Over the course of my life I have noticed how easy it is for the message of personal justice to get drowned out by the issues and rhetoric of the day. Tolerance, equality, hatred, bigotry, choice, testability, revelation, inerrancy, and even love define the focus of the discussion, and cause “lines in the sand” to be drawn.
The hard-fought for “freedom of opinion” during the revolutionary period of the United States to some degree has become schizophrenic. Demands are made for freedom from all constraints as instituted in civil and criminal laws while at the same time expanding certain types of opinions into crimes of hate.
One set of citizens look at the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution through a set of colored-glasses and see the need for a system that enforces Freedom FROM Religion. Looking through a second set of colored-glasses, another set of citizens see the need for a system that allows for the Freedom OF Religion.
There is a third set of colored-glasses, one that allows us to peer into the First Amendment and see Freedom Through Religion. This view allows for a personal system for satisfying justice for our hurts and injuries. This system requires an answer to the question, “How can I forgive others?” It also requires answering the question, “How can I change my life to benefit God, myself, my country, and other persons around me?” Christianity has unique answers to both these questions, and it is those answers that made it relevant in society in the past and make it relevant today and tomorrow.
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In the spring of 2004 I was at the end of one of my multi-stop visits to my great aunt of 97 at the nursing home and then to the cemetery where my parents, brother, and grandmother are laid to rest. My parents had passed on less than two weeks apart from each other during the summer of 2000. My grandmother had died years earlier and my brother the night before his wedding in 1976. As I stood looking at my parents’ names on the grave stone, the same emotions arose. I missed my mother. For my father there was more anger and resentment and bitterness than there was love.
For years I had been grappling with what forgiveness is and where to find the power to forgive. I had had areas of my personal life where if I did not resolve an injury, my response would be such that the situation would grow worse instead of better. I knew the key in dealing with injury lay with forgiveness, but I did not know how to forgive in a way that would be lasting.Top of Excerpts
One of the more important techniques I have learned in the computer industry when defining system requirements is to state clearly what is NOT in the requirements. This solves the memory issue of, “I know we discussed that and I thought it was part of the requirements.” So when it comes to understanding what forgiveness is, we need to first understand what forgiveness is NOT.
Forgiveness is NOT RECONCILIATION. Forgiveness by itself does not create reconciliation between two parties. To reconcile is “to restore to friendship, compatibility, or harmony.” Reconciliation requires two persons to come together in a trusting fellowship, a community of interest. Forgiveness is in the hands of the injured. Confession, agreeing that one has done wrong or harm and Repentance, the changing of future thoughts, words, and actions, are in the hands of the injurer.Top of Excerpts
An injury is “an act that damages or hurts; it is a violation of another’s rights for which the law allows an action to recover damages.” It can be an act that involves unfairness. It usually is an action or conduct inflicting harm without previous provocation or without a just cause. It can be a circumstance or condition that creates an injustice to the sufferer and gives just ground for complaint.
How often do we hear even the youngest child scream, “IT’S JUST NOT FAIR!” when he feels he was not treated equally? Our sister breaks our favorite toy. The largest piece of pie is taken by our brother. The father promises to take the family on a vacation but never does. The kids at school laugh when you make a mistake or cannot do as well as others, or simply because you are somehow different. The recess game captains always pick you last. The mother criticizes everything you do. The father commits incest with his daughter. The mother drinks all the time. The father favors one child over the other. The parents divorce. The mother abandons her family. The father and husband tries to live out the biblical command to be the head of the house, but does not include love in his actions. The step-parent does not become involved in the step-child’s life. The mother-in-law interjects herself into a couple’s marriage. A sister plays up to her mother to get favors. The parents involve their children in the satanic.Top of Excerpts
An injury is the entrance to one of two paths, the path of unforgiveness or the path of forgiveness. At the beginning there is a common trail that an injury can walk. The path begins with a hurt or loss. We may scream in pain. We may have tears and shock and unbelief. Hurt causes loss which can be physical, material, emotional, and/or mental. We feel weak. Our lives are out of control or are controlled by someone else.
We naturally become angry. The more we dwell on the injury the more our anger grows. Anger can become the energy to lift us out of our injury, to regain control of our life and become strong once again. It energizes us to protect ourselves from future harm. This is the point where we begin looking for ways to heal our injury, to recover our loss, to seek justice. It is at the point of anger that the trail of an injury reaches a fork in the road. The fork in the road is the time of decision making. It is the point where we can pause to read the road signs and select one of the two paths. One fork takes us down the path paved with unforgiveness, the other forgiveness.Top of Excerpts
The path of an Injury Forgiven leads to freedom and thanks-giving and courage. This path moves us away from the “works of the flesh” to the “fruit of the Spirit.” We can know that an injury is healing when we thank God for the healing and turn outward in love to those who have the potential to harm us again. I firmly believe that forgiveness is the glue that binds the Spirit of God into our natural being (flesh) and turns us into supernatural, spiritual beings. When forgiveness is NOT present, the glue looses its grip—the Spirit of God is blocked from working in and through us.
