Forgive From the Heart

            “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” ~ Nelson Mandela

            An incredible statement from an incredible man and an important principle that our nation would do well to adopt if it ever hopes to experience healing and unity.

            Some of you may be aware that when Mandela was released from prison after spending 27 years as a political prisoner and won the election in South Africa in 1994, there were many pressuring him to take revenge  for the travesty of Apartheid. Instead, he chose the path of forgiveness and reconciliation. How vastly different the outcome could have been! 

            He followed in the footsteps of other great individuals who faced similar situations, most notably Gandhi and Lincoln. Perhaps you are aware that when the American Civil War ended, many Northerners called for the punishment of the South and wanted to send troops into the southern states to establish a military presence to keep the former rebels in line. Instead, Lincoln pursued forgiveness and reconciliation announcing, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds…to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” What might our country look like today had he not chosen the path he did?

            Fascinatingly, the Treaty of Versailles after WWI stands in stark contrast to Lincoln’s approach. It was intended to be a peace agreement between the Allies and the Germans. Largely, it was a vehicle for revenge. The treaty created political discontent and economic chaos in Germany and opened the door for a monstrous dictator and World War II. What would have happened had forgiveness and reconciliation been pursued? How different was the outcome of WW2 since forgiveness and reconciliation were the policy toward both Germany and Japan! 

            It is my observation that our country is at a critical point in its history and it must choose between revenge or forgiveness and reconciliation. In each of the cases mentioned above, the faults and failures of former generations were not excused. Focusing on the past, however, would not be part of the solution moving forward.

            I am so glad that God does not dwell upon my past, nor seek to make me pay, or suffer for my sins. He is all about forgiveness and reconciliation. This is the message of Jesus Christ and the Cross. It is not a stretch to say that He was the source of inspiration for the likes of Mandela, Lincoln, and Gandhi.  

            In Christ, God has forgiven us of our pasts. He will never bring it up again. As a matter of fact, The Bible says He has forgotten about it. His focus is on our relationship now and into the future. He invites us to follow His example with all our human relationships. To do otherwise means to live with perpetual disdain and conflict. We will only succeed in tearing each other apart and our nation and world as well. Everyone, everywhere, would do well to revisit Jesus’ following parable:

            “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[h] was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.


            “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.


            “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.


            “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’


            “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.


            “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.


            “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


In Him, Pastor Paul