If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I frequently use my past to illustrate spiritual dealings in the present. I talked about my strong antipathy for men in my last post, but I wasn’t quite sure why I went there after reading John’s piercing diagnosis, “No Homo.” It seemed a bit random – even narcissistic – that the Spirit was on the issue of empathy and forgiveness in my life when the subject was men and the attack on their hearts. But I see clearer this morning, and as usual, there’s no such thing as random when the Holy Spirit is involved.
Until I began to forgive, I was enslaved to the pain of each wound, and more importantly, to the ones who wounded me. I never understood that until I had my first taste of freedom as the fruit of forgiveness. I’d heard many times that being saved and receiving God’s forgiveness for my sins would free me from those sins, and my entire life up to that point. But I didn’t connect that huge, miraculous freedom to the more intricate work of forgiveness initiated by the Spirit.
I’d always thought that forgiveness was the easy way out. I had no respect for it whatsoever. And the whole “turn the other cheek” deal? Forget it. My encounters with Christians revealed few cheek-turners and an abundance of barbed tongues and brass knuckles. I just figured even the church knew that forgiveness was an invitation to eat gravel while suffering a hard boot on your back. Didn’t it take more courage to fight back against evil? Doesn’t forgiveness just give evil permission to keep being evil?
I know now that forgiving someone is infinitely more difficult than carrying a grudge. It’s not hard to hate someone. That’s the natural state of unredeemed humanity, and frankly, there is pleasure in hating – at least until the conscience makes itself known. The pleasure doesn’t last, and there’s no true satisfaction from it, but letting anger freely burn while imagining the comeuppance of an enemy is not unpleasant. I doubt anyone makes it out of childhood without getting angry with their parents, and then imagining their parents’ pain and regret after the child runs away or gets terribly sick or something equally dramatic. “Then they’ll be sorry!” Think Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” after his mom washed his mouth out with soap. It’s as easy as breathing.
It never occurred to me, however, that I was tied to the people I hated. Even if the wound was inflicted years ago, the pain was as fresh as yesterday with a single thought. Like a time machine from hell, a single memory transported me back to the moment to relive each excruciating second. My hate and bitterness enslaved me to my worst memories and bound me inextricably to my enemies. They had the power to hurt me over and over and over again, and the more I hated them, the worse it got.
When I began to forgive, it was just basic obedience and need. I’d been forgiven, and that was forfeit if I didn’t also forgive. I didn’t believe there was any additional reward or benefit to the work of forgiveness, and to say that God surprised me is an understatement. The pain began receding from my memories, and I was no longer tormented by the frequent thoughts and imaginings that I’d always been at the mercy of before. The suffering in my past slowly ceased to haunt me, and I started to learn the joy of a mind that can be quieted. One by one, the ties were being cut and I was being freed.
The evil that John has diagnosed in “No Homo” is extensive and debilitating, and very few people – men OR women – are not complicit in it in some way. There’s no bridging the growing chasm between us all without forgiveness. Apart from the work of forgiveness, none of us can be free. We will pass our hurts and hate to our children and ensure that the next generation is just as enslaved. Apart from God’s forgiveness, secured through the Blood of His only Son, there is no possibility of freedom from the hate or the hateful.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Ephesians 6:12 KJV
A few months ago, Carole had a revelation of forgiveness as an offensive spiritual weapon, and though I tried, I just couldn’t see it then. But I’ve glimpsed it now. Forgiveness is the sword that severs the ties that bind me to “the rulers of the darkness of this world.” I like to think that each time I forgive, there’s a scream of rage from the enemy as he loses ground and the Light moves in to claim it. That may not be true, but the power of forgiveness is unquestionable. I know, because I’m a living testimony to it.