So what does the path of forgiveness bring us?Top of Excerpts
Justice must come before love. When acts of love replace, exclude, or come ahead of justice, love reduces itself to feelings that assist and participate in the acts of oppression and unjust domination. Love is the dedication to totally giving oneself to another. Justice is necessary to turn that dedication into proper actions.
Justice is absolutely required for a relationship with God. So just how important is justice to God?
So how does God want His creation to administer justice?
How can we forgive and still satisfy our need for justice?Top of Excerpts
Now that we have answered the questions of what forgiveness is and how God forgave us, let’s go back and answer the question: How can we forgive and satisfy OUR need for justice?
And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God has forgiven you in Christ.
[Ephesians 4:32 (ISV)]
Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
[Colossian 3:13 (NRSV)]
Let’s go back to the Court Room of God’s Law. You are now the plaintiff, the one who is injured, the one who is seeking justice. The verdict of guilty is read and the sentence of death is pronounced. (We, the plaintiffs want a sentence of death because it ends the relationship with the hope that it will bring closure to this ugly chapter of our lives.) You, the injured now turn to your left with your loss and pain and anger and instead of the one who injured you being led away, Jesus steps in her place, is cuffed and led away for execution. Now the one who hurt you turns to her right. She has been freed by Jesus to enter into a reconciled relationship with you.
If she approaches, will you see her through the eyes of justice satisfied and open the door and extend a helping hand to begin the process of creating a reconciled relationship as she acknowledges that she has injured you and give her the opportunity to change her ways? God, the judge, is satisfied that justice has been served. Can you be satisfied just as well? Or will you be the one to turn your back to her and walk away?Top of Excerpts
We tend to spend way too much time living in the present crying over spilled milk of the past. The past is just that: gone, kaput, ended, in the past. It cannot be undone. We need to live in the present and prepare for the future.
The goal of being prepared to forgive is to minimize the amount of time spent on the path of an unforgiven injury. There will always be shock and hurt and pain and loss. These cannot be avoided. Every future injury will result in some degree of anger. Anger is a natural response to the recognition of injustice. Anger can be the human energy we need to do something about our injury. The ideal goal would be that anger does not move into resentment, bitterness, hatred, malice, fear, self-inflicted injury, and/or a consumed life of distrust. But if it does, remember it is never too late to move to the path of forgiveness. The sooner you move off the path of unforgiveness, the better your life and the lives of those around you.Top of Excerpts
In Chapter 5 – Path of a Forgiven Injury, I made the statement that I firmly believe that forgiveness is the glue that binds the Spirit of God into our natural being (flesh) and turns us into supernatural, spiritual beings. When unforgiveness is present, the glue loses its grip. I believe this is true not only because it is what Jesus said about forgiveness, but by what I have observed in myself and those whom are on the path of unforgiveness.
It is important for us to understand what Jesus said about the impact our forgiveness or lack of toward those who have injured us and how that relates to our continued reconciled relationship with God.Top of Excerpts
In Chapter 2 - What Forgiveness is Not, I said that forgiveness is NOT reconciliation. To restore a trusting friendship or harmony between two people where injury has occurred, the “injured” must forgive (satisfy justice) and the “injurer” must confess (agree that he or she had done wrong or harm) and repent (change future thoughts, words, and actions). The Scales of Justice are balanced with Forgiveness and Repentance.
Trust is the “assured reliance on some person or thing : a confident dependence on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” Trust implies a confident attitude toward another which rests on a blending of experience, knowledge, affection, admiration, respect, or reverence. Two of the fruits of a walk on the path of unforgiveness are fear and distrust. A life filled with unresolved injury that produces fear and distrust contains walls and barriers that do not allow relationships to be formed and maintained.Top of Excerpts
As part of an English class during my first year of college, we were given the assignment to write an essay answering the question, “Is man Evil or Good?” In my mind the answer to that question defines how a society functions. If the answer is “Good”, then we tend to create environments where we provide humans with knowledge under the assumption that they will then make the correct choices. The formula is: Good People + Knowledge = Correct Choices.
