During a Bible study on June 17, 2015 in Charleston, SC, nine people were murdered by Dylann Roof. Although it deeply affected the nation, something less publicized, but more powerful occurred during the court hearing two days later (article with video). Several of the families were allowed to speak to the gunman, and what they said surprised the world: “I forgive you”.
How is it possible to forgive someone who, less than 48 hours prior, murdered their loved ones? Through human eyes, it is impossible; through the eyes of faith, it is very possible. Is it uncommon? Yes. Is it countercultural? Yes. Is it a stunning way to live our faith and point people toward God? Absolutely.
In Colossians chapter 3 in the Bible, Paul encourages each person to:
“. . . forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
To say that granting forgiveness is difficult is an understatement. Human nature seeks payback when we are wronged. We think revenge will make us feel better and heal our hearts, but nothing could be further from the truth. There is a reason Jesus both commanded and demonstrated forgiveness. It helps make us whole. It’s been said that not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Not forgiving others is personal discontent at its worst. It eats at us, consumes us, distracts us and can destroy us. That’s not the life God intends for us to lead.
The first step to forgiveness is prayer. We humbly ask for God to heal and change our hearts, remembering that we have been forgiven by Him. When you sense the timing is right, discuss the situation with that person and communicate your forgiveness in love, realizing that the person may not even realize the offense or may never offer you an apology.
In his book Total Forgiveness, R.T. Kendall states forgiveness means choosing not to keep track of others’ wrongs against us, refusing to punish, and being gracious, merciful and without bitterness. Importantly, he also notes that forgiveness is not approving, excusing or forgetting what the other did, or pretending we are not hurt.
Forgiveness is an essential and powerful component of our faith. Kendall states:
“What impresses the world most is changed lives for which there is no natural explanation.”
This is the essence of what living our faith is about. When we submit to regular Bible reading, prayer, serving, giving, and other “INSIDE-OUT” transformational activities, God changes us. If we allow, He can change us so much that there is no natural explanation for the way we live our lives. That’s the kind of change that makes people stand up, take notice, and gives them another opportunity to get off the spiritual fence and make a deep and lasting commitment to God.
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