“He who cannot forgive another breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.” George Herbert
I find myself reading and thinking about Grace again, God’s Grace to us, a free gift. I read one book on Grace but found I had gotten another one and downloaded it to my Kindle. Then since it was at the back of the list I soon forgot it.
Lately I have added over two dozen books to my Kindle and there I was trying to figure out which one to read first. Some were study and some just novels to read for pleasure. I have been studying a lot so I thought I’d just read a couple of books for pure pleasure, fiction stories that don’t need to hold a lesson in them.
So I’m trolling through the 14 page list of books in my Kindle trying to pick the fiction story I want to read. But what book keeps showing up? What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip D. Yancey! I’m thinking, “I just read a book on Grace. I don’t need to read another. I just want to relax and not think about anything serious.”
Despite my personal plans I found myself reading the opening lines in the Grace book. The more I read the more pulled into the content I became. This was a different take on Grace than the book I’d read before. This book quickly brought forgiveness into the scheme of things along with God’s Grace. I admit my first thought was, “oh no, he’s not going to bring up forgiveness.”
Forgiveness, now that is a word we all have trouble with. It is so hard to forgive others, no really, it is, and we all know that. Anyone who has ever had an argument, been flipped off by another driver on the road, had a spat with a spouse, been treated unfairly at work, etc. has had to deal with forgiveness. You needed to forgive the offender or needed forgiveness for your response. Or maybe I was the offender and need to ask for forgiveness. Any way you look at forgiveness, it isn’t easy to deal with and something we try to push aside and move past without touching. When I say “you” or “we” I always include “ME”.
In the book Yancey talks about wars between groups and countries dating back to the beginning of time. He makes a point I’d never thought of that wars stem from unforgiveness. They may be seeking revenge for atrocities committed centuries before; carrying on tribal feuds that extend long past anyone’s memory; or avenging memories from past wars. He calls it “ungrace” and says it plays like the background static in the lives of families, nations and institutions. He states that war or fighting never fixes anything but just adds to the need to keep fighting. Here in the Aboriginal world I work in they call it “payback” and it can go on for generations, sparked sometimes in the beginning by what was only an accident.
He says “Ungrace causes cracks between families, tribes, races and nations that left alone widen into chasms where there is only one remedy; the frail rope-bridge of forgiveness.”
Forgiveness is terribly difficult, and long after you’ve forgiven, the wound brought on by the deed lives on in memory. Forgiveness is an unnatural act for us. Behind every act of forgiveness lies a wound of betrayal and the pain of being betrayed does not easily fade away.
I can testify to that in something that happened with my husband and I. I wrote about it in a blog last year. The betrayal was over momentous from childhood and boxes of beads from a business we owned. The business was closed but I had a whole stock of beads and findings left over. When it came time to move I painstakingly went through every box and every bead picking what I wanted to keep and what could be sold. I clearly marked the boxes SELL or NOT FOR SALE. On my long bookcase in the house I had set some books I could part with in one area. Everything else, books and momentous were to be packed to ship to our new address.
I went on to another state to the job I’d taken. My husband and our household items and my beads were to follow later. In the time that passed while my husband was getting things ready to ship he had some yard sales.
When the boxes and furniture arrived, all too quickly I saw that a lot of my beads had gone missing. I looked at boxes marked SELL and saw none that said NOT FOR SALE. They were clear boxes and I didn’t need to open them to know that all my prizes, my special beads had apparently gone in the yard sale while the stuff I didn’t want had come to live with me.
Needless to say I was so angry with my husband, who to this day will give me no answers as to what happened to my beads. Then I found a few momentous dating back to my childhood that were missing from the bookcase in the house. I have to admit I was so angry I seriously considered divorce. It took two years to even consider forgiveness. God showed me how and why to forgive my husband but to this day I have not gone through the boxes of beads still piled out on the porch. Every time I want some beads to work with or my tools to fix a piece of jewelry the pain of what I consider betrayal of my trust in him to take care of my things rises up and the anger comes back.
So I have to wonder just as Yancey explores in this book, did I really forgive, can I forgive more? I know that there is a part of me to this day that does not trust my husband and that is a terrible legacy to live with. One thing that could break the chain of unforgiveness is for him to truly ask me to forgive him but he hasn’t. He continues to say he knows nothing about what happened to my beads and momentous. Of course I cannot believe that so the frail rope bridge gets thinner as time goes by.
Forgiveness is always harder than pastors, books and friends make it out to be. Elizabeth O’Connor wrote: “We nurse sores, go to elaborate lengths to rationalize our behaviour, perpetuate family feuds, punish ourselves, punish others – all to avoid this most unnatural act.” Forgiveness.
We even find ourselves asking God to help us be right and assist us in proving it so we don’t have to forgive. Many of the Psalms implore God to help avenge some wrong. Erma Bombeck prayed one I like: “Lord if you can’t make me thin, then make my friends look fat.”
At the center of the Lord’s Prayer we find, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In the very prayer God gave us to recite, lurks the unnatural act of forgiveness. The fear those words can instil in our hearts is the fact that Jesus plainly links our forgiven-ness by the Father with our forgiving-ness of fellow human beings. Jesus’ next remark could not be more explicit: “If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
The Lord’s Prayer shows how we can get caught in a cycle of ungrace with Almighty God while caught in that cycle with a spouse or friend. If we can allow ourselves to let go, to break the cycle, to start over, God can allow himself to let go, break the cycle and start over with us.
John Dryden wrote that the sobering effect of the truth of these words from Jesus, many times made him avoid the commission of the fault of unforgiveness, even when he was terribly provoked. In a world that runs by the laws of ungrace, Jesus demands a response of forgiveness.
In the Merchant of Venice Shakespeare put it this way: “How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none?”
Why does forgiveness go with grace I wondered? I don’t like to think about forgiving but I sure do like the grace that God has given me so many times. One writer said: “God loves His enemies – that is the glory of His love, as every follower of Jesus knows.” If God forgave our debts, how can we not do the same?
I’ll end with the words of Yancey in the book I’m reading because it is a simple way that I can understand and relate to grace and forgiveness. “The gospel of grace begins and ends with forgiveness. And people write songs with titles like “Amazing Grace” for one reason: grace is the only force in the universe powerful enough to break the chains that enslave generations. Grace alone melts ungrace.”
I’ll keep reading the book; I’m only half way through, and let you know if I get more insight. I need to learn a lot more about forgiveness and since God keeps directing me to books about grace and forgiveness I think He agrees!