When we look back on history at good men and women we ask, “Why did they do some of the bad things they did?” If slavery has been eternally wrong, why did George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both own slaves? Why do we do the things we do but know better? Maybe the knowledge was not fully available. Maybe the knowledge was not good enough. Maybe there just was not enough time to teach and repeat the information adequately. Or maybe the formula starts off wrong and is more complex than we realize.Top of Excerpts
To reduce their risk of loss, the health insurance industry writes policy exclusions for pre-existing conditions they do not wish to cover. If we contrast earthly insurance against God’s “health insurance plan” for our lives, we find that pre-existing conditions are not only covered by God’s plan, but are the primary focus of God’s comprehensive “health services.” The inherited side of our human nature leads to thoughts, words, and actions that displease God, are offensive and injurious to others, and inflict injury upon ourselves. The condition of our human nature is a product of what we have inherited from our ancestors (see Genesis chapters 1 through 4 of the Christian Bible.)
We also are “who we are” because of the influences of our earthly environment. “Like father, like son” and “I am my mother’s child” are phrases that we use to communicate not only that we have inherited certain traits, but are also influenced for good or bad by the world around us.Top of Excerpts
Many times our initial response when confronted by an offended or injured person is “I did nothing wrong!” And you know what; many times we may be right. The offense or injury is in the eyes of the beholder, in the eyes of the one offended or injured. Unless we are holding ourselves accountable to a “standard” that we can use to measure what we think, say, or do, then the first challenge to whether our words or actions are right or wrong, good or evil, is when we are confronted by the injured or an advocate for the injured. When we have a standard in place to live by to measure our thoughts, words, and actions, our conscience usually lets us know that something is not right. God has set such standards to help us live our lives in liberty and freedom through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
If the goals of your life include the desire to restore damaged relationships when they occur and you have been the offender, and who hasn’t, then the first place that you must start with is confession. Confession is the opposite of denial, the “refusal to admit the truth of a statement, charge, or imputation.”Top of Excerpts
Repentance is the changing of our thoughts, words, and actions towards worthy purposes and values. The primary goal in repentance with respect to restoring a broken relationship caused by injury or offense is the elimination of a repeat of the same words or actions that caused the injury or offense. Reconciliation requires two persons to come together in a trusting fellowship. If you have injured someone, you more than likely have lost his or her trust. You must gain that trust back, you must again become trustworthy. The person on the other end of the relationship needs to know that you have “dropped the stick” and that you will NOT pick it up and strike them again. Forgiveness on their side has opened the door to reconciliation for you to enter with an empty hand, no stick included. Forgiveness is NOT a free invitation to continue using offensive words or performing injurious actions. The offended person has all the right to protect herself from future injury. She has the right to open the door to reconciliation with the hand of forgiveness and in the other hand hold up a big “STOP” sign, telling you that she does not want to be injured again.
Repentance begins with the changing of our thoughts that leads to changes in future words and actions. We must have standards that we use to direct how we think if we want to assure that our words and actions do not cause injury or offense. When we have a standard in place to manage our thoughts, words, and actions, our conscience usually lets us know that something is not right. Our ultimate goal is to “do it right the first time”, by having attitudes and thoughts aligned with what is right in God’s eyes and are corrected through reflection upon previous error and failure. God has such standards for us to help us live our lives through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Standards are “freeing-agents.” They free us from constantly having to search for an answer to the same question that comes up over and over. Acting as a freeing-agent, a standard defines our responsibilities to God and mankind, takes away the fear of failure, and eliminates the cost of failure by doing it right the first time. Standards also keep us from knee-jerking and responding in a reactionary mode to every event in life.Top of Excerpts
The purpose of this chapter is to establish a standard upon which we can change our thoughts, which leads to changes in our words and actions that establishes, maintains, and rebuilds trusting relationships. For a number of the United States Founding Fathers, Christian principles of Liberty and Freedom were standards that helped form the persons who were and are the foundation upon which a nation was born and lives today. We are a “nation, under God” with a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Freedom and Liberty provide the opportunities to pursue the truth necessary to change our thoughts, words, and actions.
What are some of these Christian principles of Liberty and Freedom?Top of Excerpts
Forgiveness focuses on the side of justice that deals with unjust, partial, and unfair acts and words that have already caused injury.
When we talk about justice satisfied through repentance (the changing of our thoughts that leads to changed words and actions), we are focusing on the qualities and characteristics of being just, impartial, and fair. Repentance focuses on the side of justice that assures that just, impartial, and fair treatment does occur.Top of Excerpts
I have a custom-made, framed poster that I call “My Mirror and My Plan.” In the poster’s background is a hiker standing on the top peak of a mountain he just conquered. There are two quotes on the poster. The first is from Edmund Burke, Irish orator, philosopher, politician, and British supporter of the American Revolution (1729 - 1797): “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
The quote from Edmund Burke is not so much in the poster to remind me of the evil that is outside of me, but more for the potential within me to do evil. His quote is “My Mirror.” In my “flesh” it is easy to see the evil that is outside me, but difficult, if not sometimes impossible to see the potential for evil that is within me. It is also easy to talk about the evil outside of us because we have no responsibility to change. When our focus is on the evil outside us, we must remember that we too were once in bondage to the evil within. We must learn to separate the evil from the person in bondage.
