Just finishing up editing some great discussions on forgiveness for the HFML website with author Dan Allender and Pastor Rod Van Solkema that I think you’ll find challenging. I know I did. One of the noteworthy remarks that I just can’t shake from our discussion was Dan’s comment that:
“Forgiveness is an act of defiance against evil.”
Does that strike you as an odd statement? It did to me. In fact, it takes me back to the surprise I experienced when hiking in Glacier National Park in Montana this past summer.
To my amazement, I witnessed beauty above the tree line in a hostile environment that totally took me off guard. Wow! The delicate wildflowers that sprouted out of solid rock were breathtaking. My photos just don’t do them justice. They were exquisite! How could such delicate beauty not only grow out of solid rock but flourish in a hostile environment that seemed so utterly antagonistic to their survival?
That’s forgiveness. It’s a reflection of beauty and mercy that defies hostility and adversity. It’s overcoming evil with good.
Too often, I’m afraid, we as Christians have mistakenly fallen under the spell of a maudlin view of forgiveness. We’ve misinterpreted the oft-quoted “turning the other cheek” phrase of Jesus in Matthew 5:39 into a doormat kind of theology. We’ve settled for passive pleasantness and called it forgiveness. It’s not.
Forgiveness isn’t a command to “just play nice.” That requires a flight into a la-la land that has no reality in the real redemption story. Sweeping dirt under a carpet is no way to clean a house. Neither is it healthy to deal with those who are bullies, gossips, liars, deceitful, and a host of other forms of overt and covert relational violence that riddle our churches, schools, homes, communities, neighborhoods, and all relationships. It just gives them more power and permission to reek havoc on those who are more vulnerable.
And let’s face it: everyone struggles to love well. Or maybe it’s better said, we’re just poor at it. Violations of love (otherwise known as “sin”) infect even the best of relationships, making the need for forgiveness–either giving it or receiving it–an ongoing necessity in order for relationships to deepen and grow. No healthy relationships exist apart from a genuine heart of forgiveness that longs for restoration (which, in reality, is the Gospel story replayed day in and day out within the context of our relationships).
While forgiveness is often thought of as weakness, in reality, it’s a demonstration of incredible strength. Forgiveness doesn’t flee from the face of evil. Nor does it stoop to the level of evil and fight fire with fire (Rom. 12:17). Paul reminds us of the marching orders for the Christian in Romans 12, that our call is to an authentic Christlike love that joins with Him in the battle for good and against evil:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good . . . do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It’s mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12: 9, 17-19, 21)
Forgiveness is the unlikely weapon that God has given to us to defy evil. To look someone in the eye and be free to say without malice, “Your sin doesn’t control me. And you’re powerless to stop me from not only desiring to do you good, but choosing to do good to you as an act of kindness because of the benevolent kindness that God has shown to me.”
Now that ‘s a process of overcoming evil with good that requires humility and gratitude for the God who has addressed the evil within us with His mercy and grace that “forgives us our sins and purifies us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
So, how bout it? Today, in your one of your “difficult” relationships, are you up to being a little flower in a less than hospitable environment? Are you willing to be that splash of beauty that’s undeterred by adversity? Forgive someone the way that God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you (Eph. 4:32) and that’s what you’ll be . . . the beauty of forgiveness that defies evil.