Why Forgiveness is So Hard, and Why We Need To Do It
On Sunday we looked at the topic of forgiveness. Forgiveness. I think. is something we all like when it happens to us, but find it difficult to give. We find it easy to give when someone takes all the right steps to earn the forgiveness, but giving it freely is hard.
So the question we looked at was this: Is it possible to forgive someone in the worst of situations? Where they are unrepentant, don’t care, and sadistic? And to reflect on this, we talked about Louis Zamperini’s story written in the amazing book “Unbroken” (Spoiler Alert).
Zamperini was a runner, who was drafted into World War II. Through an amazing and remarkable survival story, he ends up captured by the Japanese and put in a POW camp. The story that follows cannot be told in a few paragraphs with justice, but the basics is this. He was beaten, tortured, and abused for years. It was a brutal time, specifically abused by one guard nickednamed the Bird.
The question is, in a situation like this, is forgiveness possible? Is it an option? Is it even right to do?
If you are a follower of Jesus, the answer is simple but hard. Forgiveness is not only an option, it is the only option. Jesus says this in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that the law of Moses says, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you.” He continues a few chapters later saying, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins”.
For Jesus it seems like forgiveness is the only option. And this teaching of Jesus’ is hard, and one I want to skim over rather than practice. I don’t want to forgive my enemies, I want to see them brought to justice. I don’t want to forgive those who hurt me, I want to hurt them back.
But here Jesus’ teaching pushes past what we want and feel, to what is actually best for us. And when Jesus is calling for forgiveness he is not calling for us to forget or stay in abusive situations. That’s not what forgiveness is. What he is calling for is for us to let go, and to end the cycle of hurt and revenge.
Jesus knows that to hold onto bitterness, hurt, anger, and vengeance doesn’t do anything but poison our own soul. To live with unforgiveness is to live with ghosts, haunted and hurt by our own choosing.
So is it possible to forgive even in the most hellish circumstances? Well the example of Jesus shows that it is. Even as he is killed he says, “Father forgive them”. And it’s Jesus’ example that even allows Louis Zamperini at the end to forgive his abuser. He doesn’t pretend that the abuses weren’t real, horrible, and absolutely wrong. He states the hurt he felt, but then he states his forgiveness. He says, that Christ said, “Forgive your enemies and pray for them” and he did that. He goes on to say that, “Love has replaced the hate I had for you.”
So is it possible to forgive even in the most difficult situations? Yes, but of course it is hard.
But sometimes the hardest things are the best things to do. To choose to live with unforgiveness hurts you, and no one else. So we ended the sermon with challenging people to forgive those who hurt them, big or small. To no longer live with ghosts and unforgiveness, but to let forgiveness start a fresh start in them.
Brian Zahnd writes,
“Conventional forgiveness, easy forgiveness, reasonable forgiveness is what most rationally minded people are willing to engage in. Christ’s followers are called to radical forgiveness, unreasonable forgiveness, reckless forgiveness, endless forgiveness, seemingly impossible forgiveness.”
He’s right – that’s our calling. Now let’s live it out.
Big Idea: Forgive your enemies, and pray for them
- Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes, you say sorry just for show, you live like that you live with ghosts – Taylor Swift
- How is forgiveness possible in a hellish circumstance?
- Enemies are by almost definition, people we don’t love
- Forgiveness is not a feeling. Forgiveness is a choice to end the cycle of revenge and leave justice in the hands of God. Brian Zahnd
- Jesus not only expects us to forgive. He commands us to forgive
- When we choose not to forgive, we cut ourselves off from the heart of God, because God, at his heart, is forgiveness.
- When we choose not to forgive, we don’t hurt the one who hurt us, we hurt ourselves.
- Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or staying in abusive situations or relationships.
