I remember thinking in my much younger years that the Carpenter’s teaching on forgiveness was just one more example of how he required more of us than was humanly reasonable. Forgiving someone seventy times? In a day? Yeah, right.
Adding on the notions of returning good for evil, blessing those who curse me and praying for those who despitefully use me seemed to equate to an ideology that was hopelessly lofty. And then, just to be sure no one could ever possibly hope to live up to his notion, he hefts on to the pile, “Love your enemies.”
I could hardly accuse him of hypocrisy; he certainly adhered to his own teaching. After the flogging, beatings, and mockery, in the midst of his agonizing torture on the cross, he speaks, “Father, forgive them.” I saw his example and admired the expression. What I failed to see was the liberation.
I know from my own experience that there are few prisons that can match the total control and absolute wretchery of bitterness. A heart consumed with resentment lives in complete torture of itself. Those who hate are under the absolute rule of those they despise. When we think to overcome evil with evil, we enter a contest to see who can become the most evil. Instead of emulating our Savior, we pattern ourselves after our Enemy.
Those who seek vengeance, by whatever means, will never know the abundant life that Jesus offers. Joy and bitterness cannot dwell in the same heart. It is not vengeance that brings release from anger and hatred; it is forgiveness. Returning good for evil delivers us from the slavery of retaliation. Letting go of past hurts and wrongs endured is the only way that we can move on to the genuine pleasures that Christ intended for us: fellowship, release, freedom from the bonds of this world and its prince.
Forgiving those who ask for it is Christian duty. Forgiving those who don’t is the ultimate liberation. Individually and globally.