[Un]Forgiveness

Our failing human connections are at the forefront of this question: How can one who has seen the world with you be so vehemently unforgiving towards you? How is it so easy for them to be callous, to be cruel? Do they not have the same eyes and feet, seeing and walking the same path of happiness and sadness as you? Perhaps they have the same mother, same background, or same career. The question is:

How can people be so mean?

I know a world without God cannot function in forgiveness the way Scripture encourages us to do so, nor can a worldly being understand unconditional love—not completely.  I have seen some of this world, and even we who love Him will struggle with mercy to others until we die. Why?

C.S. Lewis once wrote that humanity can agree on the existence of “unfairness.” The existence of the emotion of feeling wronged or offended gives rise to the notion that there is something entirely off about this world. Referencing his previous life as an atheist, C.S. Lewis says, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” (41). These rhetorical questions construct a powerful discourse to the theologian’s journey of accepting Christianity.

Unfairness: I think even serial sociopaths will be slightly offended if the tables are turned and they are the ones being tortured or killed. Even a sadist will think it unfair if suddenly his subject no longer wants to indulge, despite their interesting indenture.

What is that phrase we like to say—ah yes: It’s not fair.

Unconscious or purposeful, we are all familiar with these thoughts: Because it is not fair, I will not forgive you. Because you did this to me, I will not tolerate your presence. Because you did this to me—to me!—you will never see my face again. You are no longer family, no longer my wife, husband, child—you are no longer human to me. You are trash—a vile thing. You are nothing. I will ignore you in public. I will condemn you in my thoughts and in my heart. I won’t wish you well, but I’ll falsely tell others I do. Don’t look for me, don’t touch me—don’t you dare talk to me.

Although taking “offense” is perceived to be psychological, and nothing truly physical occurs after a verbal offense except maybe tears, our natural reaction to offense is to protect ourselves. In this case, [un]forgiveness is a popular tool among us. We keep those who have, will, or could hurt at a distance. The response of [un]forgiveness falls under the “survival instincts” imbedded in our “id.”

The id is a term coined by Sigmund Freud, a man endlessly referenced in academic and professional circles—Christians may or may not roll their eyes when he is.  The man was brilliant, but is probably habitually celebrated for the wrong reasons (especially by male intellectuals) . For practical purposes, let’s say the “id” is our cavemen mentality. This is not necessarily a bad thing—in this world we must survive. Survival of the fittest—that sort of thing: I hungry, I eat. I angry, I scream. I happy, I smile. I hurt, I hurt back. You have, I want. You don’t have, you useless to me.  Our id is eerily similar to our flesh, isn’t it? That’s probably because it is. Thanks, Freud, for repeating to us—but somehow getting credit for—what theologians have been telling us for centuries. Basic instincts; is what [un]forgiveness comes down to.

I will not forgive you because you are a threat to my life.

We fight to live, even in the postmodern parts of Earth where living starts with a cup of coffee. [Un]forgiveness is perceived to be natural to a world focused on science and evolution—but mostly on a world focused on itself. The famous “Me Mentality.” Humanitarianism gone wrong.

But we are not meant to be base creatures of this world. Oh no, our purpose transcends the world in our head and around us. This is not our home. This is not my New Jerusalem, nor my Father’s Kingdom. This earthly setting is but a sliver in the endless whirl of eternity: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”  This life is only “a little while” long. A little while of pain. A little while of endurance. The [un]forgiveness in us and in others is only for a little while—what will we do with it? What will we do with all this unfairness? Will it determine our eternities?

A little while—this tiny snippet of time. It is so short but we know it intimately.

Our intellectuals know the act of forgiveness helps patients through post-traumatic stress disorders and can be a therapeutic action for them. During my early years of college, I took up a Multimedia Holocaust course. I learned about Nazi Germany’s Angel of Death, Dr. Josef Mengele. This is a man responsible for the torture and death of countless lives. Most notably, we learned about the human experiments he would do to the residents of Auschwitz, an infamous concentration camp in Poland. His favorite subjects? Twins and pregnant women. More than anything, I remember the story of two surviving twins. One sister came to forgive Dr. Mengele and his inhuman experimentation on her person—other survivors could not/do not understand how she did it. I never forgot that story. I think of it still.

Whether those we love or adhere to never forgive us, nor establish kindness between us, nor humility, nor understanding, nor fairness, nor even love, know that we can. As believers, as a church, as a daughter or son of Christ, know that we can. We are not base creatures who rely on the world’s version of survival. Our “id” will not determine our eternities. This “little while” will be victorious. Instead, we have died to the world and have been made into a new creation. The Word emphasizes revival relentlessly. It reminds us although our flesh is fallen; our spirits are cleansed and are more than capable to walk in forgiveness in an unforgiving world.

S. Ferrer

Lewis, C. S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007. Print.

ESV I Peter 5:10

II Corinthians 5: 17

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The Thorn on the Side

“A thorn was given [to] me in the flesh…”

As we move through space and time in a constant acknowledgement of God, we become more aware of how good he is—and subsequently more aware of how not so good we are. Such understanding is clearly not a negative thing to carry around in our consciousness. Of course, where goodness dwells badness sneaks closely behind, perverting it.

It is a relief to know that God’s grace is sufficient, and just as well there are more than enough accounts in scripture to remind us that grace truly is enough. His Word should be enough. Yet these thorns on our sides do create guilt within us—returning as often as they do. What can we do in the meanwhile? We wait on earth loving God, others, and loving ourselves. Yet still we fall short.

Being mightily righteous on earth is only a little height from the ground.

