I’m not sure why an event has been rerunning in my mind all night, but it could be the message on forgiveness I heard that was truthfully pointed, yet lovingly delivered. Too often lately it seems that so many relationships have been through trauma. Deep sadness has resulted from friendships torn apart by unintentional rumors and intentional criticisms. Families are in turmoil because of misunderstandings gone unresolved for so long there is no memory of cause, but the nettles and thorns continue to grow. Hurt cuts deep. Healing takes an act of God. Admittedly – healing is an act of God.
Sometimes I think we are put to the test, the test where God asks us to prove our obedience to him, which includes forgiveness. Could it be that God allows certain conflicts to occur to make us stronger servants who act out of a godly heart instead of through that pious old nature? 2 Corinthians 2:7-9 “You ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything.” This says forgiveness is an act of obedience.
As I was listening to the speaker, I remembered a powerful image of forgiveness I experienced a few years ago at a public picnic. Tim had run off to socialize and I was left to figure out how to network with a bunch of people I didn’t know. (Not my strongest skill.) Scouting out an observation deck, I found a picnic table with an older gentleman quietly sitting alone. All primed for quietly observing I thought “Why not go sit over there”? We fell into casual conversation and I learned he was the age of my dad and served in World War 2, as had my father; but his experiences were 180 degrees different. I also learned he grew up in close proximity of my parents, but all those similarities, while connecting us in some tenuous way were not what captured my attention. I love talking about careers people have chosen and their lifetime adventures along the way. I remember this gentleman worked at Lobdell’s the same factory where my maternal grandmother managed the lunchroom. But what I remember most was his hands. As he talked I noticed black marks on his knuckles. Then I realized they were letters tattooed onto his knuckles.
I wanted him to rest his hands on the table so I could see if the letters spelled something. When he finally relaxed his hands on the table I could make out the letters O-R-G-I-V and my curiosity blurted out “Do those letters on your knuckles stand for something?” He then laid his hands out so I could read the full text branded on fingers. F-O-R-E-G-I-V-E-N “Forgiven?” I had to ask, and he had to tell me his story. He had been in World War 2, went in as a kid with no burdens, and came back a man encumbered with vivid memories and a bitter heart. He said he fell into alcoholism and a series of damaging choices. He blamed everyone for his condition and treated all his loved ones like they were his personal hell. At his lowest point he realized this wasn’t the way he was going to live out the remainder of his existence and he started searching for the solution for his torn soul. He stumbled into a church one night and met his savior, Jesus Christ, and came to understand the true meaning of forgiveness.
He told me his bitter spirit of unforgiveness was killing him from the inside out. He knew that when he came to Christ, he was a new man and that God had totally forgiven his sin and he had to forgive the atrocities he had witnessed as a result of being in war. He wanted a visual reminder of where he had been and that he would from then on need to put on a spirit of forgiveness every day to guard his heart and mind from invasion by past experiences. He was experiencing what the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 4:16 “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. ”
His story reminded me of Joseph in the Old Testament. His own brothers hated him so much they sold him to slave traders. And Joseph forgave them. Genesis 50:15-17 “Joseph buried his father and returned to Egypt. His brothers sent Joseph a message, “Before his death, your father gave this command: Tell Joseph, ‘Forgive your brothers’ sin—all that wrongdoing. They did treat you very badly.’ Will you forgive them?” When Joseph received their message, he wept and we all know that he forgave his brothers – even though they had hated him so much that they betrayed Joseph and sold him as a slave.
How many times in life has someone done something to hurt you? We all have painful memories of situations that have festered and contaminated our spirits. It’s for these times that God implores us to forgive. We don’t need tattoos on our knuckles to be reminded to have a forgiving spirit. The subject of forgiveness isn’t one that can be explored and resolved once with effects that last a lifetime. Forgiveness is a daily, even by the moment act of the will. God breathed these words through his writer in Ephesians 4:31 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Maybe you don’t struggle with forgiveness. You might have a naturally forgiving spirit, but there is instruction in the next verse for all of us. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32