The studies in this book examine challenges we face as we try to forgive and reconcile with those who have hurt us. Let’s face it–sometimes it’s easier to be hurt or angry, to hold onto our sense of justice and pride, rather than let go. But both forgiveness and reconciliation are disciplines necessary for the spiritual health of individuals and communities. In practicing them, we see the reality of God’s forgiveness and his offer of reconciliation to us.
This series of posts will follow my inward thoughts as I go through the book chapter by chapter working through the ideas listed above.
I can’t stay mad at anyone for more than 5 minutes. That’s pretty much a straight-up fact. However, what stays for much longer is the hurt and pain left from something hurtful that someone said or did to me. I wouldn’t say it’s a grudge; I’d describe the hurt as being a wound on my side that brings me piercing pain when I think about it. My chest tightens, my throat constricts a little, and I feel very sad inside.
One part of me would like to think that I would be more than glad to forgive someone for their sins against me, because of the seemingly instant relief of that burden being off my shoulders. Unfortunately, though, my forgiveness tends to come as a result not of my own will, but of the other party recognizing the wrong and repenting somehow. Often what soothes the throbbing wound is a thoughtful word or kind deed from the perpetrator, showing me that they only accidentally hurt me, or what I was thinking of as a sinful action was only a misunderstanding between us. But, of course, there are many wounds that delve deeper into my skin that I cannot so easily bandage and forget.
These unhealthy forgiving patterns of mine made the “Parable of the Lost Son” even more powerful as I read it this time. Usually whenever I read this passage, I tend to relate more to the older brother. And at some times in my life I can admit that I have definitely personified the younger. But as I flipped to the passage in Luke this time, while reading Forgiveness & Reconciliation simultaneously, I found myself looking at the situation from the father’s perspective. I pondered what the man might have been thinking. To have put so much time and energy into raising my son, loving him in the best ways that I could, and then see him turn from me and squander my money away? I would be heartbroken. My prayers would be filled with questions: Why has my son felt this way toward me? How could I have done a better job loving him? Please, Lord, can’t you bring him back? I would feel so hopeless. I can imagine the father being comforted by the elder son as they watched the figure of the younger son disappear down the road.
And then to see the figure materialize once again, slowly trudging down the road—can you imagine the joy? Oh, my prayers were answered! My son is safe and well, and now I can take him into my arms again and protect him. Of course he is welcomed back into my house; he has been through so much.
Miroslav Volf describes Jesus’ interpretation of the story in the Everyday Matters Bible for Women: “The open arms of the father in the parable are a picture of who God is, how God has acted toward sinful humanity—and also how we ought to act toward those who have sinned against us.” Wow, if that isn’t kind of insane, then I don’t know what is.
While that quote is indescribably beautiful and deeply touches me, a question rises to the back of my mind that I continuously wrestle with. A father’s love, or familial love, is one thing. But when we get hurt by acquaintances or friends, how are we to muster up a kind of fatherly love that covers our wound and helps us love them completely despite their actions? It’s easier for me to forgive my close friends and family because I know them well and deeply care for them. But when it comes to those who are outside of my closest circle, how do Volf’s words apply?
As I continue to read through this Bible Study and explore the Biblical way of forgiveness, feel free to join with me, either by reading these posts or by getting your hands on a copy of Forgiveness & Reconciliation and reading along with me. Either way, I’m happy to share my thoughts and am excited for the journey ahead.