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?
Alright….I’ll address the elephant in the room.
I hate seeing people go free who deserve (in my opinion) to be punished. This is my flesh gone wild and my mind having a hard time to keep up…but I know in my heart, my spirit, that the right thing to do is to forgive…its what Jesus would do and has indeed done for me. Once I forgive, and get over myself, I know I’ve done the right thing and feel good about it. If I follow through on a well deserved punishment, I may feel good for a moment…but it doesn’t last and I am eventually sorry for the course I took.
You’re right, it is a choice to forgive and is probably one of the hardest choices we as Christians have to make. I don’t always do it…but I’m trying!
Good post Mel, (as usual) and thanks for taking on the tough issues.
respectfully ~ Dave
That’s about it, Dave. And I have exactly the same struggle! This is why Jesus is so brilliant. He puts His finger squarely on the biggest problem lurking in the deepest and darkest part of us. We really hate grace (for other people). And we wouldn’t know this about ourselves unless we had to face these hard forgiveness issues. Retribution is the easy way out! It takes no faith or love at all, no need to change our hearts. An atheist can do that.
Actually following Jesus forces us into other-centered love. As He said, anyone can love a friend or someone who’s good to you. But He calls us to love our enemies; those who have hurt us! Yikes! THIS is the cross we’re faced with.That’s why it’s so hard to follow Jesus. He already took care of our sins on His cross, but takes pure grace powered by His love to follow Him. This is the real death to self.
Thanks for your great comments, as always. Believe me, we’re in the same boat! (With Jesus at the helm with a grin on His face). Blessings, brother.
“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.” This is at the crux of the question we need to ask ourselves every day: “Am I truly following Jesus?” It’s a navigational process. Will we get off course? Absolutely. But how quickly are we to navigate back on course once we recognize we’re not following Him anymore?
That’s a great point, Susan. Probably why Jesus told us to take up our cross daily. Walking in forgiveness and grace are daily choices. This is also why we are supposed to abide in Christ’s love (John 15:9). That’s definitely a navigational process.
Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful contributions to the conversation, Blessings.
This is a great word Mel. It can be said over and over again. Jesus said we can be in the world but we aren’t of the world. The “world” is our need for a scapegoat, victims, vengeance, pay back, punishment, and so on. The “world” system can’t “see” the light in the darkness. The light is the truth of Love. When we know the truth, we are free indeed. The most amazing thing happens when we let ourselves be transformed by Love. We can “see’ the injustice but we don’t “feel” the need for retribution. We can then Love unconditionally and it is really real. It isn’t something we do. It is who we are. That is the truth of Jesus. He showed us all who we really are behind the illusion of “the world” and our fallen ego self that insists we are “of the world.” It isn’t as much a revelation of who we can become, but who we really are when we get past our false self and see our divine nature to be Love itself. Yeah, something like that. Love it Mel. You’re the best.
Thanks Lance. Much appreciated, as always. We can either operate by fear and blame-shifting, or walk by His love. But we can’t do both.
“The most amazing thing happens when we let ourselves be transformed by Love. We can “see’ the injustice but we don’t “feel” the need for retribution. We can then Love unconditionally and it is really real. It isn’t something we do. It is who we are. ”
You are SPOT-ON right there, bro. Restorative justice loves both the victim and the perpetrator. It goes much deeper than just finding out who we should punish. It’s true reconciliation (rather than retribution). And you’ve perfectly described exactly what happens when we “let” Love transform our hearts. It’s the genuine love of Christ pouring out for everyone. It’s “other-worldly” love. It’s the only love that truly heals what’s broken in all of us.
Thanks, too, for the re-blog. Let’s keep spreading the good news, slathering it on thick, that Love has come to us! 🙂
Reblogged this on alancetotheheart and commented:
This is a great word by Mel. Enjoy.
There is a difference between retribution and punishment. There is a difference between judging an act and a person.
Vengeance of the the Lord’s, but we still have to fine people when they break traffic laws, we still have to punish — even lock up and sometimes throw away the key — criminals. Some people may be part of the Kingdom of God, but others don’t seem to have any such inclination. We can forgive, but some still won’t repent.
“There is a difference between retribution and punishment.”
That’s exactly right, Tom. We restrain evil people and keep them from harming others. This is what laws are for. So then, proper punishment is taking them out of society to protect others.
The punishment I’m talking about that is bad is seeking revenge and retaliation. This is not of God. People want to punish others to get even, to feel better about themselves. But evil people should be punished by being restrained and taken out of society.
The only failing in our justice system is that it’s not restorative (restoring both the victim and perpetrator). It’s only punitive. Christ’s Kingdom works on restorative justice. The Cross is the ultimate example. The Cross shows that God is not retaliatory like us; He’s reconciliatory (2 Cor.5:19), even though many will not accept His reconciliation. As C.S. Lewis said, there are two kinds of people. Those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.” Their unwillingness will result in their own punishment.