To hate evil requires that there is a type of love that we must give up to make room for the type of love that God wants us to show.Top of Excerpts
The second quote on my framed poster that I call “My Mirror and My Plan” says: Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; And love your neighbor as yourself.
[Luke 10:27 (ESV)]
God understands our inability to have, to show, to express this type of love on our own. It is the reason that He showed us how He loves through Jesus. When we understand His love we can know that we are loved and in turn love Him and others.
Service is “an act done for the benefit or at the command of another.” You place yourself in the service of God or someone else out of love, giving yourself totally to them. Ideally the service you do, you would enjoy doing. But more than likely the reality is that it may be something that you don’t like.Top of Excerpts
In Chapter 13 - Are We the Product of our Environment?, I explored David’s life and I suggested that he suffered from a deep-seated loneliness. I believe that many of his actions, including the ones of adultery and murder, were driven to a degree by his suffering loneliness. We need relationships with others to avoid the pain of loneliness. Our human nature is also fueled by our natural appetites, particularly our sexual desires. When we combine our need for relationships to avoid loneliness with the drive of our hormones, we have mixed a couple of powerful ingredients together that may not make for good life decisions. Add to the mixture memories and impressions embedded in the mind from previous life events and we can become very confused persons. Our appetites and loneliness create blinders that block out the light of rational thought. Consideration of the possible consequences of our actions is not added to the mixture because the blinders have us focused on the goal in our “line-of-sight.” Even if we allow some of the light brought in through rational thought to leak in, the need to satisfy our appetites and loneliness is immediate and in our control and any future consequences is distant, outside our control, and many times never happens anyway. There are also times where we may not even have the knowledge of the possible consequences to our actions. This is particularly true when we are young. We may also add drugs and alcohol because they are like seasonings that spice up the mixture. They act as both an enhancer and stimulator of our physical desires and an anesthetic for the pain for our loneliness.
So how do we go about dealing with a “suffering loneliness?”Top of Excerpts
Should the Laws of God as found in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible form a basis for criminal and civil laws in the United States? Not long after the death and resurrection of Jesus, a similar question was asked within the early Christian church with respect to non-Jewish converts (Gentiles) to Christianity. The question was whether obedience to the “law of Moses” was a required next step after belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection. (See Acts 15:1-29.)
In one sense the Law no longer applies to a person who believes that Jesus died to satisfy God’s need for justice. In another sense, the Law is still applicable because it provides us with direction on how to live, how to love, how to please God, how to treat others, and how to teach others how to do the same.Top of Excerpts
Counting our blessings requires loving ourselves and the life that we are presently in and then proceeding to make that life better for ourselves and those around us. If we do not love ourselves in the present situation then loving, serving, and being a blessing to others will simply be impossible. Instead we will transfer our pain and hurt to others and cause them trouble and injury. Notice I said loving ourselves, not loving our situation. There is a time and place for focusing on ourselves, and counting our personal blessings is one of those times and places.
Daily we find ourselves on the path of another person’s life situation where we can be a blessing. The person may be in the middle of injury or hurt. He or she may be in bondage to some addiction or may have a special condition due to disability. Their path may be full of rocks and thorns. When we are on their path, their rocks and thorns can hurt us just as much as they do the other person. The other person may also throw additional rocks at us. Because of these life situations, the person may be coming at us like a train traveling full throttle. If we are not prepared to respond by being a blessing through forgiveness, he or she can flatten us like a pancake.Top of Excerpts
Why do I interject a creed of belief into a book on forgiveness and repentance? It is because there must be a base upon which the Scales of Justice Balanced with Forgiveness and Repentance” stands.
In the section on Forgiveness, I introduced the prayer that I use to remind myself that I have the power to forgive others through accepting Jesus’ death as the satisfaction for my need for justice. It is time to complete that prayer.
Heavenly Father, You are a loving and gracious God. Thank you for the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus, That I may know that I have been forgiven and can forgive others. And in the liberty and freedom forgiveness has provided me, I can trust in You and not be afraid, To pursue the truth to change my thoughts, words, and actions, So that I may live a life that is just, impartial, and fair, And through love and service, be a blessing to You and to those around me. In Jesus’ Name, It Shall Be So. Amen.Top of Excerpts
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