I was feeling pretty good about all this letting go stuff when I ran into a snag, one of the many snags in the Bible on which I’ve gotten hung up. I got to thinking about Jesus’ prayer from the cross, “Father, forgive them…” He didn’t look down at his wild-eyed crucifiers and say “I forgive you for what you’re doing to me.” When he asked the Father to forgive them his prayer was a light-year advanced beyond forgiving them himself. He prayed for the Father to let them off the hook. At first I thought, “I can let them off my hook, but I’m not going to ask God to let them off his! I’m not Jesus, so God wouldn’t expect me to go that far — Would he?”
But then it occurred to me that while the angry crowd was stoning him Stephen prayed, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them.” Then I recalled that Paul wrote to Timothy, “In my first defense no one came to my support, everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.”
The other sort of forgiving benefits me, frees me from more personal injury, and stops my own bleeding. Acting humanely instead of tossing a snake in their car window is not only good for them but is better for me, and I can usually get behind things that make my life better. Being her/his/their jailor makes me their prisoner – which puts us all behind bars. When I unlock the door and let them everybody wins, especially me.
This other thing, however, is a whole other level of forgiveness. If I’m thinking correctly here, God wants me to want him to forgive them too. He wants me to ask him to let them off his hook. Especially in certain cases that’s not something I can do without some major divine intervention. If God forgives them I can see how that helps them, but I fail to see the benefit to me, at least not directly. And I like my blessings be as direct as possible.
I suppose a case could be made, that it does me good on the inside when I hope for, pray for, and work toward the best of another person, even if it is inconvenient and emotionally traumatic at the time. But conceptually, that is so immeasurable and, at the time of our breakup, was way off my radar.
This level of forgiveness is a whole different ballgame than just forgiving them myself. If cutting myself loose from those who’ve hurt me is out of range for my humanness, asking – and truly wanting – God to forgive them is an entirely other universe of difficulty. If the former is problematic, the latter is impossible! “I forgive them” is one thing, but “Lord, I pray you’ll forgive them” is an altogether higher-bar-forgiveness.
To be honest, the passages that had more of an attraction to me during our breakup were the ones about vengeance belonging to God – “I will repay, says the Lord” – you know the ones. I was content to not be the guy in charge of doling out the paybacks, but at the same time I secretly hoped he had a plan for it himself. This would tap into his meaner side; the side, for the first time in my life, I hoped he had. But from my experience he has the annoying habit of being too forgiving of people that had hurt me. Someone pointed out what a drag it is when God doesn’t hate all the same people you do!
Maybe Jesus was a special case, born with a forgiving gene. Or maybe, because it was part of the plan for him to be rejected, he was ready for it and had a script written for such eventualities. Of course that doesn’t account for Stephen’s and Paul’s prayers that I mentioned. I don’t know how to deal with them, but I can tell I wasn’t born with any such genetic capability nor was I ready to be rejected on any grand scale like them. Or could it be that since I excel in other areas, is it possible he doesn’t expect me to ace this test too? You know how some professors will throw out your worst and best exams and average the rest of them?
I’m amused by people who say that they’re not into following Jesus but they love the Sermon on the Mount. I want to ask them, “Really? Have you read it?!” You gotta have some serious higher power connection before you even begin to — “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… do good to them and lend to them without expecting to get anything back…”
If you’re looking for a testimony on how I learned to do this PHD level forgiving, don’t hold your breath. I’m still searching for an ancient brand of a cross-less discipleship, a theological loophole, or possibly a Greek word or two in the original text that excuse me from that caliber of Jesus following. If you know of any such thing, I’d appreciate any information you could send me on it.