~ Forgiveness at the cross ~
The process of forgiving someone who has wronged us brings us once again to the cross of Christ.
In writing about someone who had inflicted pain on the Corinthian church, Paul makes this fascinating statement: “Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:10).
Notice his last phrase, “in the presence of Christ.” Sometimes counselors place an empty chair across from a client and ask them to pretend the person who has wounded them is sitting in it. They are then encouraged to speak words of forgiveness to that person as if he or she were actually there. In some cases, it proves to be an effective technique in facilitating forgiveness.
As Christians, however, we should not only forgive in the presence of an offender, but — following Paul — in the presence of Christ.
If a chair can help convey the presence of another person, what better way to convey Christ’s presence than by imagining ourselves at the foot of the cross? There we bring our hurts; there we own our resentment and desire for revenge. And above all, there we receive strength to forgive.
As we stand at the cross, we must remember that initially forgiveness is more about a decision than an emotion. First and foremost, it is a matter of the will. We come to a place where we choose to forgive. We might be struggling with negative feelings toward those who have hurt us, and we may continue to do so for a considerable time.
What is most important at first is our willingness. In forgiving, you send your will ahead by express. Your emotions generally come later by slow freight.
But what if we are unwilling to forgive? The hurt is so great, the anger and resentment so intense that nothing within us wants to let go of it. Then we should pray, “Lord, make me willing to be made willing.”
As a Puritan preacher once advised, “If you can’t come to God with a broken heart, come to God for one.”
Something to think about: On the cross if Jesus bore both the wrongs done to him and the wrongs done to us, then when he cried, “Father, forgive them,” could it be he was offering forgiveness not only to those who had wronged him but also to those who have wronged us?
If that is true, then in effect, Jesus has already extended forgiveness to the people for what they did to us. So if we can’t forgive them, we can pray, “Jesus, you live in me. Therefore speak the words in me and through me. Help me to join you in saying, ‘Father, forgive them.’ Even though I can’t speak them myself, I can at least allow you to speak them in me.”
Christ spoke the word of forgiveness in me one day as I struggled to let go of my hatred for an unforgivable thing someone had done to me. From this person I had suffered assaults that were irrational and weighted by envy, lying, and slander. But on this day a final act came to light, one that to me was and still is unthinkable, one designed to destroy me and all I held dear. The act went right to the core of me. In pain and amazement, I knew for the first time how in the passion of hate one person could kill another human being.
I fell to my knees and cried out to God for help. “Please do not let me hate,” I cried over and over. Getting no relief, I phoned a friend to come over and help me pray. All afternoon, having sat myself down in the living room rocking chair, I cried out to God and my prayer partner cried out with me.
Then came a moment when instantly my pleading was interrupted by an amazing awareness of Christ in me, and from that center where he and I were mysteriously one, forgiveness was extended to my enemy. It was as if Christ in and through me forgave the person (who can explain such a thing?) — yet I, too, forgave.
Like me, we obtain grace in his presence to release resentment and revenge. As we wait at the cross, Jesus will speak the forgiving word in us. The healing of our hurts and the transformation of our feelings toward those who have wounded us can then really begin.
At the cross, it is the place to forgive. Hear Jesus say, “Father, forgive them.” God’s grace — initiating, sustaining, healing, transforming — is sufficient and abundant there. It is grace to forgive.
Bishop Thomas E. Davis is a pastor at Christ Temple Apostolic Church of Chugiak.