Tuesday, March 25, 2014

No Weakness in Forgiveness

It had more sentimental value to Grace and Caleb Donnelly than anything else in the world—besides, of course, the couple’s wedding rings. It was a Cartier love bracelet that she bought in her hometown of Manilla, the capital of the Philippines. She couldn’t really afford it, but Grace wanted Caleb, who served in the Marines, to have something that represented her love for him.

The $9,500 bracelet had an engraved message: “You will always be in my heart wherever you go. I love you so much Caleb. Grace.” “I had that engraved to remind my husband that I will always love him and that I am the last thing he should worry about while he is deployed in Iraq,” she said.

But that precious token of love was stolen in the summer of 2011 when the Donnelly’s home was burglarized. When the thieves were caught, the judge sentenced them to make restitution to the couple—a lump sum of $15,000. Amazingly, the couple declined the money.

Instead, Grace wrote a letter of forgiveness to them, saying, "I have already forgiven you with or without an apology. . . . I will be praying for you." As Grace read the letter in the courtroom, the defendants all sat weeping. A lawyer involved in the case had practiced for 23 years and said he had “never met anyone as forgiving and truly Christian as Grace.”1

It has been said that forgiveness is the one supernatural act that humans can perform. In many ways that statement is true. We cannot raise the dead, or walk on water, but we can set someone free and overcome evil with good. One reason why forgiveness is so powerful is because it alters the destiny of both parties involved. Instead of justice, the offender receives mercy. Instead of bitterness, the forgiver receives freedom and healing.

Christian author Lewis Smedes described this phenomenon when he wrote, “When you forgive someone you slice away the wrong from the person who did it. You disengage that person from his hurtful act. You recreate him. At one moment you identify him ineradicably as the person who did you wrong. The next moment you change that identity. He is remade in your memory. You think if him now not as the person who hurt you, but a person who needs you. You feel him now not as the person who alienated you, but as the person who belongs to you. Once you branded him as a person powerful in evil, but now you see him as a person weak in his needs. You recreated your past by recreating there person whose wrong made you past painful.”2

While all that sounds high and lofty, let’s face it forgiveness is often the most difficult act to perform. Some of life’s hurts are so deep and painful that to forgive the people who caused them seems impossible. That’s what makes Jesus words so scandalous in Matthew 18:21-22, “Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Jesus’ answer was not meant to be taken as a literal number. What Jesus teaches us is that as His followers we have been forgiven far more than what we will ever be asked to forgive. We must cultivate a spirit of forgiveness, rather than a habit of counting offenses. Since we all need forgiveness, we should always be willing to forgive.

Forgiveness is not a case of ‘holy amnesia’ that wipes out the past. Instead, it is the experience of healing that drains the poison from the wound.” God asks us to do for others what He has done for us through Jesus Christ. If we are willing He’ll give us strength to forgive.    

Sources 

Portsia Smith, “Letter of forgiveness,” February 21, 2013. news.fredericksburg.com/newsdesk/2013/02/21/letter-of-forgiveness-moves-caroline-court (accessed 3-8-2013)

Lewis Smedes, quoted by Philip Yancey, What’s so Amazing about Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 102-103. 

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