Thursday, January 24, 2013

Devotional: Forgiveness

Jonah 3
New International Version (NIV)

1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

“By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

Colossians 3:12-17

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

John 8:1-11
Words of Christ in red

8 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin."

What thoughts do these scriptures prompt in you?

Okay, you want to know what thoughts cross my mind with these, I'll tell you.

"There, but for the grace of God go I." 

I say that to myself when I watch someone do something really, really stupid. Its easy to look at something in a vacuum and go "I would never go that". But when you're there, tired, emotional, beat down, probably scared... yeah, the world is a whole different place, and what you're willing to do I a whole different story.

I remember hearing about when Corey, a senior at my high school, walked into his parents living room and deliberately put a 12 gauge buck-shot load through his head, right in front of his parents. I was like everyone else at the time, we called the guy selfish, sick, cowardly... you name it.

Then, thirty one days later, another kid hung himself.

You thought the school was traumatized after one suicide, you should have been there for number two.I guess something about that whole mess jarred me enough to realize everyone else was acting out of anger with their remarks by then. They were scared, they were hurt, they were looking for answers. I was just so shocked at the thing that I think I forgot to be angry, and saw what was going on through different eyes.

I didn't have a bad childhood, but I did face more than my share of bullies. The result of that was dealing with what I would now call mild depression, and a lot of really, really dark hours mad at the world.

Sometime in that whole mess, I put it all together  and realized that while I would never kill myself, back before, when I wasn't who I was in high school, when i was alone, when i was beat down, when i was mad at the world.... maybe I was closer to saying yes than I would have liked to admit.

When that realization hits you, the idea that maybe you are capable of causing that much pain and destruction, the world kind of take on a new focus. it wasn't an instant realization, or a dramatic one, but more like a gradual euphony.

For the first time in my life, I saw my tormentors with pity and not ire as I wondered what could have driven them to  be who they were.

I stopped resenting the worst of my teachers as much as I did, wondering what in their lives had them so flustered or jarred that they couldn't even manage a classroom.

I wondered how far I was, or had been from becoming for someone else the type of nightmare these people had become to me.

I'm here to tell you, that's a scary realization when you come to it. For me its terrifying. For I know, deep down that while I am a good person, I choose to me good. The idea of what I would be capable of should something break my moral guide is... haunting to contemplate.

I think that the above verses show that God can see through the acts we commit, and see if there is good deep down inside. Wounds can heal, pain can fade, but we can't undo the past, so perhaps we should consider building on the future. He could have leveled Nineveh; Sodom and Gomorrah are proof of that. But somehow he decided that despite their transgressions, there was something in there worth salvaging  something worth keeping.

I think Christ was the first figure to put forgiveness in terms of love (I could be wrong, I'm hardly a biblical scholastic). More or less, the letter to the Colossians spells it out, however, Love, though and through.

The "let he without sin cast the first stone", line is perhaps one of the most quoted from the bible, and not without reason.

I have to stop and break this down just a bit because I read this a certain way. I don't think Christ was against punishing her at all, but that whole incident was more or less meant to highlight both a hypocritical element,  and the heavy-handedness of the accusers. I'm highly suspicious, (but can't demonstrate this with any fact), and when Christ said "without sin", he wasn't talking about absolute purity. I'm willing to bet that a lot of those men probably knew more about the sex trade than they should have, and if not that vice, I'd hate to think what else they had done with their power and wealth.

The point here isn't to say they were corrupt and the wasn't. I'm sorry, but she wasn't screaming rape, she was guilty too. My point here is that we need to hold ourselves to the same standards that we hold others to, the golden rule, but customized for accountability in this case.

"But Christ forgave her", you say. Yes, but I think there is more to it than that.

There is an old tale out of Japan about an assassin who went in to kill a feudal lord. When he got there, the guy woke up, and in a fit of anger spit in the assassin's face, and called his mother a whore. Rather than strike out, the assassin turned and left. You see, he would have struck in anger, which made it vengeance,  and not a contract. That's not why he was there, and he was too professional to do it that way, and too honest with himself to let it go that far.

Hokey, I know, but it really begs us to ask if we are holding ourselves to the same standards that we hold others to.

Sure, I'm not sexually amoral, but I'm not perfect either, and I know it. That's what I'm seeing with Christ's forgiveness of the woman here. Sure, she probably deserves some punishment, but these men weren't after justice, and he knew it. They were angry and wanted blood from a woman who's only real mistake when compared to at least some of them was that she had gotten caught.

Do we honestly want to hold people accountable when they wrong us, or do we just want to feel vengeance for our loss, or our trouble?

What was to be gained by killing the adulterous woman?

What's to be gained my hating the schoolyard bully?

What's to be gained by hating the girl who mocked your crush?

What's to be gained by holding those grudges?

We tell ourselves "well, I want them to be suspended, or yelled at, or hurt so that they won't do that again."

Yeah... I would like to think we're a little past that reasoning. While I fully feel that a person should pay for their crimes, there is a reason the criminal justice system is detached and methodical.

You can forgive and still hold someone accountable. You can can let go of the hate, and still protect yourself from future hurts. Forgiving isn't forgetting. But it is letting go of the pain, the anger and the hurt.

In the end, forgiving someone isn't about them... it's about you. 

Who do you need to forgive or from whom have you been withholding forgiveness?

As those who know me are all too aware, I am a man of deep, driving convictions, and a ironclad sense of right and wrong, and dedication that others call epic in it's scale.

When put to good use, those are titanic forces for good.

But I'll tell you, I've been there. I've seen the man who questioned my honor rewarded for his actions. I've seen the liar congratulated, I've seen the spiteful lash out, and I've seen the vengeful set their sights on me. I've been called lazy and "blatantly ambitious" by people in authority. I've been spit upon and laughed with a moody boot print across my face. I've been...

Yeah. I've been there.

And I've had all those same characteristics focused in one all-consuming beam of hate.

And many times at that.

Someone once told me that holding a grudge is like letting someone live rent-free in your head.

Maybe this year I can finish serving the eviction notices. 

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