- Conventional forgiveness, easy forgiveness, reasonable forgiveness is what most rationally minded people are willing to engage in. Christ’s followers are called to radical forgiveness, unreasonable forgiveness, reckless forgiveness, endless forgiveness, seemingly impossible forgiveness. Brian Zahnd
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? What were your first impressions to the topic for today? What do you think of Louis Zamperini’s story? How do you think he was able to offer forgiveness? What happens when you choose not to forgive someone? How are bitterness and unforgiveness tied together? Who is it that you might need to forgive? Who can help you to continue to forgive them? What are the next steps with them? Do you need to just let them go, approach them, or maybe pray for them?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Talk to your kids about how important it is to always forgive others. Ask them if there is anyone they need to forgive, and then spend time doing that. It’s also a great time to ask for their forgiveness, for the times you’ve been an imperfect parent or guardian. Why not practice with them what we hope to see?
Challenge for the Week: Forgive your enemies.
The Brilliance of Dr. Seuss, the Grinch, and the Root of Bitterness
On Sunday we looked at the parable of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. In this movie we saw how Grinches are people who enjoy wrecking other people’s joy. That they are bitter, hateful, spiteful, and often live alone up on a mountain with a dog – or maybe cats too.
The point is that with the Grinch Dr. Seuss actually perfectly portrays people in our own lives: people who are petty, small, angry, and bitter. Part of the difficulty with Christmas is that we often end up in close proximity to Grinches. And this can be dififcult and stressful but the question isn’t so much how do we deal with such people? But instead, one question deeper – how do people become Grinches?
We looked back to the movie and again Dr. Seuss is right on. People become grinches when their heart shrinks. When is starts to grow small and cold. One of the number one things that causes this is bitterness. Bitterness will shrink and shrivel your heart faster than anything.
So if that’s how you become a Grinch, how do you prevent that? Because Grinch’s aren’t just around us, but also inside us.
For that we looked, not to the movie, but to Hebrews 12:12-14 where we read this, “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many”.
We camped out here for a while, because the author of Hebrews gives us four really practical steps to prevent “grinchiness”. The first is he teaches us to work at peace. To never give up on peace, to never give into apathy, but instead to work as best we can at peace. He also reminds us to live a holy life. And a holy life looks like Jesus’ life. So we could say to work at living like Jesus. Thirdly, he teaches us to rely on one another, and care for one another. Grinches live lonely lives, and we need to be reminded of the importance of caring and supporting one another. And last but not least, to watch out that bitterness doesn’t take root in our hearts.
What we all know that is living like the Grinch isn’t life-giving. So make a choice to live differently. That’s what changes the Grinch, he makes a decision and his heart grows a little bit. That’s what we need to do too.
So we ended with a challenge to prevent Grinchiness, by rooting out bitterness. To this Christmas work at peace with those who it’s tough, to work at living like Jesus, to ask for care and support for those around us.
And if you get a chance why not watch the movie, because it’s great, and a classic.
Big Idea: Prevent Grinchiness, by rooting out bitterness
- Parables hide in plain sight.
- A Grinch is someone whose heart has shrunk and shriveled.
- Grinches aren’t just around us, but also inside us.
- That the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
- Work for peace.
- Holiness looks, and lives like Jesus.
- Work at living like Jesus.
- Work with one another.
- Root out Bitterness with making a decision.
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? What are some of your favorite Christmas movies? Do you have any Grinches in your life you have to deal with? What has been helpful in learning to deal with them? Is there any bitterness developing in your heart that needs to be dealt with? Whom do you need to work at peace with? How can you do that?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Watch the movie, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, and then talk about how bitterness can make you into the Grinch. Talk about how it’s important to be grateful at Christmas, to work for peace, and to give. Ask them if there is anyone they want to give to.
Challenge for the Week: Root out bitterness.
The Grinch as a Parable
This Sunday we are showing a parable at church. Of course it’s the classic movie, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, the classic version.
This movie is actually a great parable of what happens when we let bitterness take root in our hearts. It’s actually a really good glimpse into what happens when we stop trying to make peace and live in harmony, and let our self-interest guide us.
So we are going to look at this movie and see how we can not only deal with the “Grinches” in our lives, but how we can ensure we don’t become a Grinch.
Because the slide to becoming a Grinch is often a subtle and slow slide. But it’s one that can be prevented, it can be seen, and it can even be turned around.
