By L&T Columnist Gary Damron
The phenomenon of hoarding has become more well-known, with television cameras showing the way some people live. Their homes are piled high with possessions they’re unable to turn loose of, even after some of the stuff has rotted.
There’s a more hidden kind of hoarding, one more destructive and putrid than this, that happens when unforgiveness piles up in a person’s heart. The one who harmed us may even be dead and buried, but the hurt lives on if we allow it.
The New Testament shows examples of forgiveness, and a pattern for releasing feelings of blame. Found in the Sermon on the Mount is a command, “’But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).
The Lord’s Prayer contains the phrase, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6: 12). Then two verses later Jesus added reinforcement when he said, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
Peter was quick to catch on to things, but sometimes impetuous about the application. He asked, “’Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’” (Matthew 18:21). No doubt he felt magnanimous in forgiving so much but the reply was, “’up to seventy times seven’” – and the truth is, if Peter had tallied 490 times he would still be required to forgive again. All sin is against God, so we don’t need to be responsible for keeping tabs.
As he was crucified on Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, Jesus gave the ultimate example of forgiveness. “’Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do’” (Luke 23:34). Shortly afterward Stephen was martyred for his faith, with his last words reverberating, “’Lord, do not charge them with this sin’” (Acts 7:60).
If all this sounds impossible, the difficulty is that it’s not natural or normal. The tendency is to hold on, as hoarders do to their stuff, to small snubs and insults, as well as more harmful deeds perpetrated against us. Sometimes even wrongs we’ve committed keep us enchained when we’re unable to forgive ourselves.
The Good News of the Gospel is that grace and mercy, balanced with justice, will be meted out. Anyone who brings sins to God, either those of our own or others’ will find release and healing.
When we decide to forgive, a process begins – not one of feeling but of action and choice. In forgiving we take away the power of the deed. Peter learned the lesson taught and modeled by Jesus, and later wrote, “when he was reviled, did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but committed himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).
Like healing after surgery, forgiveness may take awhile to bring wholeness, but it will come. We as believers have the ability to bring a sense of forgiveness to others, and release for our own hearts as well as theirs. This week you probably will have an occasion to forgive. Grab the opportunity, release the hurt, and use it as a door to freedom.