Head First: Can I really stop at 490?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Can I really stop at 490?


As I process through this intermediate phase of deconstruction--learning to separate the baby Jesus from the churchy bathwater, so to speak--I find myself repeatedly confronted with the intensely relational nature of faith in Christ. As I considered how to respond to someone else's post recently, it occurred to me that a significant measure of my relationship with Christ is found in my relationship with you.
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[/reflective pause]
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damnit
...
The subject of forgiveness has become a bit of a roadblock for me lately. It's not that I'm unwilling. God knows, I want nothing more than for all the crap of the last year to be a hazy memory. And it's not that I'm waiting for an apology. I'm not looking for one. In fact, trying to think back on all the times I've had to grant forgiveness, I'm hard-pressed to think of a time when my forgiveness was even sought. Ninety percent of the people I've ever needed to forgive probably never thought they had wronged me. Likewise, I hope people have forgiven me for wrongs they think I've committed (valid or not). I think the point of forgiveness is to release the forgiver from the anger and bitterness that hang him/her up from moving on.

But upon further reflection, my general pattern of forgiveness has been to decide to forgive/let it go, and then separate myself from the offender and let time do its thing (a fringe benefit of being so absent-minded). But if I no longer pursue the relationship, is that forgiveness? I know there's no reconciliation without forgiveness, but can forgiveness be authentic without reconciliation? I'm asking.

And here's where it gets sticky. When the person you need to forgive is not just unrepentant, but persistent in his offense, what does forgiveness look like, then? I mean, I can forgive a guy for swiping a couple hundred bucks from my wallet. I won't even ask for it back. But what about when he comes back every week and does it again, and doesn't see anything wrong with taking it?

You legalists out there, Jesus said "seventy times seven." Can I take Him at His word on that one? 'Cause I might be getting close.

24 comments:

dorsey said...

This is a sermon by "Blue Like Jazz" author Donald Miller, delivered at Imago Dei. He's a better writer than he is a public speaker, but his examination of the Christ metaphor in "Romeo and Juliet" is absolutely astonishing. Pay attention to Mercutio's accusation that Romeo had reduced love to a mathematical formula. Breathtaking imagery.

Check it out (right-click to download).

zeke said...

Just let your buddy Zeke go postal on this guy's ass. Then you can focus on forgiving me. I'll promise never to do it again, and we'll go drink a couple of pints and forget about it.

Yeah, in all seriousness it's a tough situation. I just had to kick out a girl that we had taken in when she was sixteen about six years ago. She stole from us, slept around, lied, you name it. And that was after investing thousands of dollars of counseling and total support for her for all that time. I finally booted her and changed the locks.

Forgive, but don't cast your pearls before swine either.

Steve C said...

You probabaly already realize this but I felt like being pastorly this morning.

In my opinion, 70X7 was meant as an reminder that we might never be done forgiving someone. When the pain arises (as it surely will) again and again, when you relive the moments in the middle of the night, when someone brings something up in casual conversation and it takes you back to the moment of the pain that was inflicted on you by the other person.... we must forgive them again.

When I went through a painful situation in the church in CO, it took me 5 years to forgive the person for the first time. And now when that situation is brought up, I can get as angry as I did when it happened originally. And there I find myself having to let it go, to forgive one more time. It's been 13 years but I still finding myself mentally going through that process.

And you are right Dorsey, what forgiveness did for me was allowed me to move past it. After five years of holding onto the wrong, I was being eaten up inside. So I wrote a letter to the Pastor and told him he no longer had any power over me with the pain and hurt he had caused me. I fully didn't expect to hear back from him, because it wasn't about him. I did receive a letter of apology about 4 weeks later. It was nice to get but totally unexpected.

Forgiveness is being someone who is interested in "for giving" rather than "for getting" something to the other person. Instead of trying to "get" something from them (acceptance, apology, being told we were right, retribution) we stand on the principle of "giving" them something they don't deserve.... grace!

ninjanun said...

I think Steve's little sermonette is wonderfully illustrated in your animated cartoon!

Quest_For_Ilúvatar said...