So that’s where we are going – but here’s some homework. Watch the Grinch a) because it’s a good parable b) because it’s an awesome movie. I mean who can’t love it when it has lines like, “you’re as prickly as a cactus, and as slippery as an eel” 🙂
Journeying Together is Healing
On Sunday we looked at the story of Ruth, and the power of committing to someone’s journey. The book of Ruth begins with Naomi her mother-in-law in a deeply dark place. She moves to a foreign country, and her husband and her two sons die. This leaves her alone in a foreign land, without support, without care, and with two foreign daughters-in-law.
She is hurt, spiteful towards God, and bitterness oozes out from her. She decides to journey back home. She is so bitter that when she arrives home and people say, “Is that Naomi” (which means pleasant in Hebrew)? She responds with, “No, call me Mara now” (which means bitter). So she has gone from being pleasant to bitter. She now totally identifies with loss, bitterness, and hurt as her companions. She says God sent her away full and brought her back empty.
This is the hard place that she is in. Yet in the midst of this difficult, and this Plan B, things change for her. Things change for Naomi because of her daughter-in-law Ruth.
Ruth commits to being with Naomi no matter what. Naomi seeks to push Ruth away, to say she can’t be helped, to say there is nothing that can be done (Ruth 1:11-13). But Ruth refuses to give up on Naomi. She commits to her that she will be with her no matter what. She says “Where you go, I’ll go, where you live I’ll live, your God will be my God. We will be together”.
And it is this commitment to journeying together that begins to change not only Naomi but also Ruth. Through a series of amazing events, God begins to restore to Naomi some of what she has lost. God begins to heal her. And this only happens though because Ruth committed to journeying with Naomi for the long haul.
The story ends with Naomi being happy and full of joy as she cuddles with Ruth’s new baby, her grandson. Her life moves from Plan B back to God’s promises.
From this story we landed on the main idea that we need each other. Not in the clichéd, hallmark, or sentimental way. But in a real – deep life – can’t get through life without one another. I need you, you need me, we need each other.
So we ended with a challenge. That for some of us we need to go be a “Ruth” to someone else. We need to commit to journey with them, to care for them, and to love them like Ruth did. And while we can’t be a Ruth to everyone in need, that is not an excuse not to be there for someone in need. That was our challenge.
We also challenged those of us who are in Naomi’s place to reach out to a “Ruth”. To not refuse the help that a “Ruth” can bring. To not push away that relationship.
Because the truth is the only way we get through life is with one another. This is the beautiful thing about the church ~ Naomi’s and Ruth’s commit to journeying together and both find a new hope in the process.
Big Idea: We need each other; we need to journey together.
- Here’s the truth and this one is thoroughly biblical: throughout life you will face one situation after another that will be completely beyond what you can handle. Pete Wilson
- We need one another to get through Plan B times.
- Naomi means “Pleasant” in Hebrew; Mara means “Bitter”.
- No longer are these emotions that afflict us, they are emotions that define us.
- Ruth commits to journeying with Naomi.
- People who are in a deep place of hurt often push away the only people who can help
- When you are in Plan B, you need community more than ever. Yet because of the pain that comes along with Plan B, it’s easy to miss the God-given gift of community. Pete Wilson
- We need one another.
- “I will go where you go. I will live where you live.” Ruth
- Just because you can’t help everyone does not give you an excuse to not help someone
- We can’t benefit from the power of community until we dare to face who we are. Pete Wilson
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new?
Have you ever been like Naomi, so consumed by hurt, that it defines you? How did it happen? How did you move out of it? Have you ever had someone “be a Ruth to you”? What was that like? How did they commit to journeying with you? Why do you think it’s hard to be a “Ruth” to someone? Why do you think it’s hard to allow others to be a “Ruth” to us? Who is God calling you to jouney with? Is God asking you to allow someone to journey with you?
Discussion Question for Families:
Talk to your kids about the importance of caring for one another. Talk to them about how Ruth helped Naomi by being there for her. Ask your kids if there is anyone they know that needs someone to be there for them. Ask them about ideas for helping them, and then use their ideas.
Challenge for the Week: Be a Ruth to Someone; Invite a Ruth to Journey with You