2nd Sermon in Forgiveness Series
"Healing the Hurts Within: Forgiving Those Who Are Hard to Forgive"
Text: Psalm 13 -- Date: July 20, 2003
Prayer for illumination: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, 0 Lord; for you are my Rock and my Redeemer. AMEN.This morning we continue in our second in this series of sermons on Healing the Hurts Within and our focus will be on Forgiving Those who are Difficult to Forgive. As I said last week, I'm convinced that one of the major sources of the hurts that lie within us has to do with unresolved issues within ourselves. Forgiveness may be the key that would unlock a lot of those hurts. Do you struggle with forgiveness? Many people do.
While there are a number of people who might qualify as being difficult to forgive, we are going to look at just three, well, categories if you will, this morning. Forgiving monsters, ourselves, and God. Lets look at each of these in turn.
First, forgiving the monsters. There are monsters who do such terrible things to others that ordinary people dare not even dream of them. These monsters are the kinds of people that we hear about and read about that commit such heinous crimes against humankind that we shudder when we think of them. For instance, if I mention the names, Charles Manson or Saddam Hussein, does the word "monster" begin to take shape and form? There are other kinds of monsters too, aren't there? These monsters may prey upon innocent shoppers in our malls; still others who stalk women and children; different monsters have even brain-washed entire communities to the point of mass suicide, and the list of monsters goes on and on. I think you get the picture. And we ask ourselves, are these people forgivable? Of course my answer is yes.. maybe. But, let me explain my answer more fully.
You see, we think there is at least one very good argument for leaving these monsters unforgiven. We are afraid that if we forgive the monstrous evils of the world, we will minimalize their honor. Forgiveness may reduce them so that a tolerant human society will eventually swallow and accept evil while it gets on with business as usual.
Hey, forgiving does not reduce evil! When we forgive evil we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. We look evil full in the face, call it what it is, let its honor shock and enrage us, and only then can we forgive.
So it is with God. Remember when Moses and the Children of Israel were wandering in the Desert, and the people were all complaining because they did not have water to drink? So, the Lord told Moses to strike the rock and water would come out. Moses did as the Lord said .... Some time after that event, they were without water again. This time the Lord told Moses to speak to the rock and water would come out. But, I guess Moses figured he knew more than God did. He remembered that the last time this happened, he struck the rock, so, he struck the rock again. God provided the water, but, because Moses didn't do as the Lord said, Moses was not allowed to lead the children into the Promised Land. There was forgiveness, they came together -- the fourth stage of forgiveness -- but the Lord did not excuse Moses' disobedience nor did tolerate it.
But, there is another reason we need to forgive the monsters. If we say the monsters are beyond forgiving, then we give them a power they should never have. Monsters who are too evil to be forgiven get a stranglehold on their victims; they can sentence their victims to a lifetime of unhealed pain. If they are unforgivable monsters, they are given power to keep their evil alive in the hearts of those who suffered most. We give them power to condemn their victims to live forever with the hurting memory of their painful pasts. We give the monster the last word.
Let me illustrate. It's been quite a few years ago now but when our son Geoff was playing with some younger children one night at church -- I think it was during choir practice. Anyway, one of the younger kids told Geoff that he was afraid to go into the nursery because there were monsters in there you know how kids imaginations are so very vivid. When I found Justin, he told me the same story and I told him that monsters were right up my alley. I took his hand and we walked all around the nursery, looking behind the chairs and in the corners, wherever we could, to discover that there were no monsters in that room at all. By confronting these monsters, we dismissed any power or hold that they had over him. Forgiveness releases the hold that the monsters have on us.
We need to forgive the monsters. We need to forgive them because they have hurt us; we have hated them. Now, we need to forgive them so we can be healed.
And so, my answer to the question, "Are these people forgivable?" Yes, maybe, means yes, they are forgivable, if we are able to work through the stages of forgiveness. There are people all around us who are successfully moving on to forgiving the monster in their lives. By the grace of God, it can be done.
The second group of people that are difficult to forgive is ourselves. Let me ask you a question.. .do you really believe that you have the right to forgive yourself'? I've said this before, but, I think many people live in fear that if people really knew them -- their thoughts, their secrets, their past -- then others would want us to crawl in shame. We know what we're really like on the inside. We know our fears, our insecurities, the people we like -- or don't like. We also know our behaviors, past and present and we struggle to forgive ourselves!
I'm going to focus more on the "how to's of forgiveness" in a couple of weeks, but for now, let me say that we forgive ourselves by going through the same four stages that we pass through when we forgive someone else who hurt us: we hurt, we hate, we heal, and we come together again.
We all hurt ourselves. Unfairly, too, and sometimes deeply. I'm sure that most of us, if we could turn back the hands of time, would change something in our past if it were in our power. The things that most of us would want to forgive ourselves for are those things that brought unfair harm to others. But we cannot. What's done is done.
We do not have to be bad people to do bad things. If only bad people did bad things to other people we would live in a pretty good world. And the more decent we are, the more we feel our pain for the unfair hurts we caused. The pain we cause other people becomes the hate we feel for ourselves. And we serve as our own judge and jury. We convict and sentence ourselves to harsh sentences, mostly in secret. We subject ourselves to our own passive hatred; we look in the mirror and have a very difficult time seeing anything worthwhile to like, much less to love. For others, the self-hate is so strong that it is often acted out in self-destructive ways; they withdraw from community, substance abuse, or even suicide.