In my experience regarding forgiveness, it's often something in which I need to "act my way into a new way of thinking" rather than "think my way into a new way of acting". The choice to forgive and the actions of forgiveness often need to come long before I feel like I've forgiven or long before the wounds heal but forgive I must or the bitterness, resentment and all the other insipid side effects of unforgiveness will only serve to consume me (I've experienced this and hate who I become during these times). I can only pray that forgiveness can occur more than 490 times , more than 4,900 times, or even more than 490,000 times as I've sinned (and likely will sin) against my Creator more times than I can count (avg life span of 80 years X 365 days = 29,200 days of opportunities to do the wrong thing). I try to keep this in mind when I've been wronged by someone else. I remember the story of the servant who was forgiven a great debt by the King only to throw a friend in jail over a pitance...I have so often been this evil servant and strive to always remember the debt that has been forgiven me. What might cost me my reputation, my church (building), my friends, even my emotional and physical well being does not come close to matching the cost of my debt. As to continuing in a bad relationship with whomever, it takes two to tango so they say and I think we're born with the sense to get out of the way of oncoming traffic (fight or flee) unless, of course, we have been called, led, ordered etc...to remain sqarely in the headlights of that oncoming semi so that something greater may be accomplished by His grace and mercy. Like a cosmic game of chicken, I often let my nature get the best of me and flinch first and miss out on these opportunities to become less so He can become more. Just some thoughts...thanks for posing the question and allowing me an opportunity to share my experience. By the way, love the graphic...

Tony Myles said...

I'm in similar shoes... and all I know is that if I don't forgive them I think about the people a whole lot more than I know they think about me. Likewise, if I do forgive them I can move on with my life.

Whether or not they have earned it, deserve it, or want it... let the poison of bitterness drain out of you before it kills you.

And I know that sounds easier than it is... so take a baby step... and another... and another.

Ron Mosby said...

Dorsey,

I know it has been a while, but I wanted you to know that I am back. I pray that this trial which has been set before you is helping you grow more into His will for your life. Hey, please stop by my blog and leave me a message. I pray that we can encourage one another to grow greater in Christ.

dorsey said...

But what about the reconciliation dynamic? Can the relationship be restored when one person not only denies his offense, but persists in it?

Jesus forgave the Roman soldiers even as they drove the spikes into his hands. How do I square that with "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3)

I really don't want to be a cynic, but it's one thing to forgive someone with your dying breath. I actually think I could do that. It doesn't require any further action. But what about the person who ties you down, cuts your arms and legs off, and then stops by every few days asking for a game of tennis?

Perhaps I've found the limit of my comprehension.

Curious Servant said...

I've harbored resentments, and after a great deal of time made grand gestures of forgiveness. But the forgiveness is really more about me than anything else.

Where is the love, the concern for another?

I am a weak person. Self-centered, self-righteous.

It's when I grow up enough to love them, just love them without any resentment or strings, that I truly forgive.

ninjanun said...

I found the book "Boundaries" by Henry Cloud and John Townsend to be helpful in learning to set boundaries in order to keep yourself from being unnecessarily hurt by people who seem bent on making your life miserable (whether they know that's what they're doing, or not).

Anonymous said...

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

You have a duty to protect yourself, your family, and the innocent from the people who want to prey on you. Would you stand by while this guy did to your wife what he's doing to you? You'd probably knock his block off.

Yes, be patient, and if you have to strike back to protect yourself do it humbly and do not act in anger. Your very act of honorably defending yourself may make your enemy respect you more and be willing to treat you better.

Zeke said...

That was me, by the way. Don't know why that posted anonymously, or why it went up hours after I posted it. Blogger is weird sometimes.

Steve said...

DORSEY ASKS: But what about the reconciliation dynamic? Can the relationship be restored when one person not only denies his offense, but persists in it?

NO.

jeff said...

In "The Purpose-Driven Life", Rick Warren says something to this effect:

Forgiveness is mandatory. Trust is earned.

We forgive because we're commanded to forgive (and it totally benefits us & our relationship to Christ). But it would be total ignorance for us to trust the person who destroys that trust at every turn...

I think that's what makes this so strange. One of the greatest benefits to forgiveness is to let go of the offense that eats US up (and has no effect on the other person). Unfortunately, most people believe their lives are a scene from the Corsican Brothers... you know, to hurt the other person, we harm ourselves??? (also see bathroom scene from Liar, Liar... Jim Carrey: "I'm kickin' my ass!!!!")

