A wound. A war of words. A flash of anger. Something dark churns within and seeks to rise forth, threatening to dominate speech, seeking to spew retort, and narrowing focus on the chronology of events and utterances. Fellowship is broken and isolation ensues. We seek to fill painful voids with others, substituting relationship for relationship lost.
Or perhaps we withdraw completely, searching out serenity through solitude. Vain attempts are made to conceal and lessen the effects of conflict within; a ripe environment for accusations to thrive. The unavoidable analysis of others feeds a swelling indictment against our transgressors. The acidic decay of bitterness erodes faith in humanity deforming hope to despair, transforming joy to melancholy as we question our maker's intent in permitting the injustices of others.
Perhaps we search the antithesis of seclusion by wading into the crowd, obscurity in numbers. We search out the maelstrom of the masses as we seek to supplant introspection with activity. Contemplation is muted for the roar of distraction. Avoidance of self is the goal as we disengage our own depth of suffering and occupy our thoughts and calendar with obligations, service, and the pursuit of purpose.
We are well acquainted with the scriptural axiom to "turn the cheek" but what happens when offense so severe ensues that we are certain that to offer another targeted blow will only result in our own beheading? Where do we draw the line at grace for others and the right to defend? Additionally, when does our own righteousness of action permit the right to judge and sentence others? Is there ever a point when damage so severe has been enacted upon us that we have the right to permanently isolate the offender with no hope of reprieve? These are weighty questions from one who struggles daily with forgiveness of others and of self.
“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt. But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
Matt 18:23-35 (NLT)
"From your heart"...
I hate this passage of scripture because even though I would seek every right to justify my defensive and self protective measures against another, make every argument for self-preservation and the protection of my family, Jesus' words ravage and annihilate any argument I can muster for the permanent isolation of others seeking forgiveness, no matter the nature of the offense. Where "an eye for an eye" was law, His life and demonstrated love raise the bar to anger towards another no longer being a secretive within the heart but a murderous indictment against self as it corrodes intent and eats at the soul, slowly sapping strength and will.
And forgiveness? Certainly we can attempt to appreciate the sin debt and resultant damnation removed from all who call upon Him, but I often choose to argue that I am not God. I do not have it within to wipe every slate. But this feeble dissent is again overwhelmed by the power of an eternal sacrifice made on my behalf, one in which I am called to "daily take up" my own cross. My ultimate desire should always be to emulate the one who made my fellowship with the Majesty in Heaven possible. This cannot be done if I reserve my right to hold out on complete and unconditional forgiveness of others - even before they ask. Failure to do so imprisons only myself as I strive in futility to grow and expand in the depth of my journey with Him. The calling is clear.
"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
In this verse, the forgiveness the Lord enacted towards us is defined by the Greek word 'charizomai'. It means to give graciously and freely, to bestow, to restore one to another. This same word is used in the verse to describe how our actions towards others should occur. One and the same, we are called to 'charizomai' others.
It is false to say this is not within me - for He is within me. My nature was reborn for holiness when salvation occurred and to fail to call upon His strength and wisdom to perform the above is willful neglect of command. Relationship with the offender may never fully be restored and certainly it will not remain unaltered. Where my sinless and perfectly untainted Holy creator sat within the moral eternal right to leave me forever severed from life and love and in darkness, His overcast grace was spread over humanity for all time for those who will receive it. Though right was present, grace was enacted. Just as the debtor in the parable, the expectation is clear - when given opportunity, I am to walk out grace through the right as well.