In a world filled with unspeakable violence and unreasonable prejudice, forgiveness may be the most important thing we can teach our young people. We are so easily offended and so quick to seek revenge. Words escalate into bitter hatred and mob mentality, and then acts of brutal cruelty follow.
I have just finished reading two books about the Rwandan genocide that ravaged the people of that country just twenty years ago. And in two short weeks, I will visit that country and meet some of its people. Survivors now reconciling with those who murdered their friends and families. When reading about these things, two ideas push themselves forward. First: How inhumanly cruel people can be. Second: How only God helps people forgive and find new life.
We all know that forgiveness is the reason Jesus came willingly to die for us. Jesus, God incarnate, showed us what forgiveness looks like. He forgave Zaccheas. He forgave the sins of the paralytic. He forgave Peter for denying him. He forgave even his torturing killers. Peter asked, “How many times must I forgive my brother?” and Jesus answered “Seventy times seven.” (Matthew 12: 21-22)
And it is still very hard to do on an individual basis. Especially when injustice seems so powerful and forgiveness seems so weak.
“There is power in forgiveness.” I heard this man Andrew describing the new friendship he has built with his childhood friend, Callixte, after the friend had turned against his family during the Rwandan genocide.
“Forgiveness is all I have to give.” This is what Immaculee Ilibagiza said to the man who led the gang murder of her brother and mother and who had taunted her while she hid in a tiny bathroom.
If these individuals can forgive such atrocities, looking into the eyes that looked on them with murderous intent, and still offer forgiveness, what can possibly stand in the way of peace?
Teens who do not learn the power of forgiveness will grow up afraid and vengeful. How can we help them?
This should be a challenge for every parent and leader. Especially when it is hard, let us show teens how with God’s help, we can simply forgive, thereby releasing both ourselves and the offender. This is not easy for me. I have a weakness for judgment and have a hard time forgetting. But when I focus on others who have forgiven the unforgivable, I am inspired to do the same.
We talked about some of Jesus’ memorable forgiveness stories. Paul, too, forgave his tormentors, like the Philippian jailer, and the ones who persecuted him in every city. And what about Joseph, who famously forgave his brothers after they sold him to a passing Midianite caravan and told Jacob that Joseph was dead.
God is able to do exceedingly more than we ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20) By simply asking God to help them forgive, teens will begin to unleash the amazing power of God to fill our hearts with love. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that their action was right, or good, or just. It just means that you don’t hold on to the hurt and judgment that you placed between you and the other person. If we always wait for the other person to apologize, we may sink into bitterness, and become even more offended.
In this new year, let’s all strive to forgive more and show others how to forgive as well. God wants to fill us with love and mercy every day. This is the way that leads to peace.
By Sherree Funk
note: This blog was written on New Year’s Eve, 2011.
Here we are on the final day of 2011 talking about forgiveness of sins. How appropriate. Everyone wants to start a new year with a clean slate. And forgiveness of sins is the most complete cleansing we could hope for.
Tennent’s book, This We Believe!, is really wonderful on this phrase in the Apostle’s Creed. For one thing, he emphasizes that Jesus’ work on the cross is the one and only event in history which brought about forgiveness of sins. Hebrews 10:4 says it plainly: It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin. Tennent stresses that the Old Testament procedures for handling sin – carefully administrated sacrifices of animals on certain days, by certain people – were merely a ‘promissory note’ on a future complete sin removal. Thus, those who trusted in those ancient sacrifices would have their sins completely forgiven only after Jesus paid the price in full. So Jesus’ sacrifice “worked simultaneously back through time as well as forward through time.”
Tennent makes three great points about this:
Read some of these scriptures highlighted by Tennent in this chapter: Matthew 26:28, Luke 24:47, Acts 2:38, 5:31, 10:43, 26:18, Colossians 1:13-14. Each time we take communion, we hear these words of Jesus: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” It doesn’t get any better than that.
It is a great feeling of freedom to realize that all our sins have been washed away, as far as the east is from the west. We can really start fresh after accepting this gift from God. But there is one thing that can keep us from a full realization of that freedom: unforgiveness toward others.
Tennent says, “We demonstrate that we have been forgiven by becoming forgivers ourselves.” Ephesians 4:32 says “Forgive each other just as in Christ God forgave you.” And the Lord’s prayer reminds us: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This can be very difficult. Listen to this wonderful Matthew West song: Forgiveness.
What better way to start the New Year than by forgiving? Forgive those who have hurt you. Forgive those close to you, those far away, those who have already died, and even yourself. Wipe clean the slate. Then ask God to forgive you, once again. Let your new year begin with an open clean heart.
Happy New Year!!!