgiveness for someone like that?”
Perhaps your torture has already begun. There is a stark reality to life we must all face. People get hurt. People hurt others. What is important is how you respond?
Your attitude in dealing with your pain is also critical factor in your healing. Forgiveness is a process for healing the victim not necessarily freeing the oppressor. The word ‘forgiveness’ is mentioned more than ninety times in the Bible so it must be important. A psychiatrist told me she would lose more than half of her patients if they could learn to forgive.
Remember the father we prayed for earlier? He sent me a letter several months later after the trial for the murderer of his son concluded.
“Before you all prayed for me, I was trapped within my own hatred. Just being able to share my anger and my pain with all of you; knowing that your prayers and God’s love would be with me throughout the trial helped to ease my suffering. It will take a long time to completely forgive and heal but I’m off to a good beginning.”
Forgiveness ultimately brings healing. The alternative to forgiveness — is torture!
Advent is a time of preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. How will you prepare?
You will never fully appreciate the glory of Christmas unless you are willing to experience the preparation called Advent.