Some time back I received an invitation to attend a workshop titled: Embracing Forgiveness. The workshop was offered by a prominent psychiatric Hospital in the Chicago area. The advertised promotion went like this:
“Imagine what your life would be like with: * decreased feelings of hurt * a reduction in the physical symptoms related to sleepiness, listlessness and dizziness * a reduction in the long-term experience of anger * an increase in the experience of peace in the present moment.” I agree that each of these are viable and healthy goals for the wounded and victimized. But then the next promotion line went like this: “What is forgiveness? * Forgiveness is Peace * Forgiveness is for you, not the offender * Forgiveness is taking back your personal power * Forgiveness is taking responsibility for how you feel * Forgiveness is becoming a hero instead of a victim”.
I realize that my judgment needs to be cautious, given the fact that I did not attend this training workshop. But based upon the desired goals mentioned in the first part, and then the description of what is forgiveness – presented as the means to attaining the goals, I can look at Scripture to see what is forgiveness and what our Lord prescribes for “a reduction in the long-term experience of anger”, and then make a cautious judgment upon the wisdom of this very popular approach to the subject of forgiveness as related to wounded hearts.
Let’s begin with a question: When a child of God has been hurt by a person who will not apologize with repentance and restoration, what is the consistent Biblical prescription for the wounded, in order that “decreased feelings of hurt” will be achieved? Our Lord prescribes this Romans 12:19,
‘Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.’
What is the situation for the Romans that would lead Paul to say this? Persecution! Paul has instructed the believers in practical Christianity in verses 9 – 13. Then he says in verse 14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” What is Paul doing here? How can this possibly be a means of experiencing peace in the present moment of deep hurt and pain? How can a woman muster the energy, emotion and will to bless her enemy and resist the path of cursing him (v. 14), and repaying him evil for the evil that was done to her (v.17)? Is she told by God to, “Forgive him”? No, but she is commanded to give God the place of implementing wrath. God does not extinguish your godly desire for justice, rather, He wants you to give Him the right to take vengeance in His time and in His way. God created humans in His image, and part of that image-bearing is a desire for justice when someone has done evil. If we avenge ourselves we sin. But we do not sin if we give God this prerogative.
I offer this prayer taken primarily from the truths of Psalm 37 so that we may hear the healing of the heart as the Lord applies the promise of justice to His child who has been wounded:
“Lord, I relinquish my desire to repay my tormentor over to you. The place of vengeance belongs to you alone. If you bring justice to me through your ordained magistrates, I will bless your name. If you do not, I will still trust in you to bring forth your righteousness and justice, for just as each day has a noon hour, you will bring your justice to pass for me. I will wait for your justice to be done and rest confidently in your courtroom. I will cease from anger and forsake personal wrath upon my enemy. Therefore, I will not fret about justice being done – it only causes me to stay awake at night and eventually harms my body. I praise you for giving my heart the peace it so desperately needs at this time in my life. I know that if I wait for your justice to be done in my life, you will destroy all those who work evil against me and I will inherit the whole earth as my peaceful and safe land. My sweet Lord, it is hard for me to be happy and laugh with all that you have lain upon me. But you see the end-day of my oppressor and you laugh for me – for you will break the strength of the wicked while you sustain my life. Like smoke, my enemy will disappear into thin air; therefore, my life will be characterized not by seeking vengeance but by showing mercy and generous giving. You are my salvation and strength in this troublesome time. You will deliver me from the wicked because I trust in your Justice! Amen.”
If a wounded heart is to bless her enemy (Romans 12:14) – by feeding him when he is hungry and giving him something to drink when he is thirsty, and shaming him by doing good to him though he has done evil (v. 20), then God prescribes the path of looking to Him for vengeance (v.19). In other words, if you want to bless your enemy by providing his needs when he abused yours, the path to take is trusting God to avenge you. It is not forgiveness of our enemies’ sin that heals our wounded hearts but giving God the rightful place of settling the account with our abuser. We conquer the evil by doing good to our enemy, but the only way that we can get around to doing good to our enemy is turning over our desire for revenge to our Just Lord. Our desire for justice is not wrong, and it is not wrong to put some justice in place on this side of eternity, but it is wrong to personally seek vengeance. Not even a fair sentence given by earthly courts can fully heal the heart, especially when the offender is in denial of the trespass. This is why the LORD, our Righteous Judge will do right for us, eventually, because the earthly courts cannot fully restore the heart, freeing it up to do good to the enemy. And this sure and eventual justice upon our transgressor becomes a means of peace for the heart.
Let’s now check the advertisement on “Forgiveness” and see if it squares with Psalm 37, Romans 12:14-21, and verses we have used in the previous two posts.
“* Forgiveness is Peace” – no, the promise of the Lord’s vengeance and one day living in a land where all evildoers will be removed is our source of peace.
“* Forgiveness is for you, not the offender” – no, forgiveness is for the one who repents; God’s promise to repay your enemy is for you.
“* Forgiveness is taking back your personal power” – no, giving God the place of wrath acknowledges that He has power [“authority” is probably meant by the word power]; humility, peace and freedom to do good to your enemy is now accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit
“* Forgiveness is taking responsibility for how you feel” – no, giving God the place of vengeance is taking responsibility for how you feel. What the abused feel is a desire for justice. Feelings that are responsible before God must be channeled upward to Him. This is worship! When we look up to our heavenly Father and cry for justice, He hears our cry and as a jealous Father for His children, He will not turn His face away – He will curse those who curse His children!
* Forgiveness is becoming a hero instead of a victim” – no, the Lord becomes our hero when we turn to Him, trusting that He will repay as He pleases. What a victim needs is not to be burdened down with personal “hero” language. What a child of God needs to become is a trusting yet hurting petitioner of God the Champion who will fight for His children.
Dear child of God, God has the right prescription for the soul that has been abused by an enemy who will not repent. Therefore, God not only wants you to imagine, but to really experience these things through His promise to avenge you.