Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
LUKE 6:28 ESV
FOR MANY PEOPLE, FORGIVENESS IS A PHENOMENON.
A real mystery. It boggles the human mind. Where does one find the strength to offer such a gift of grace to another human being?
The world watched in awe when forgiveness poured from the hearts of nine parishioners impacted by the mass shooting inside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. As they addressed the killer via video, one of the nine quoted in a Washington Post article1 by Elahe Izadi, June 19, 2015, was Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance: “I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul… You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”
According to a recent report by a Fox News journalist, Stephanie Nolasco, the daughter of the BTK (bind, torture, kill) killer has forgiven her father for the horrendous pain he caused her and his family.2 Because he masked so brilliantly his deepest, darkest secret for over 30 years, Kerri Rawson never had an inkling of a thought that her dad was a serial killer. Rawson says in the interview, “In the process of being back in church [and becoming involved with ministry] I knew as a Christian we’re called to forgive, but I didn’t want to forgive my dad.” Ultimately though, she claims it was her faith that compelled her to forgive her father. “[Forgiving him] was God removing what was rotting in me, the anger in me, and the hardness of being angry at my father,” Rawson explained. “I needed to let go…so I could move on.”
When you hear stories like these, what thoughts run through your mind? You forgave a serial killer? I can’t believe she really means it. How can someone forgive the person who took the life of their loved one? Forgiving someone just means we’re letting them get away with what they did.
I realize most of us cannot begin to comprehend the pain suffered by those in the two examples above, but the truth is, we all have experienced (or will experience) suffering at the hands of another person. Sexual abuse is one such painful experience being brought to light in our society today. Many who have hidden in the shadows of sexual abuse for decades are coming out in droves to make their cases known, especially with the #MeToo and the #ChurchToo movements. Their courage is important as it has started a dialogue addressing how the masking of sexual misconduct has gone on long enough. This is not just something that happens to other people. Sexual assault, preying on the innocent, pornography, and all sorts of other sexual crimes are happening everywhere—in homes, in neighborhoods, in schools, in the workplace, and even in our churches.
In my own Southern Baptist Denomination, there are reports of how its leaders have swept this issue under the rug for years. I grew up in the church, and I’m someone who was preyed on by a church leader as young teen.
But what I want to address in this article, and what I focus on in my book/Bible study, is our response to our wounds, and how through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can change our mindset from victim to victor.
If we seek to cover up a wound the repercussions will not simply go away. It’s like when something is spilled on a couch and we think putting a slip cover over it will magically make the stain disappear. But the truth is, the stain is still there. The same is true when a heart is wounded. Healing can only take place when the wound is properly cleaned and cared for. Forgiveness initiates the healing of a wounded heart—the asking for and receiving of Christ’s forgiveness, and then our forgiving the one who inflicted the wound.
As the Lord has forgiven you, you also must forgive.
from COLOSSIANS 3:13 ESV
Unlocked Hearts, Unleashed Joy ~ Forgiveness Is the Key is my personal story of letting go. As I wrestled with an un-forgiving spirit, God taught me that forgiveness is the key to unlocking hearts incarcerated with sin and unleashing the indescribable joy we are meant to experience in Christ.
It took a recurring nightmare to awaken me to the fact that the enemy of my soul was battling hard to steal the joy of my salvation and suffocate the life out of me. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I [Jesus] came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, ESV).
Hoarding an unforgiving spirit can cause serious physical, emotional, and spiritual distress. Kicking the can, so to speak, down the road only makes the wound more difficult to treat later. The scariest thing about my experience was I wasn’t even aware of how much my wound had become infected until over a decade later. Out of sight does not always mean out of mind.
Allowing a prison door to slam shut around my heart with some not-so-friendly cellmates: resentment, bitterness, anger, hate, and unforgiveness. This gave the enemy of my heart the ammunition he needed to attack me where I was most vulnerable. Through the nightmare God sounded the alarm that a battle for my joy was underway. What Satan meant for evil, God used to set me free.
After some soul talk with my Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6) and some serious heart illumination and excavation by the Holy Spirit (Psalm 51), I was led to share my secret with a trusted pastor friend who encouraged me to make a phone call to the person who had tainted my innocence; someone who proclaimed Christ as his Lord and Savior. Someone for whom I harbored resentment and unforgiveness because of his actions.
I HAD TO FORGIVE THIS PERSON. I HAD TO LET IT GO.
Sin rooted in my heart and was now choking out the growth of my faith that had taken off in recent years. To fight back the sin was to first repent of what I had held on to, and then choose to forgive.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful (Colossians 3:12- 15, ESV — emphasis mine).
Forgiveness is not rewarding the person for their acts committed against us. Andy Stanley puts it this way: “In the shadow of my hurt, forgiveness feels like a decision to reward my enemy. But in the shadow of the cross, forgiveness is merely a gift from one undeserving soul to another.”
It’s letting go so healing can begin. I believe our society is so enthralled with stories about hearts that forgive because they struggle to comprehend it. It’s unnatural. It goes against the grain. It’s like speaking a foreign language to them. And you know what? It is! The ability to forgive comes from the freedom given by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling inside God’s people. When our spiritual eyes are opened to the Father’s forgiveness demonstrated toward us through the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus Christ on the cross, only then do we have the capacity to see the need to forgive. And only then can we experience how forgiving others unleashes a satisfying joy that is beyond all human understanding.