Updated: Jun 22, 2020
So a few days ago I started reading a book I found on my bookshelf, Total Forgiveness, by RT Kendall. It is blowing my mind and challenging my heart. The interesting thing about forgiveness is that so often you find yourself in a place where you think that you have done all the forgiving you need to do and then the Lord holds the mirror up closer to your heart and shows you the areas that need more work. The last few days, as I have been reading the book, have been like that.
It started early on in the book when it explained the concept of total forgiveness in the context of Luke 23:34 as Jesus was hanging on the cross. The verse says:
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for His clothes by throwing dice.
Now let’s back up a bit to remind ourselves of the context of the scripture.
Out of envy, the leading priests and elders had met at the house of Caiaphas the high priest to plot how to secretly capture Jesus and kill Him.
Judas, one of His disciples in whom He had invested so much time and love, betrayed Him.
Another of his disciples and friend, Peter, denied knowing Him when He was in trouble.
He was subjected to a sham trial where He was found innocent but then sentenced to death.
The mob chose to have a revolutionary murderer released in His place.
He was flogged with a lead-tipped whip.
Thereafter, the governor’s soldiers stripped Him, and then put a scarlet robe and crown of thorns on Him.
They mocked Him, spat on Him and beat Him on the head with a stick.
Finally, they crucified Him on a cross between two criminals.
And His response? “Father forgive them...” This statement is even deeper than it first appears because it meant that not only had Jesus Himself forgiven all those people who had caused Him so much hurt and pain - physically, emotionally and mentally - He was going a step further and asking the Father to forgive them.
Now let’s be honest with each other, in our forgiveness journey, even as we are trying to forgive those who have hurt us, we would much rather God did not forgive them. In fact, quite often when we forgive we do so in the quiet hope that God will “deal with them!” In Krio we say, “Ah lef me case gee God”; essentially, I have left my grievance in the hands of God. There is an unstated expectation that the Lord will "do the needful". In the book however, RT Kendall explains that, “The ultimate proof of total forgiveness is when we sincerely petition the Father to let off the hook those who have hurt us.”
When I first read that it hit me hard. It got me to really question whether I had “totally forgiven” some people who had hurt me. I had “let them go” in my heart alright but the thought of praying to God for Him to forgive them... hmmm. For one person (well, maybe two 😊) that thought felt like a gentle stab to my heart. Wow!
I must admit that I wasn’t taking an instant liking to this total forgiveness business. It was causing me to die to another level and quite frankly I thought I was “sufficiently dead” and I didn’t care much for dying further. Really, to what extent does one have to die before God truly considers them dead to themselves?
The bottom line however is that I knew I had to obey the Lord’s stirrings in my heart. I thought about it this way - if there was residual bitterness (and I already know that unforgiveness and bitterness are forms of bondage) then it meant that there was residual bondage. I had a simple choice - partial freedom or total freedom? This made the decision that bit easier.
So I started trying to pray, “Father, please forgive her” and I must admit the words were not flowing; certainly not flowing from the heart. Then the Holy Spirit gave me wisdom and got me to change the wording to what felt more readily “digestible”. I changed to, “Lord, please have mercy on her”. From there I progressed to, “Lord, please have mercy on her children.” Then, “Lord, please do not allow them to have the punishment they deserve.” Within a few minutes I had gone from struggling to totally forgive to not only praying for the lady in question but also for her children. My heart felt lighter.
I have learnt that when you are struggling to forgive it is best to start with something small. For example, if you had an abusive parent you may not be able to readily forgive him or her for significant abusive incidents. You could start by forgiving that parent for a mean word he or she said to your sibling or for the time you weren’t bought a treat you really wanted. Essentially start with something more “bite size” and trust God to give you the grace to go on to later slay the giants.
There’s a part of you that may feel like asking God to forgive the person is allowing them to get away with things; especially if they continue to wreak havoc in your life or you continue to pay the price for their wrongdoing. That’s completely understandable but remember whose you are. You belong to God. He is your daddy. Just put your heart in His hands and allow Him to take care of you, to mend your broken heart, to fix the broken areas of your life. Don’t worry about the other person. Don’t allow them to continue to perpetuate their hurt by keeping you locked up in the prison of bitterness.
If the damaging situation is still ongoing it may help to first spend time speaking to God about the circumstances and asking Him to resolve the continuing difficulties before going on to totally forgive.
There are also times when forgiving a person may feel like betraying a loved one. Forgive anyway. In the final analysis we are answerable to God and He has commanded us to forgive.
We have to keep constantly reminding ourselves that Father God is the one who has promised to work all things out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. There is literally nothing that He cannot work out for our good because there is nothing impossible for Him. Total forgiveness is about confidence in God; where our focus is on pleasing Him and no other. Trusting Him.
When you think about it, if I want God to not hold my sins against me why would I resist the concept of God not holding others’ sins against them? Is it because I think that their sin is weightier than mine? If sin is sin then doesn’t it mean exactly that - whether the sin be mine or my offender’s it is just that: sin?
If the issue is the painful consequences of the offense then should my focus not be on asking God to heal or resolve the resulting pain or situation rather than being fixated on Him punishing the offender?
The desire to get even - where or who is that coming from? It is clearly not rooted in love or in Christ. Dare we make the mental exploration of where it is coming from? And if we do, are we willing to stare the truth in the face and slay the necessary giants?
What about those I have hurt? Knowingly or unknowingly, hurt nevertheless. Is their pain inferior to my pain? Would I not want God’s mercy for the hurt I have caused? About a year and a half ago the Lord randomly asked me to call someone and apologize for the hurt I had caused them.... more than twenty years before. What made the Lord ask me to do that? Could it be that the pain I had caused that person had had more far reaching consequences than I could ever begin to imagine. Could it be because the person was still dealing with the effects of my actions two decades later whilst I had “swanned off into the sunset”? Could it be that my calling to express remorse would have helped the person along the healing journey?
I am just thinking... I am barely a fifth of the way into the book and I am thinking so much already. If Jesus could forgive His tormentors and murderers and then ask the Father to forgive them then who am I to hold on to a grudge?
May God have mercy on me, on you, and on everyone who has ever caused us pain.