No, forgiveness cleanses the heart of the forgiver, no matter if the forgivee receives it or not. But trust takes time (and a little grace, at some point too...)

Craig Bob said...

I say the broken relationships are the hardest parts. Over time, the sting of the actual offense fades. But not only does the primary relationship break, usually in those church settings there is collateral damage to surrounding relationships. I think that's why I still have a deep desire to be understood. Because I think (probably wrongly) that would repair the relationships. But being understood would require sharing private details with too many people. So I don't. And I'm stuck with broken relationships. It hurts.

Caro said...

"Time wounds all heels" If you forgive as Jesus commanded, you are only being obedient to your master; however, it is to HIM that you owe everything anyhow. As for the "relationship" with anyone else, what does it matter?
Over too many years, I have larned that ALL hurts, injustices, etc. ad infinitum, are meaningless. Only my relationship with Christ has any hope of lasting through this lifetime and eternity.
Be obedient to Him and let Hime deal with everyone else for you. Thus, you are continually cleansed of the sin which so easily grabs on, and He, alone, is glorified.
NOTHING I do can gain merit in God's sight for I am a SLAVE. ALL that I do is only what I should do; not acts of worth.
True friends will understand and forgive without asking; the others don't matter.

Quest_For_Ilúvatar said...

Dorsey, since I believe (or at least hope)God appreciates a joke
now and then and because if we can't laugh, we'll probably just cry, your analogy made me think of the following (bad) joke:

What do you call a person with no arms and no legs on a tennis court……………Annette

Sorry, please forgive me...

Anyway, I don’t have any answers, but I think the decision to restore a relationship with another imperfect follower of Christ also is a choice but also a process which takes time and patience. If someone keeps coming into your house to kick you in the head, you might want to lock your door (but put a key under the mat for your friends) until God can complete the good work started within this other person and you (assuming this is also their desire and your purpose in this world is not to be kicked in the head). God did not intend fellowship to be hell on earth, but that by working out relationship and community with each other and God we can realize a little piece of the world as God intended. There are consequences to our actions, even under grace. Hurt and betrayal leave lasting scars and loss of trust that, if things take a natural course, will take time and space to restore. Like many physical and emotional hurts, complete restoration may not even occur until all things are made right at the end of this age. I don’t want to reduce or limit God, but in my experience I’ve found He often lets things take their natural course (maybe that’s because there’s not supposed to be easy answers because growth occurs and grace is supplied in the struggle). The important thing here may not be the answer (if there is one), but the question which leads to the stuggle (that is, wrestling with God until He answers us) which allows God to continue to break us and remake us in his image, even in this beautiful mess we find ourselves in.

BruceD said...

i think before we can understand forgiveness, we must understand why we become offended.

You can't offend a dead man.

dorsey said...

So you're telling me that it's your habit to lay there and take it?

BruceD said...

What do you propose we do?

dorsey said...

I dont' know...

BruceD said...

I am finding that, when in doubt... die to self. If there is no self, there is nothing to offend. When there is no offense, there is no need for forgiveness.

I am beginning to see that love is defined as preferring others over self. Even if the others are offensive. Know what I mean?

But, I'm just a child, learning about God. I might be completely wrong about everything. But, so far, it seems to make the most sense.

Herobill said...

I like the wallet metaphor.

Let's say you button your pockets and don't let the guy near your sock drawer alone anymore. And let's say you tell the guy, "If possible, I'd really like to have that hundred back. My family needs it." But really, you don't push it or demand it or expect it - you just ask for it back.

Two questions: 1) Do you think you have the right to do all those things? and 2) Do you think taking such steps would hinder God's work in your or the other man's life?

And if you already took those steps... then how'd the guy steal your wallet twice?

Did I miss something? :)

dorsey said...

Herobill,
Thanks for joining the discussion. The answers to your questions are 1) yes, and 2) no. I have no problem with confrontation. That's been done. The intent of my post was to explore the options in the light of persistent and unrepentant offense.

As for buttoning the pockets, unfortunately, my wallet metaphor only stands up from the standpoint of my forgiveness. If I want to make him stop, I need a new analogy...or a new address.