A month ago, I discovered some ugly things had been said about my family, and it came about in a rather public way. The people who had said these things were people close to my family. People who read this blog.
I was angry. These people were close to me and were disciples of Yeshua – if they thought my family was involved in sinful things, why didn’t they come to me? Isn’t that what disciples of Yeshua are supposed to do? These people were close to me, yet now I find multiple people had been saying and believing ugly rumors about my family. I felt betrayed and slandered.
My wife was hurt the most. Much of the jabber was directed at her and her life. She cried for about 3 days consecutively. These people were close to us, so it hurt her deeply.
I tried to comfort her. I set the record straight with the folks that pushed around rumors about us and those that believed the rumors. There was some apology, and some admittance of wrong.
Still, a month later, my wife remains hurt. Even though we’ve worked through some of the problems, there is still a lot of pain. She doesn’t want to even be around said people. Who can blame her? Who wouldn’t be uncomfortable around people who secretly said ugly things about you?
The reason it is more difficult to reconcile with people than God is because we don’t always trust that people are sincere, or even if they are, they might commit the offense again. When it comes to offenses against us, we have long memories, and that is part of the problem.
It’s tempting, then, to not forgive at all. Plenty of choice phrases came to mind as I contemplated severing ties.
However, it turns out, worse things happen to you if you refuse forgiveness. And not some airy imagined thing, but real, tangible, life-influencing bad stuff occurs when you refuse forgiveness:
The real problem with holding back forgiveness from others is the price we pay. Many years ago, someone hurt my wife. I was extremely angry. The offender brushed it off. I stayed angry for five long, dark years. It made me bitter and poisoned me. After five years, I realized that the person I wanted to help was no longer hurting over it. She had moved on. The person I was mad at was going on his merry way and probably didn’t even consider his actions. The one I wanted to help wasn’t being helped, and the one I wanted to hurt wasn’t being hurt. The only one to suffer was me. God showed me that I needed to let go of the offense and forgive. When I did, I had an incredible sense of relief and peace. I went to the offender and told him I forgive him and hold nothing against him. His response was that he did nothing wrong. I let it go, because forgiveness is something I do, regardless of whether the person deserved it. God forgave me when I didn’t deserve it either.
I laughed reading that – 5 years of bitterness and refusal-to-forgive is finally overcome, and the response? “I did nothing wrong” – oh! Dunno’ about you folks, but for me, it’s at that point I’d lose it, I’d go all out and strangle the idiot, Macho Man Savage style.
Of course, it could be worse.
Saying, “I did nothing wrong, you have nothing to forgive me for!”, is not the worst you could do.
Ever watch a public figure apologize on television? It’s all, “I’m sorry you feel that way”, or alternately, “I’m sorry you’re offended.” This is the politician’s apology. It’s not an apology at all: it puts the blame on you, while not admitting wrong, but doing so in a way that appears to be an apology.
Humans are great at avoiding responsibility for wrongs. Nobody likes to admit wrong, so we invent clever, subtle ways to avoid accepting that we did something wrong.
Where do we go from here? Or practical: How do my wife and I move on? Something resonated in Schiffman’s post: forgive, because the relationship with that person is more important than the offense.
Person > Offense.
We don’t have to actually forget wrongs, but we have to learn to put them aside when we relate to people. Scripture teaches us that God forgives our sins so that they are not counted against us. We need to do this with others, and it is not easy. When someone has hurt me, it’s very difficult to let go, but that’s what I need to do. God wants us to make things right with our brothers before we come to him. Forgiveness is not pretending the offense never happened. It’s valuing the person more than the offense.
The people involved in this dispute read this blog. Some of them have offered an apology for some things, and for that I’m grateful. For the others, even if there is no apology, I am willing to forgive, knowing they are more valuable to me than the offense. I don’t want to let years go by with bitterness between us.
My mother told me a story about her father and her uncle Harry. They were two brothers who emigrated from Eastern Poland with their family in the early 20th century. They helped bring the entire family to America. Somewhere along the line my grandfather and his brother had a big fight, and didn’t speak to each other for 20 years. As a result, their children grew up not knowing each other. After 20 years, before the High Holy Days, they met each other while visiting the graves of their parents. Having not seen each other in all that time, they looked at each other, wept, and embraced. They had forgotten about what they quarreled.
That would suck. I don’t want years to pass with bitterness in place. We’ve got a short amount of time to live life – wasting 20 years on bitterness and cold war isn’t an attractive proposition to me! I don’t want that junk in my life, and I don’t want it for my family.
What if this happens again? Will my forgiving be rendered meaningless? It would be extremely painful. It would even more difficult to forgive a second time. Yeshua said to forgive 70 times 7. 7 is the Hebrew number of completion, perfection. Reading the text that way, it seems Yeshua is saying, “Keep forgiving until completion.” I have no idea how that would work. Actually, I can’t see it working practically without becoming a human doormat. Cross that bridge when I get there, I guess.
Messianic scholar J.K. McKee said recently forgiveness is a problem in our religious institutions:
He says the “bury the hatchet” movements are a dime a dozen, but asks, when do they actually work? When do people resolve the deep bitterness held against each other in our own movement?
I must admit, I don’t like Messianic blogger Derek Leman, for numerous offenses; he and his posts cause me more consternation and teeth gritting than any person outside the web. I should send him my dental bill. Messianic leader Boaz Michael and his organization First Fruits of Zion is estranged from me because he considers my community to be supersessionist false friends of Israel. (To be clear, neither Boaz Michael nor Derek Leman are being spoken of in the above text.)
How does that get resolved? I mean, I guess I forgive, sure. What next? I can’t pretend everything is OK. It’s not. Things are not OK. So after forgiving for past offenses, now what?
Where do you go after forgiving? Move on, I suppose. And treat the people kindly. Practical forgiveness, I hope. When Schiffman related he had, after 5 years, forgiven-without-receiving-apology, and hearing the response “I did nothing wrong!”, still, he just let it go.
That’s probably part of forgiving. “Let it go”. No response. No rebuttal. No defending self. No setting things right. Just let it go. It’s not fair. No justice there. He’s not repenting, in fact, he’s taunting you? Doesn’t matter, let it go. The good guy loses. The bad guy wins. You let it go.
Let it go. That’s part of forgiving, too. Come to think of it, that’s kind of what Yeshua did at his trial. I often have wondered why he was silent when his accusers tried him. Maybe it was part of forgiving. He didn’t have to set the record right. He just forgave, straight up. Let it go, even though his actual life was at stake. That’s something. That’s significant. I am glad to be a disciple of such a man.
Thanks for listening.