Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Story of Forgiveness

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  ~Ephesians 4:32

Before communion this morning, our pastor preached on this verse & asked us to examine ourselves to make certain that we would not "eat of the bread or drink of the cup in a manner unworthy" & thus "be guilty concerning the body & blood of the Lord."  (1 Cor. 11:20-34)  As I sit here, I can honestly say that at the moment there is no one with whom I am at odds & in need of extending forgiveness toward.  However, that's not always the case & certainly has not been so in the past.  Forgiving others can sometimes be one of the hardest of God's commands to follow.  Today, I'd like to share with you a personal story of forgiveness, highlighting God's grace in bringing me to it.

As you may or may not know, I was molested as a child; however, that's not what I want to focus on here.  What I want to focus on is how God brought me through the anger & hatred that I felt for the family who blamed me to the place of healing & forgiveness.  When I discovered that not only had it happened again, but that my family's reaction toward this victim was the same as it had been toward me, concentrated anger flooded over me.  Anger that hardened into full-blown hate.

As a Christian, I knew it was wrong to hate, knew that:

If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  ~1 John 4:20

Yet, I foolishly thought this did not apply to me because of the heinous nature of what was done to me (& her), both by the molester & by my family.  I had a right to be angry - my anger was righteous - & I had a right to hate.  The result of this was that I cut off all ties with my family for several years as the anger ate me alive from the inside out.

Anger - & its by-product hate - is a funny animal.  As it took hold in my heart, I nursed it.  As I nursed it, it's tentacles entagled themselves ever deeper until it colored every part of my life & held me captive.  I was in constant turmoil, wanting to be reconciled with those I'd once cherished, but clutching tightly to my anger in the face of their refusal to acknowledge & atone for their wrongs.  The only way, to my mind, for the relationships to be redeemed was for the guilty to pay for their sins.  It got to the point where I carried around a constant burning in the pit of my stomach, a knot that never loosened.  I went so far as to try to escape it all by moving 650 miles away.  I thought distance would heal me.  It did lessen the pressure because I no longer faced the situation daily, but I was by no means healed.

During the course of my struggles, I sought the help of 2 pastors & 2 counselors.  Even so, my anger & anguish were not alleviated.  One evening, the Holy Spirit convicted me of my anger & unforgiving attitude.  I don't remember what the sermon I was listening to was on, but I remember this overwhelming certainty that I needed to forgive.  When the Holy Spirit prods, it's foolish to ignore Him, so I reached out & reconciled with my family.  And I thought I had forgiven them.  The only thing was that when I thought about everything that had happened - the molestation, their betrayal, their refusal to admit wrong & apologize - I was still filled with anger.  And while I was on speaking terms with them, I was really just going through the motions.  I told myself that my cold heart towards them was natural because they had done nothing to earn back my trust.  I was just being cautious with my heart so that they couldn't hurt me again.  And while it is true that you can forgive someone without placing trust in them, looking back I can say that this simply was not what was going on here.  I was cold of heart because I had not fully forgiven them.  I still expected payment.

Fast-forward again.  When Michael & I met, I nervously shared with him the story of my molestation.  Nervously, because I saw myself as dirty, damaged goods.  I figured he needed to know sooner rather than later so he could bail if he wanted to.  He didn't.  Instead, he sent me a box of books & sermons.  Contained in that box was Mark Driscoll's sermon on expiation & C.J. Mahaney's book Living the Cross-Centered Life.  I cried as Mark explained from the Scriptures that Christ's death on the cross cleansed me not only of the sins I commit, but also of the sins committed against me.  This laid the foundation for C.J.'s book, through which, by the grace of God, I was finally freed.  And through which I was finally able to free my prisoners.  It was amazingly simple!  What finally freed me was the Gospel.

Christ, one with God the Father from eternity past, became incarnate & dwelt among us.  Fully God & fully man, He lived a perfectly sinless life, always in the will of the Father, living in complete communion with & submission to the Father in our place.  When it pleased the Father, Christ was punished for our sin in His death on the cross.  Bearing our shame, bearing God's wrath, He died the death we deserve.  Through His mercy & grace, we are given His righteousness when we repent of our sin & believe in Him.  He was condemned so we could be justified.

As I read Living the Cross-Centered Life, the truth of the Gospel hit me between the eyes full force.  I realized for the first time the heinous nature of my own sin.  Because God is perfectly holy, in order for me to enter His presence, I must be perfectly holy.  And I'm not.  Because I'm not, to show His great mercy & to bring glory to His name, He paid for my sin so I could come to Him.  The offended paid the penalty for the offender.  Incredible!  In seeing this truth, I also realized that the sins committed against me, no matter how horrible, pale in comparison to my sin against God.  Because, the true measure of sin is not the sin itself, but who is sinned against.  And since God is infinitely holy, all sin committed against Him - no matter how "small" in our eyes - is infinitely wicked & infinitely worthy of damnation.  That's simply not the case when someone sins against me.

So, the conclusion that I arrived at was this:  If God has forgiven me, who am I to withhold forgiveness from others?  In that instant, I was finally freed!  Totally, completely, wholly freed!  What happened to me was wrong, but I no longer feel anger over it.  I no longer hold my family hostage.  I never got an acknowledgement or an apology from them, & I find I no longer need it.  The truth of the matter is, if they're saved - & I believe they are - then Christ has already paid for their sins, & they are no more.

So, let me encourage you.  If you're facing a situation & are finding it difficult to forgive, you can just let it go.  You can meditate on & rejoice in the Gospel & forgive.  And you'll discover, as I did, that you'll finally find freedom.

Soli Deo Gloria!


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Chrissy, for your honesty in this post and others. You have modeled amazing faith in Christ, which is of great worth and wealth.

The Boyds said...

Thank you, Elizabeth. Any grace or faith evidenced in me - & I do pray that it is - is a gift from God.