As I watch the current escalation of violence between the police and the protesters here in the U.S., I’m reminded again what our culture continually feeds on—blame-shifting and scapegoating (villainizing).
We all want grace for ourselves but anyone who hurts us should get what they deserve.
As followers of Jesus, we must realize that this is the very opposite of what Christ came to do (or undo). He came to end our blame-shifting and need for revenge by becoming the ultimate victim of this insidious monster lurking in all of us.
So here’s my question…what if we all just forgave?
What if we didn’t need revenge for the things done to us?
What if we responded with forbearance and kindness instead?
What if we never dishonored others, were never self-seeking, or easily angered, and kept no record of wrongs…
What if we actually loved? (1 Cor. 13:4-8)
I wonder…does hatred and need for revenge ever foster anything other than more hatred and revenge?
And has our tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye version of justice ever worked? Didn’t we get Jesus’ memo on this? (Matt. 5:38-48)?
Historically, it seems real resolution only comes through non-violent means. People like Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi actually believed what Jesus said about this and changed nations.
On the other hand, I read recently that Osama Bin Laden’s son is threatening revenge against the U.S for killing his father. This is a merry-go-round that never stops.
Can we just forgive our spouse (or significant other)? The ostracized family member we haven’t talked to in years? The friend who really hurt us? Or, are we waiting to see them grovel and squirm? Do we want to see them really pay?
My next question is…why is it so hard to forgive?
What deep-seated need is churning inside of us that needs to see people get what’s coming to them?
I believe the answer lies with our inherent need to assess blame and get revenge, which shows that we want to be the judge and jury. News channels preach this dysfunctional gospel 24/7 for us to digest and obsess over. Who did what to who, and who’s to blame so we can punish them and get on with our lives. Of course, those who were punished seek revenge, and on and on it goes.
Have you ever played “Whack-a-Mole?”
I’m not talking about the need to protect society from dangerous people; I’m talking about what’s going on in our hearts when someone has wronged us. When we feel a great injustice has occurred, either to us or to someone else who’s on our side. Must there be a reckoning? Must our anger be appeased and a sacrificial offering made before we can move on…until next time?
Understand that Christ came to put an end to this evil sacrificial practice, as René Girard succinctly put it:
“Christianity is a founding murder in reverse, which illuminates what has to remain hidden to produce ritual, sacrificial religions.” (Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoit Chantre)
What Jesus showed us is that God is not like the pagan sacrificial gods. He doesn’t require payment before He can forgive. He just forgives. This is poignantly illustrated when He allowed us to pour out all our wrath on Love at Calvary. Jesus simply said, “Father forgive them…”
Forgiveness and retribution are two polar opposites. As you head toward one you move away from the other. I’ve said this many times here…Jesus’ form of justice is restorative, not retributive.
Think about this…when James and John wanted to call fire down on the Samaritans like Elijah, Jesus rebuked them. They were reacting retributively, getting their cue from an Old Testament hero of the faith! But notice how Jesus responds to their misguided zeal (emphasis mine):
55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” (Luke 9:55-56 NKJV)
Who have we been calling fire down on lately?
The very nature of the good news is reconciliation. This reconciliation is based on the fact that God is not counting our sins against us anymore. And it doesn’t stop there. This is our ministry, too (emphasis mine):
19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor.5:19 NIV)
Not counting people’s sins against them anymore is the very essence of forgiveness.
So…can we follow Jesus and just forgive?
What a lot of Christians don’t believe is that this is exactly how our heavenly Father forgives (Luke 15:20-24), how Jesus forgives (Matt.9:6; Mark 2:10). The people in these stories were just forgiven, healed, and restored without qualification.
Besides, nothing is actually rectified when we choose not to forgive. In fact, we place ourselves in the torturer’s dungeon (Matt. 18:21-35).
Which will it be…forgive or punish? Either one is a decision. This means it’s entirely up to you and me.
The issue between God and us is not forgiveness of sin. He seems to think He’s already done that. The issue is trust. Do we believe God actually loves and forgives us this way? The ball’s in our court.
And as long as we feel the need to be other people’s judge and jury, we will keep playing this ugly game. We will continue in the delusion that we can’t just let it go, which is tragic because we completely miss the heart of the Father for us and everyone else.
So here’s a thought. What if everyone in the world just arbitrarily decided to forgive?