“To err is human to forgive is divine” Alexander Pope
My sermon text this Sunday is Matthew 5:38-48 (the last two antithesis statements). Verse 44 says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” When I read this passage at the start of the week I felt comfortable with what it said. Forgiveness and loving ones enemies lie at the heart of the Christian message. However, as the week progressed I began to think pastorally about what Jesus was saying. Could he be serious about loving one’s enemies? It sounds like the right thing to do but in reality is it too much to ask? What about those amongst us who has suffered abuse or neglect? Furthermore, how do we reconcile this kind of passive approach to those who oppose us (for whatever reason) with our commonly held belief in boundaries and personal rites?
The problem with Pope’s quote is it removes any human obligation to forgive and places everything on God’s side of the ledger. As Jesus reminds us, forgiveness is in fact a human act as much as it is divine.
Forgiveness is at times easy, but for many, it is a hard and difficult road to travel. Emotions, memories, issues and history all need to be untangled as part of the ongoing process of forgiveness and healing. Although Jesus raises the bar and requires of his disciples that they love and pray for their enemies he does not seek immediate perfection. He simply asks that we begin the journey. A journey we know he takes with us…
Mark, if you would provide me with your email address off line (I am a good friend of Josh Smith), I will send you the story of my brother-in-law’s journey towards forgiving the woman who caused the deaths of his wife, uncle and cousin and his visit with her in prison to extend that grace.
Done. I look forward to reading it 🙂
I like Pope’s quote, and believe the emphasis is in the right context. We can really only forgive because we are forgiven! To be technical, it is theological & soteriological. And I don’t say this in any reformational aspect either, but really Catholic.
Maybe it is both/and? It is human to forgive, but we need divine assistance to do so. We can resist divine assistance, but this leads to a defacing of our own humanity due to bitterness and resentment.
Brian, Agree! 🙂
I agree with both Brian and Robert however, as a pastor I think the statement is a cop out. I see all too many people say God forgives so I need not. Now, of course no one actually says that out loud but the way in which people tend to harbour un-forgiveness for long periods of time concerns me.
But yeas the quote is true to a degree.
@Mark: Indeed, there are people who enjoy harboring bitterness and who do not want to forgive. I do think there are those for whom it is very, very difficult and who need the Spirit to empower them. I guess this is where prayer for the person who needs to forgive and prayer by the person who needs to forgive are essential.
@ Brian. Forgiveness is often a complex issue. It’s my experience that sometimes people are too quick to offer forgiveness; without first considering the total ramifications of what happened…and therefore there is a battle to walk in forgiveness because the total acknowledgement of pain hasn’t been dealt with.
Sometimes the first step is that we need to pray “I am willing to be made willing to forgive.”
Having come out of an abusive marriage; this subject is close to home. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you forget; nor does it automatically mean you have to trust that person. I live with this on a daily basis in regards to my ex wife…I have forgiven her and pray for her; but trust her… no!
As for the healing process; forgiveness and healing of the memories of what happened are two different issues; though closely related… and so the term; “Forgive and forget!” is something that I would hope non of you pastors will ever use.
@Craig: Sometimes part of forgiveness is removing oneself from the situation where the offender can continue to do harm. Sometimes it is an act of mercy to separate from another during this life time in hopes of eschatological reconciliation knowing that any contact in this life will likely only result in more hurt and more harm.
This last statement is very good, really profound! In this life, we can sometimes but pray and wait for our own Bema-Seat before Christ, knowng that only He and His presence can make things right and just! “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) To find ourselves before the throne of grace, forgiven and made whole is more than a position, but Christ in us!
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