We were made for community and for relationships; to be in a relationship with God and others. John Donne’s famous poem expresses this: ‘No man is an Island, entire of himself…’ An early passage in the bible states ‘It is not good for man to be alone’. However, our world and lives are so often a pool of broken and strained relationships. Is there a better way?
A popular song says: ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’. For lasting, healthy relationships we need to be able to admit our failures. Yet there is another, equally important, attitude. We also need to be able to forgive.
The bible gives us foundations and instructions to help us with our relationships. See for example the Old Testament book of Proverbs, or the second part of most of the New Testament letters or Epistles, as well as the teaching of Jesus. These relate to everyday things we are familiar with such as communication, truth, commitment, humility, love, restraint, respect, our priorities and so forth. The problem is that since none of us are perfect, we don’t always live according to these and other healthy values. We hurt and are hurt. Forgiveness is therefore essential for healthy and sustainable relationships.
The concept of forgiveness goes against our fallen natures. We feel we have a right to hang on to grievances and to use them to punish others. Lack of forgiveness and self-righteousness go hand in hand. This attitude diminishes and destroys our relationships and, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, it harms us.
Jesus shows us the higher way of love and forgiveness. (Echoes of this are captured in the song ‘One’ by Irish band U2). Though innocent, from the cross Jesus cried ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’. He came to save sinners by his holy life and sacrificial death for us and wants to lead us in new ways of living and loving. Through the Holy Spirit who we receive from being connected to God through Christ Jesus and spending time with Him, we are given strength to love and forgive. Forgiveness may go against our natures, but as the poet Alexander Pope wrote ‘To err is human, to forgive, Divine’. We need to look outside of ourselves for help. We need new natures; to be created anew.
Much more needs to be said about this crucial subject than space allows. I encourage all to explore further through studying God’s word and through the instruction in God’s word which is a part of sound Christian worship. However, two further points warrant special mention. Firstly, the bible states ‘We love, because He (God) first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). The undeserved love, forgiveness and mercy we Christians show to others is grounded in God’s underserved love, mercy and forgiveness offered to all and experienced by those who receive it. We deserve his anger and punishment, but he offers Himself to us in the costly sacrifice of the eternal Son for our forgiveness instead. Forgiveness flows from first owning our own unworthiness. Jesus therefore taught us to pray in the Lord’s prayer ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’. If we have God’s forgiveness we will seek to pass this on to others.
Secondly, St Paul writes towards the end of Romans 12:
‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean sweeping serious wrongs under the carpet or acting as though they don’t matter, but rather addressing them in a way that best leads to reconciliation and mutual growth. Knowing God is righteous and just, as well as loving, frees us to leave retribution in His hands and to get on with living His new way and to compassionately call others to this new way so that they too pass from being under His justice and condemnation to being under his mercy, forgiveness and grace, now and forever.
(This article was inspired and motivated by a recent Eastside Lutheran College Chapel service I sat in on which students led and which was based on the theme of forgiveness. To ask questions or leave a comment go to https://www.splchobart.org/pastors-page and click on the word ‘comment’).
The aim of this Page is to be a safe place to explore the ultimate questions of meaning and purpose and to enquire about and discuss the Christian faith from a Lutheran perspective.
A Little About Me
I am Pastor Michael Steicke, often referred to as Pastor Mike. I have been a Lutheran Pastor for over 30 years, having served Parishes in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia, before moving to Tasmania to be the Pastor of St Peters Lutheran Parish in Hobart at the beginning of 2016.