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“My wife cheated on me and left me for another model”. “My husband lied to me and ran off with his secretary”. “My father abandoned me as a child”. “My boss laid me off even though my child was seriously sick”. These are voices of pain, hurt and more often a litmus test for forgiveness. What begins as a tiny drip at the faucet of emotions soon becomes a gush from a fire hydrant and a heavy burden of hatred.

I’m convinced no one makes it through life without being hurt or free of injury. Everyone gets wounded and every one must decide how to deal with the offender.

I enjoyed the thriller flick “Johnny Q”. This riveting hostage situation plays out beautifully at least, in my book. (You need to see the movie.) I have seen many a hostage situation movies. The perspective I have drawn from all of them is this one fact; that people are held hostage for some kind of ransom. It is interesting to note that this hostage-ransom equation happens in life often. When we are offended, while we may not literally take the offender hostage, we have other ways of getting even, waiting sometimes years for our ransom.

Silence is a popular technique. (Ignore them at all costs) Distance is equally effective (Don’t go where they are and when they come your way avoid them.) Nagging is another potent strategy for vengeance. (Oh I see your phone reaches everyone but mine.) Ahhh, human ingenuity. . . . how creative we can get at settling scores! It can be an addiction, the progression is predictable. Hurt becomes hate, and hate becomes rage and we become junkies unable to make it through the day without snorting on the cocaine of bigotry and bitterness.

How do I break the cycle? What ransom do I take to let the offender go free? Peter had a similar inquiry for Jesus, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” (Matt 18:21 Msg) At this point, four of Peter’s supporters – the husband devastated by infidelity, the wife perplexed by betrayal, the adult child trapped in rejection, and the anxious employee with a sick child – wait with their fists in the air for Jesus to grant them the license to kill! His voice flows with delicate words like golden apples in settings of silver. Hear the story he tells:

“The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

“The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

 “The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’

“The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

“The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally . . . . .”

Frightening story! It shines a bright light on, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”, doesn’t it?

When someone feels offended, hurt and chooses to isolate you in hatred, holding you hostage in unforgiveness, remember it is only because you remind them of their own debt to God. They have not bathed in God’s pool of mercy. They just touched the surface. They leave feeling unforgiven. For how can one forgiven not forgive? How could a free person not be quick to free others? Free yourself from the poison of anger, guilt and depression.

The lesson is clear: Our debt is far greater than our ability to repay. Forgiveness is really about freeing yourself rather than freeing the person who offended you. And the Key to forgiving others is to quit focusing on what they did to you and start focusing on what God did for you.