He told our group at church that his son was murdered during a robbery and the perpetrator was going on trial in a few days. With tear-filled eyes, the father described the struggle he faced, day after day sitting in a courtroom listening to gruesome testimony and watching legal maneuvering to protect someone who took away the life of his son.
As I looked around, many were rubbing their eyes, reaching for tissues or openly crying. How could we help someone in so much pain who was about to experience even more heartache?
The group leader stood and called on us to pray for him. Before starting, someone got up, stood over the father and gently placed a hand on his shoulder. Quickly all of us gathered around him with hands reaching out to gently touch. The group leader asked God to give the grieving father Holy courage during the trial. He prayed for justice to be done and prayed for grace for the father and even for the murderer.
After the prayer concluded, everyone, 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”
This is God’s people at their best. When someone is suffering, or struggling or wrestling with issues such as forgiveness, the church is where we offer Holy comfort only God can provide.
Is forgiveness ever easy? Of course not! The Father had not learned to forgive, yet. But practicing forgiveness is a vital step toward learning to put our complete faith and trust in the One who so graciously forgives us.
When people ask me why they should come to church or participate in various ministries or small groups? My answer: To learn how to be a better Christian when being a better Christian is hard: Practicing forgiveness is the hardest of all.
Maybe an employer treated you unfairly or a coworker climbed to the top over your back. A spouse abandoned you. Your parents failed you. You were “done wrong.”
“Don’t get mad, get even” is a reasonable response in the face of gross unfairness, isn’t it?
The Bible calls revenge, vengeance and has something to say: “Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, “I will take vengeance;” (Romans 12:19)
Never avenge yourself. Leave that to God.
Personally, I don’t like God’s emphasis on “never avenge.” I would want to alter the language and say — occasionally. Certainly, there should be exceptions for extreme examples such as our grieving father being forced to attend the trial of his son’s murderer. No: never means “never!”
But, 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)
People get hurt. People hurt others. What is most important is how you respond?
“It took me a long time to understand what it means to forgive. I always wondered how I could forgive someone who chose to hurt me? But after a lot of soul searching, I realized that forgiveness isn’t about accepting or excusing their behavior. It’s about letting it go and preventing their behavior from destroying my heart.” – Unknown
One attribute I admire about former South African President, Nelson Mandela was his ability to forgive. After 27 years of prison, he could have chosen revenge but instead chose forgiveness.
President Ford pardoned former President Nixon on a Sunday afternoon after receiving Holy Communion at a local church. Ford wrote at the time, “I do believe, with all my heart and mind and spirit that I, not as President but as a humble servant of God will not receive justice without mercy if I fail to show mercy.”
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Remember the father we prayed for earlier? He sent me a letter after the trial. “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.”
Is forgiving someone who has grievously harmed you ever easy? Never! Is a spirit of forgiveness necessary and worthwhile? Absolutely! Your willingness to forgive could be a turning point in your life, your health, your faith and ultimately could be the best witness of what you really stand for as a Christian.