It is in this next stage that God's steadfast love begins to work its way with us. I mentioned a few minutes ago the fear that many people have of not being loved or accepted -- especially if people really knew us. The good news of the gospel is that God promises to always love us. This is David's great hope as revealed in this morning's text. At first he cries out, "How long 0 Lord, will you forget me; will you hide your face from me?" Then those great words of hope and assurance found in verses 5 and 6: "But, I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me." When we face ourselves honestly and openly; when we can admit what we've done, call it what it is, know that, even if no one else loves us, God loves and forgives us, then we can start putting the broken pieces of our lives back together again.
You may not always know exactly when you have forgiven yourself. Healing may come slowly, but better a snail's pace than standing still, feet sunk in the cement of self-accusations and hatred.
Lastly, it may be difficult for us to forgive God. This may not be particularly difficult for those of us gathered here this morning. I suspect that most people who are mad at God aren't here; they stay away. People generally steer clear from those people that they don't like or those with whom they are angry. But, I also suspect that one time or another, many of us have asked, "Where is God and what is he doing when decent people hurt, deeply and unfairly?" Sometimes life doesn't seem fair and we can't figure it out. One woman prays for ten years to have a child and never gets one; a teenage girl playing around with sex skips off to an abortion clinic to get rid of what that woman wants more than anything in life. One man obeys all the rule of good health and dies of a brain tumor at thirty-five; his friend abuses his body in a myriad of ways and lives to be eightyfive. Or our marriage fails, or, our children grow up and don't turn out the way we had hoped and dreamed, or, one of our kids dies tragically when they still in their youth, and we don't understand? Again, we identify with the Psalmist words in the first four verses of today's reading: "How long, 0 LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?" Here is a guy in a world of hurt and abandonment. I wonder if he would ever tell anyone else his pain? I mean, if he were at your Bible Study or small group, I wonder if he'd let you know the deep concerns of his heart?
Where is God when we hurt? The good news is that when we hurt, God is right there with us. Jesus wondered where God was when he was dying on the cross: "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?"
But, had God abandoned him? Looking back we know where God was while Jesus was hanging on the tree. God was not on leave of absence. He was in Jesus, suffering the pains of vulnerable love.
When I wonder where God is and what he is doing when I get hurt, one answer may be that he is in me and that my pains hurt him more than they hurt me. He is suffering with me, maybe trying to heal a small corner of his world through me. Maybe he suffers with us while he is working to bring about a new world where justice and peace embrace, and unfair pain gone forever. This thought helps me when I wonder like the Psalmist, "How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?"
Something happened to Charlotte and me once that forced us to come to terms with forgiving God. Not that we stood shaking our fists in the air at him; it wasn't anything like that at all. While I tell you about it, I know that what happened to us was not nearly as bad as a lot that happens to many, many other people; I only mention it because it was a time when we experienced a deep pain and a time for us to forgive God.
Charlotte and I waited a long time to have children; over eight years. For many reasons, but mostly we weren't sure the time was right for us to have kids. Finally, we decided the time was right and so we set out to add to our family. The time came when we thought we might be pregnant. Do you like how I said we thought that we might be pregnant? She went to see her doctor and had the tests that would confirm our suspicions; the blood test confirmed she was pregnant, but the physical exam did not really confirm the pregnancy. So, Charlotte made a follow up appointment a month later to confirm the results of the blood test. A couple of weeks later, Charlotte began to spot, then to bleed. Shortly thereafter, we learned that she had been pregnant but that she lost the baby. We were crestfallen. If we had ever questioned if we'd wanted to have a child, now we knew for sure. Our hearts were broken and we grieved our loss; the loss of a child we never saw, much less she never even carried. We felt together, never wondering if it hurt one of us more than the other, only sensing that we were together in our grief and our emptiness and our confusion. And that was good. Our life was good in our shared hurt!
We felt God again, as the giver of life, not the taker of it. As the God we knew in the suffering Jesus, not a God who pointlessly makes us suffer.
I knew that I could not feel this goodness and also think that God took our child away. I knew my mind would forever say, "I don't know" when my heart asks why little babies died. I heard my heart tell me that God was with us, "dying" a little along with the baby we never had. Did we forgive God? I suppose in a way we did. But there is a difference in forgiving God and forgiving an enemy. When you forgive your enemies, they may stay your enemies even after you forgive them. When you forgive God, you just live in the silence and the knowledge of his love and that God is your friend.
Dear friends, who can you think of right now that you need to forgive? It may be difficult, you might not be able to share the fourth stage of "coming together" and being reconciled with that person, but, for your sake, I encourage you to take on the challenge of practicing forgiveness. Life is too short to carry those hurts around. It's time to begin healing the hurts within. Empowered with God's grace, maybe we can begin to forgive those who are so terribly difficult to forgive.
Let us pray:
Lord, we know there are people in our lives that we need to forgive. But Lord, there are some people in our lives that are just too difficult for us to forgive. We need you, 0 Lord, to give us the words, the desire, the ability to move through the hurt and hate that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation. In Jesus' name we pray. AMEN.