On Forgiveness

Forgiveness was the topic in a recent adult Sunday school class at my church. We discussed several examples of publically proclaimed forgiveness as the Amish community forgiving the surviving family of the person whose murder-suicide spree at a local school shocked the community. My hallmark act of forgiveness was watching Pope John Paul II visit the imprisoned person who shot him, and then grant him forgiveness.

The reconciliation period for South Africans after years of Apartheid was a monumental cultural event involving forgiveness. As Lutherans, we also aware of our own denomination recently seeking forgiveness from the Mennonites/Anabaptists for the persecution Lutherans did to them hundreds of years ago during the Reformation period.

Through the words of the Lord’s Prayer – “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” – we ask God for forgiveness to receive forgiveness and to forgive others. Yet, how often in our life do we ask forgiveness from someone? How often do we go out of our way to grant someone forgiveness for something that deeply hurt us? How often do we receive forgiveness from someone for something we did?

If our group is an indication, events of forgiveness do not common occurrences – even though our doctrine is very clear: As a corollary to God’s forgiveness, ELCA Lutherans believe that all Christians have been given the responsibility of forgiving another’s sins against them (Matthew 6:14, Mark 11:25, Luke 17:3ff).

I think of a person with whom I’ve had limited discussions. On our first meeting (and to my surprise) he told me his story of the hateful burden brought upon him by someone close. Months passed, and then I heard the same story in our second encounter. Later it hit me – the only way he can free himself of the baggage he carries is by forgiving the person who deeply hurt him. Unfortunately, our paths have not crossed in some time because I need to say that he is in command of his own heeling.

Today’s culture has its share of attitudes as “in your face” and “don’t get mad, get even.” Many glorify the behaviors demonstrated on reality shows. The instant nature of today electronic media also has a tendency to promote bitterness, grudges, lawsuits, resentment, and mistrust. Our political climate is a story in itself.

Through the current war in Afghanistan, regular threats from Al-Qaeda, and numerous other topics involving Muslims, the events of 9-11 remain with us every day. Is it not our Christian obligation to initiate reconciliation? As Christians, should we be the ones to say to Muslims, “We forgive all Muslims for the inhumane acts caused by a few Islamic terrorists.”

Tenth Avenue North’s Healing Begins

On Freeing a Burden

With Christians all over the world in the midst of Holy Week that leads up to the pinnacle of the Christian calendar and the foundation for the Christian faith, this post gives you something to ponder.

People activate a variety of feelings within us. Although the feelings can be positive or negative, people can make us angry, bitter, instill anguish, feel rejected or unloved, scared or stressful.

The Christian God is one of love, grace, acceptance, peace, and forgiveness; however, we live in a world in which we encounter circumstances and people that push our button of negative emotions.

While God gives us his unconditional love and grace to all, we allow the actions of others to act as a heavy collar of burden to drag us down in daily life.

While God is the ultimate forgiver of the sins we commit during our earthy existence, our pride (much of the time) blocks us from doing what God would do – and that is to forgive.

From his book Christianity and Process Thought: Spirituality for a Changing World, Dr. Joseph Bracken (retired professor of theology, Xavier University), writes this enlightening words.

Especially in his healing ministry, Jesus touched the minds and hearts of those around him. He cured their physical diseases, but above all, he offered them forgiveness of their sins. Thereby, he assured them that he cared for them as the unique individuals that they really were. He restored to them the humanity that they had somehow lost in the sordid scramble for the good things of the world. All that he asked in return was that they be as humane to one another as he had been to them, that they extend to one another the same practical forgiveness of sins as he had offered to them.

So while we carry the yoke of pent-up anger, bitterness, resentment, rejection, hurt, fear, stress, and other related emotions caused by others, we must remember that the beneficiary may not comprehend or appreciate your act, it is your forgiveness to others that will lead you to a new freedom in life that is without the yoke of burden. Yes, another version of a Judaism Passover theme of “triumph over adversity.”

Happy Easter to we Christians…. and yes, Happy Pesach to those in Judaism.