Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Issues of the Heart

When the events in Charleston happened, it seemed like my brain turned to mush. I am a Christian, a churchgoer, and I cannot fathom how one can be sitting in church, praying and studying the Bible and in the next hour be shot by the person sitting next to you. It's unfathomable to me that the person you welcomed, could turn around and kill you. (I've seen strange things happen in church, but until Charleston nothing like this.)

After this atrocity occurred and the perpetrator caught, the victims' families and the shooter were in court together. Some of the victims families chose immediately to forgive and this action in and of itself made many wonder.

I don't have a problem with forgiveness.
I don't have a problem reading about victims forgiving criminal perpetrators. When you bring race in to the equation, I don't have a problem reading about Black victims forgiving white criminal offenders.

Under normal circumstances, reading about forgiveness is heartwarming, gut wrenching, and sometimes seems as if it's something only others can do.

True forgiveness is an act of the will that can only be done if the heart is right. The public forgiveness of the victims' families to the perpetrator brought these questions to mind:

How do we change our hearts so that we can forgive? This may be the hardest thing to do. When we hurt, it cuts deep and it seems to take a while to heal from the hurt. Being hurt is like a cut, which eventually over time heals. It speaks to the resilience of the human heart the amount of pain - both physical and emotional that we can endure. Yet when we ultimately choose to forgive, it's as if we speed up the healing process. Joseph was sold in to slavery by his brothers; if anyone had reason to be unforgiving, he did. He could have stayed angry and hurt over all the years thinking of what his brothers did to him. But Joseph forgave his brothers and if you read the story in Genesis, it would seem he did this long before he met up with them many years later. But the brothers did not know the condition of Joseph's heart. Many years later, they regretted their actions. Now after the "great reveal", and their father's death, they are now afraid that Joseph won't forgive them. In Genesis 50:16, 17 Jacob - their father, before he died, commanded that the brothers ask Joseph for forgiveness; so out of fear they are now doing so.  Joseph, the wronged party responded:  “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.  No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them. Speaking kindly to them was one evidence of Joseph's changed heart.

Is there a timeline for forgiveness?  I thought initially that the only timeline is yours - the offended party. But if you are never able to forgive, or won't, where does that leave you?  Protracted disagreement leads to resentment which if not tended to can snowball into unforgiveness. Matthew 5:21-26 speaks of reconciliation and sacrifice. Verse 25 says -  “When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly." The context is regarding legal matters but the overriding concept is one of forgiveness. "Agree with thine adversary quickly" indicates that as soon as you have opportunity for restoration, follow through and seek forgiveness.  There may not be a definitive timeline in terms of hours or days, but you were never meant to carry unforgiveness to the grave. Allow your heart to heal and to change so that you can forgive, whether seeking or receiving. You can forgive as soon as you recognize that holding on to the hurt won't help you; then it's one less burden for you to carry. When we consider the importance of reconciliation, and the uncertainty of life, it becomes necessary to seek peace with God and with each other, without delay.

Does forgiveness change a societal double standard? In the short term - it would appear not. But the reality is, if all of us were willing to have heart transplants and forgive as often as we hold a grudge it would make a difference; it would go a long way to influencing a change here in our country where this country's sin of slavery of Black people, still leaves its mark. It doesn't indicate a weakness of Black people, but on the contrary a strength.  To react in kind when wronged - anyone can do that. But to react counter to what is expected, that strengthens you while it confounds and confuses the offender.

Is forgiveness really that hard? Forgiveness may be hard but it's not impossible. Think about how you felt when someone forgave you - on your part you were probably relieved and vowed never to do whatever caused the situation in the first place. You were the benefactor of grace and mercy. You may have been awestruck that someone would do something like this for you.  And then someone wrongs you - you now know about forgiveness because someone forgave you. You have a choice now - forgive or hold on to the offence? This scenario played out in Matthew 18:23-35.
Let's say you've never had to seek forgiveness from another human being (I'd like to meet you); because we are not perfect, the Ultimate Forgiver, forgave us all. Since he forgives us for any and everything, it's incumbent on us to try and do the same for others.

The Lord's Prayer may be the most quoted prayer from the Bible; in the middle of this prayer are these words: and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
Forgiveness is part of the Christian life, it's what we are called to do. It's not empty words or something to be done when we get around to it. It's necessary for harmonious living.

Forgiveness and reconciliation - that's the goal.

Can you forgive? 
I started this post a couple of days after the Charleston incident, but I was confounded on how to present the issue of forgiveness. At the time it felt too raw to write about forgiveness. Then my Time subscription came and the article provided a perfect segue in to my thoughts. This recent Time magazine article provides in-depth insight on forgiveness and what it means as it relates to Charleston victims and their families.

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