The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place” (II Chronicles 7: 13-15 NIV).
The Healing Power of Forgiveness
Money may make the world go round, but love is what makes it all worthwhile. Without love, without relationships it just isn’t worth the trouble. Everybody knows that.
People don’t wish that they spent more time at work or made more money when they are on their deathbed. They just want to be with their loved ones. They wish with all their heart that they could recapture those wonderful moments with their children on Christmas eve when they were young. They regret the hurts and misunderstandings that still hover over their heads and relationships. They want nothing more than that their estranged children, their brother, their ex-wife or friend would come back, that somehow, someway, a miracle would happen and love would be in the air, that Christmas would come in the middle of summer, something, anything that would close the distance and heal their hearts and make it better again.
Relationships. That’s what matters. Everything else pales in comparison.
The good news is that God created relationships, he loves relationships. Nothing is more dear to the heart of God than healing your relationships. It’s what he came to do. It’s why he died on the cross. It is what the whole of history is about. Relationships. First of all between us and God and then between us and others.
Wait a minute. What if I don’t want the God part? I just want healed relationships but without the religious side of things. Sorry. Doesn’t work like that. It only works for believers. The rest of you will have to go see a psychologist or a marriage counselor. Some of them do great work and you might actually get somewhere. Give it a try.
The point being that forgiveness rooted in the cross is a very different thing than forgiveness rooted in self-interest, or desire, or the Christmas spirit. Everyone wants to make the claim that they can love others without the help of religion, or God, or whatever. Great. That would mean that you don’t need forgiveness then. All of your relationships are intact. They are working well. After all, you are able to love people without God’s help. What’s the problem? Oh, other people aren’t as good at love as you are? Maybe they need God. Send this blog post to them and maybe you can get some healing going from their side. But it’s not likely. It really only works when both sides are believers. Sorry.
The best that the world has to offer is the advice that you need to forgive people in order to move on. When you have been hurt deeply, just forgive (for your sake) and find someone or something else to love. With time, your mind will begin to heal or, at least, the pain will begin to subside and become a dull throb rather than a sharp pain. The problem with that advice is that it really doesn’t heal anything. People don’t change, they say. You have to accept things as they are and move on. That is the healing they offer and it isn’t enough. We know it.
Is there any hope for the healing of relationships rooted in the cross? Yes, there are many stories of marriages healed, estranged children reunited with their parents, true forgiveness between brothers and sisters. But it isn’t all that common and it isn’t at all easy. But it’s very simple. The problem is usually human pride. Most people don’t understand it or don’t really want to take the risk of humbling themselves before God and others. Part of the problem is that you can’t try to make up with God in order to get him to help you with your other relationships. That’s a bit manipulative, don’t you think? Your approach to God must be genuine and without strings attached. Then, and only then, is healing for your other relationships possible.
So here’s the problem in a nutshell. For most people when you tell them that they should forgive someone, they are reluctant to do it. And for good reason. It seems cheap to them. It feels like they are letting that person who hurt them off the hook too easily. Sure it might be healthier to forgive and not hold on to the hurt but it just seems, instinctively, to be a way of saying that what they did just didn’t matter, it didn’t hurt that much, it isn’t important. Forgiveness like that is cheap. We might try to brighten it up a bit by saying that our love is more important than what they did wrong, but that was the whole point. What they did was an attack on your love. It was a depreciation of your relationship. Nobody wants to just go back to the status quo and “pretend” that everything is fine.
Sure it depends a bit on what it is that they did. Lots of small stuff is just small stuff. Nobody really cares. You say you’re sorry and you move on. If you did it on purpose, then the stakes are higher and you will have to address that bad intention. Your apology will have to more sincere and you will have to convince the other that you were just having a bad day and that the relationship is still valued by you. From there it just gets worse….
But the small potatoes are not a big deal. The big potatoes are the issue. Marriage breakups. Family issues. Embezzelment by a family member. Misunderstandings. Betrayal. Absentee Fathers. Abusive mothers. Can people change? Is forgiveness possible? Obviously the cross can transform the lives of believers and followers but only if you follow the way of the cross. It starts with true confession. There must be acts of reconciliation. But the key is forgiveness.