There is this trilogy of books that I have become quite fond of: The Circle trilogy by Ted Dekker. It is an allegory depicting how sin entered a perfect world. Instead of sin starting from the inside out, Dekker illustrates the repercussions of sin starting from the outside in. Picture this: human skin contaminated with flakey white scabs.  The scabs represent “fallen” man. In contrast, if a human lives for the God of the books, their skin is normal. Still, even these normal skinned humans are diseased. If they do not consecrate themselves with God in the form of a dip in a lake within three days, the scabs begin to appear. If not careful, their thorns return. Very much like us, these scabbed beings fall short.

Loving God in a fallen world looks differently than loving God in Eden. Doing the utmost to walk in holiness is well and good, but one only needs to look down to remember the short distance it will take to disobey God.

When we initially accept Christ into our lives, we are made new. Our dark spirituality is replaced with a new one, the Holy Ghost enters us, and we walk a lot differently than before; less crooked, less perverse and more hopeful. In many ways, our new selves are closer to the selves we were always meant to be in Eden, before the fall. You see, before the fall we were more like Christ and less like the thorn on our side. Before the fall, Eden was without disease and so the distance from our righteousness to the ground was innumerable. Of course, that did not stop Adam or Eve from doing the unthinkable. And that is how we find ourselves in our present condition: fallen and with a lot of difficulties living to moral standards.

I suppose we who live in a diseased world with easy access to Eden’s “unthinkable” can certainly take the Fall of Man as a ‘we-can-only-go-up-from-here’ encouragement and even give ourselves a well-deserved pat on the back for not succumbing to psychosis every day. Compared to Adam and Eve whom had such distance from evil, we who are literally born into it suddenly appear to be quite the successful underdogs. Of course, do not take this as a dismissal of your wicked ways—even children who are bad in a bad home get punished. No, take this as a theological pep talk: for the righteous fall seven times and then rise again.

Three Times: Conviction’s Call

Suppose we find ourselves in a very good moment with God, where all is well and your thorn is far from you—wouldn’t it be marvelous if he’d come for you then? ‘Lord I’m ready now’ begins to have a new meaning, doesn’t it? And momentarily: ‘Good riddance, Thorn.’ But then the thorn returns and you think, ‘Lord, I need more time.’

The guilt we feel when we consciously or unconsciously hurt our loved ones is an unpleasant experience—how much more painful is the guilt we feel when we disobey our Lord? I shall call the impact to the ground from our short-lived righteousness “guilt.” It is very painful, isn’t it? Guilt. Yet the impact was only from a short distance. How much more guilt did Adam and Eve suffer from the impact of that great height? Even Satan is familiar with great heights. I doubt the fellow has had any sort of impact though, as he continues to spiral down:

I know not that Divider’s pose,

though similar to me

in mind and as deflowered rose,

but one with wings was he;

A bright star, half bird that deceived—

soared faster then stood proud—

of skies flew higher—yes—then me

and harder hit the ground.

 

I know guilt and you know it too. The disciples were no exception to this—the impact against the ground—the thorn on the side. We knew the thorn before we knew God. Sadly, some of us have even found new thorns during our fellowship with him. Truly, this world will give you trouble but take heart because Christ has overcome the world. I read in scripture that although we knew our thorn before him, God knew us prior: Before he formed you in the womb he knew you. If you read your bible, it’ll talk to you.

Let me tell you there is a comfort in knowing that the thorn on my side pales in comparison to the spear in his. The redemptive aftermath of his stripes and death cancel the power of our thorns and reaffirm his. His grace simply is enough. We just need to remind ourselves of it seven times seventy times. I assure you Christ will meet you at every single one of those instances. Now guilt, now doubt, never come again. Old friend, Conviction, replace the dirty thing called “guilt.”

I do not wish any of you to have thorns, nor for any of you to carry secret sins that torment you because they return too often to count. You are put to shame because of them and this I know it firsthand. You know what Paul says of his thorn? He insists there is a sort of rejoicing he feels towards his shortcomings. He says from his thorn much humbleness is born. His failings are a reminder of God’s power. Let it be for you too. You must or your guilt will destroy you. It will take you by the hand and walk you far, far from God. You will not only be unable to recognize yourself, but you will also forgot what kind of God you serve.

He is a God who brings tender conviction, who does not call you your sin but calls out your sin. Understand him a little more than yesterday. We are so imperfect—it may not seem like good news but it is because there is One who is perfect: Jesus. His power, Paul tells us, is made perfect in weakness.

It is through our weakness, through our human disease, that the Great Physician is able to heal. Let our stumbling blocks and our thorns become humbling reminders. Although it would be useful if our thorns would leave us and never return, living in a fallen world is different than living in Heaven. For that reason, do not let guilt consume you. Become familiar with conviction. If each impact to the ground hurts very badly, then stand back up even if you must slouch. It will not kill you. Continue to persevere with Christ as your strength. I do not mean to say that He should be considered a crutch or an excuse to continue in ungodliness.  Stop that thinking at once if you have it. Instead, he is one who humbles and restores continuously.

Do not allow thorns to remind us of how close we are to the ground, but instead of how great in height he is. If we are looking up at his great distance then we shall never look at the ground beneath our feet. C.S. Lewis said that if you aim for Heaven you will get Earth thrown in the mix, but if you aim for Earth you will get neither. The short distance from the ground means very little to those whose focus is up in high places. And he is in highest of places. I know it. And you know it. His greatness and power is a comfort to us all because when we are weak, then we are strong. Guilt has no power in the distance from our eyes to him.

S. Ferrer

ESV Corinthians 12: 7-10

Proverbs 24:16

John 16:33

Jeremiah 1:5

2 Corinthians 12:9