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.