Instead of thinking of forgiveness as a way of letting someone off the hook, you need to understand how God looks at sin. From his point of view, the sin was so bad, so insidious, so horrible that it deserves serious punishment. Throughout the Psalms, David talks about poetic justice where the evildoer becomes the target of his own evil. May the guy who set the trap fall into his own trap. May the person who shoots the arrow, die by his own arrow. That sort of thing. True justice. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Nothing more and nothing less. Of course, even that kind of justice scares us. Mostly because we are also apt to do things wrong. It wouldn’t take long for the world to be full of one-eyed, toothless people. True justice is dangerous.
Still, the point is that God takes sin seriously. Not just in terms of poetic justice or true justice but also in terms of relationships. When people hurt people, they deserve to be put out of the presence of God. Period. Why should he give his blessings to people who hurt his people? Why should the sun shine on the just and the unjust alike? Why doesn’t God just strike the offender down and cart him off to hell? We would be up for that (so long as we aren’t the offender). That would be relational justice. If you beat your wife, you should probably not receive the benefits of her relationship with you. You would think. The same goes for God.
But he doesn’t seem to do that either. In fact, the world is a pretty screwed up place. David complained that evil men flourish and prosper. The problem is that this world is not a very just place to live. People get away with murder. The corrupt seem to get positions of power while the honest are relegated to the dung heaps of history.
The reason for all of this is that God is up to something bigger and more beautiful than any of us can imagine. God is trying to save the whole world from it’s own folly, from its own sin, from its own stupidity. Both the sinner and the sinned against (which is most often the same person at different times). Both the evil and the good. Both the criminal and the law abiding citizen. God is in the business of saving people and so his justice is hidden away in the cross until the last judgment comes and all things will be brought to the light.
What does that mean for our relationships? The short answer is that when someone sins against you (or you against them) the eternal consequences of those actions are very serious indeed. There may even be some temporal consequences but, even if they seem to get away with it for a while on earth, one day they will face the Judge of the whole earth and they will not be able to stand. The issues will be eternal and the punishments will be just for everyone the same. God does not take sin lightly.
I need to remember that when somebody sins against me. I need to remember that I am also a sinner and in need of forgiveness and that my forgiveness was bought with a price by Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary. It was no cheap forgiveness but rather it was a price far beyond my ability to pay. I was given grace freely because Jesus paid the price.
I always imagine that God comes to me when I am hurting from something someone said or did and asks me a question. “Will you accept the sacrifice of my Son on the cross as sufficient payment for that sin against you?” In other words, if noone else had ever sinned and only this person ever sins against anyone. If only this one sin was the only sin that every existed, Jesus would have gone to the cross to die for that one sin. It is the only way. It was not cheap forgiveness but rather priceless love that takes that sin away.
And if you have the gall to say to God, “No, the cross is not enough. I don’t want this person to be forgiven. I want them to pay the full price of their punishment for all eternity.” Then God will also say to you, “Then neither will you be forgiven of your sins.” If you deny the cross for others, how can it be applied to you? It’s obvious. Jesus said, “if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14,15 NIV). In other words, if you deny that the cross is good enough for others how can it be good enough for you?
But this is wonderful news. If you have the humility to understand that you are also a sinner in need of forgiveness, you will recognize that others need it just as well. Maybe their sins are different than yours, they may even have worse consequences than yours but it comes from the same source of ego and pride and selfishness.
We all need to be forgiven and when the cross is applied to the situation you don’t have to think for a moment that someone is being let off the hook, that it didn’t matter, that somehow this is a cheap solution. Not at all. God cares so much about that hurt against you that He sent his son to die on the cross in order to bring healing (not just punishment) to the relationship. This is the power of forgiveness rooted in the cross and it has the healing power to change people and mend all relationships.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, I have to admit. I never looked at it that way before. Yes, I accept the cross as sufficient payment for the sins of …………………………….against me. Thank you for forgiving my sin as well. I know that you take it far more seriously than we do. I don’t want to punish but to heal. Help me to heal relationships through the cross. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.