Grace: Age 3 1/2
The other day I was certain Grace was lying. She was walking funny and her pants were wet. I sternly asked if she’d peed.
“No, it’s water. Mia and I were playing with the little people in the water.”
I gave her the sideways “I don’t believe you” glace. And then I saidit. “I don’t believe you. You peed your pants.”
“NO! It’s water!” she insisted, not with anger, but emphatic defense.
Again I demanded the “truth.” Again she denied the charges.
“Well, I don’t believe you. We’ll see when we get home and change.”
“Ok…” she replied with a resignation devoid of malice.
When we got home I found she was telling the truth. Her pants were superficially wet. So I admitted my guilt. “Gracie, Mama was wrong. Thank you for telling me the truth. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you.”
I was amazed as I watched her dance around while the cheerful melody of her voice sang: “Its ok, Mama. I forgive you!”
This moment got me thinking about forgiveness. Why is it so hard to forgive those who hurt us? Why is it so hard to say “sorry” and seek forgiveness?
In the Lord’s Prayer we pray: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Or some translations say “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
The first translation gives the illustration of a wrongly crossed line; treading on another’s property. Spiritually speaking this trespass is wounds caused by treading on another’s heart. The second translation makes the concept more complete. Whenever we see signs for “No Trespassing” they are accompanied by the words: “Violators will be prosecuted.” This attaches a “debt” or penalty for treading on someone else. In a spiritual sense, anytime someone trespasses against us, or we against them, a debt is incurred that must be paid.
No wonder it’s so hard for us to forgive. No wonder we have a hard time seeking forgiveness. It’s because of this dynamic of debt. We are innately wired to demand justice. When someone trespasses against us we want them to PAY! We want to exact our pound of flesh. On the other hand, when we have wronged someone, we don’t want to face the debt and pay the price. We don’t want to have that pound of flesh exacted from us! We all intellectually understand the damaging effects of un-forgiveness but somehow those damaging effects continue to plague us. There’s got to be a better way! What’s the answer?!
Remember: Jesus is the answer. Jesus is always the answer!
In Luke 6:29 Jesus says “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.” Being hit in the face is clearly a trespass—and we are to turn the other cheek to them also?! To let them strike us again?! Well, yes if they choose. But Jesus’ point here is this: If you turn the other cheek you are not actually offering it to be struck. You are offering it to be kissed.
How can that be???
There is a message of forgiveness attached to the gesture of turning the other cheek. It does not say “I willingly allow you to abuse me.” It says, instead: “I forgive your abuse of me. I will not strike you back. I will not make you pay a penalty for hurting me. I will not exact my pound of flesh from you.” How could you even begin to turn the other cheek if you didn’t already have forgiveness in your heart? You couldn’t! Turning the other cheek to an offender is such a radical counter-intuitive action, that your brother would see not only your forgiveness, but his own sin. When the grace of your unmerited forgiveness hits him, he will not strike you again. He will reach out to embrace and kiss you. You will not have won a battle, you will have won your brother!
This is the heart of the Gospel often overlooked. Look at what Jesus did for us! There is no greater moment of turning the other cheek than the moment on the cross. As he suffered death on the cross he cried “Father, forgive them.” (Luke 23:34) This is the consummate “turning the other cheek.” How could Jesus ask the Father to forgive us, if he hadn’t already done so himself? When the true grace of His unmerited forgiveness hits you, what more do you want than to embrace Him? And what is the result? True victory!
1 Peter 2:23-25 says:
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
By His wounds… the wounds you deserve, the wounds I deserve… by His wounds we were healed, and returned to Him. He did not exact his pound of flesh from us. Instead he took it from Himself. And He stands victorious— not over us, but WITH us! When we really get hold of that truth in our hearts, it has power to move and heal like nothing else. It heals our hearts and it heals how we relate to others. When we embrace this truth, we realize when Jesus asks us to turn the other cheek he’s not asking us to do anything he hasn’t already done.
Hebrews 9:22 says “Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” From Old Testament sacrifices to the death of Jesus on the cross, we see every sin is a trespass, a debt that must be paid for with blood. Forgiveness is not cheap. It is painful. We hear all the time about how we should extend forgiveness. It’s “freedom for our souls.” It’s necessary for our “personal growth.” It “does more damage” if we don’t. “Oh just forgive!” And we get a lot of pie-in-the-sky psycho-babble about how “good it feels” to forgive. I’m not disputing that these things have truth to them. These thoughts do explain the harvest of forgiveness. But what’s missing from these tidbits of advice is that they do nothing to deal with the truth of the cost and the pain we bear when we actually choose to forgive.
What does extending forgiveness feel like? It feels like Jesus dying on the cross. It feels like me and you doing the same for those who “owe” us for wrongs they’ve done. It means I don’t make the person who wronged me pay. I don’t bring it up again and again. I don’t make snide remarks or talk poorly about them to others. I don’t replay the offense over in my mind and revile them in my heart. I don’t secretly wish for their failure or silently cheer in my heart when they fall. I don’t cut them off. I don’t withhold my affection. Choosing NOT to do these things takes great pains! When we actively choose to forgive we chose to bear the cost and exact the pound of flesh from ourselves. To extend forgiveness initially feels like death. That’s why it’s so hard for us to do. When we forgive, we choose to pay with our own “blood,” rather than forcing the offender to “spill” theirs. And that hurts…
But it also is a powerful force to heal and transform… When we extend forgiveness like Jesus— when we refuse to demand they PAY, we not only become molded to be more like our Savior, but it has an incredible spiral effect out to those we forgive. Because they experience our grace, they get a taste of Hisgrace. Their hearts shift, and are molded more to His likeness too. That is what Jesus wants. He wants to win us, and he wants us to help win our brother— not to be victorious standing OVER that brother, but to be victorious standing WITH him. This should be our ultimate aim—not to win a battle, but to WIN our brother, just as Christ sought to win us.
When I think about my moment with Gracie I realize though I wrongly accused and refused to believe her, she bore it. She had already forgiven me before she even said the words. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe she has forgiveness down pat at three years old, but I will say this— if she had not already born the trespass of my sin, turned the other cheek in her heart, and forgiven me— how could she dance around me and sing, “It’s ok, Mama, I forgive you!”
Who do you need to forgive? If we are to be like Christ we don’t extract the pound of flesh from them, we take it from ourselves… and then we dance and sing together with them in His Victory!
Keller, Dr. Timothy: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC.
To dig deeper, the above cites are linked to RPC website. Two are free downloads, one may be purchased.