The Heart of the Matter



I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter

But everything changes and my friends seem to scatter

But I think it’s about forgiveness


Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore

                                                                                       —Don Henley

People often recoil at the idea of forgiveness.  It’s often not hard to see why.  “What do you mean?  After all that person did to me?  After all the pain and confusion they caused me?  You expect me to forgive them, just like that?”

No, I don’t expect you to forgive them “just like that”.  Forgiving others is not an easy thing.  It may be the single hardest thing we have to do in this life.  It takes time and effort.  But you must forgive if you are going to be truly free.

Does forgiveness mean that we ignore what another person has done?  To pretend it never happened – – – to “forget” it?  To cover things up on the outside while the anger and hurt continue to boil on the inside?  No.  Forgiveness is both more simple and complex than that.

A few years ago a member of my family asked if they could borrow some money.  I told them that I had a line of credit but that if they needed it I would get it and then they could make the payments.  They said that they would be faithful to make all the payments.  I secured the several thousand dollars and then would give them the statement when it came.  At first they made steady payments.  Then those payments became a hit and miss process.  Finally they quit making the payments altogether.

So I started making the payments.  I found a bit of resentment building up in my heart whenever I would see them with a new jacket or see that they had recently purchased something for their home.  I reasoned, “If they have the money to buy that jacket or that lamp or go on that trip, why can’t they make the payment on the money I borrowed for them.”  Anger turned to resentment.  Resentment started fermenting into bitterness of gaul.

One day I was praying and talking to God about this unpaid and ignored debt when I heard Him say.  “Forgive it.”  I protested, “God that is a lot of money to just forgive.  Several thousand dollars in case you have forgotten.”  The voice came a bit sterner, “Forgive it.” 

“But if I forgive the debt I will still have to make the payments…and that is not fair.”

“Forgive it,” was the only reply.

“Why Lord?” I whined.

“That is only way you are going to be able to have a relationship with this person.”

I remember the winter night when walking to our cars after a dinner engagement that I said to this person, “You know that money you owe me?  It is forgiven.  You owe me nothing.”  The fog from my breath hung on the cold night air as I waited for the response.  You know what they said?  “Thanks.”  That was it.  No great fan fair.  They have never brought it up again.

I remember walking to my truck and thinking, “What did I just do?”  I wish I could tell you that it felt good.  It didn’t.  I wish I could tell you that the same voice that told me to forgive came back and said, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”  Nope. 

It didn’t feel good and I heard nothing from heaven.  I made monthly payments on that act of forgiveness for years. 

Was it worth it?  Well I guess that depends on what you value.  I still have a relationship with someone who is very important to me.  I would not have that relationship today without forgiveness.  The relationship was more important than the debt.

The Bible talks about forgiveness as a new vision and a new feeling towards the person who harmed us.
In the ancient drama of atonement, God took a bundle of human sins off a man’s back and tied it to a goat.  He gave the goat a kick in the rear and sent it off, sin and all—a scapegoat—to a “solitary land,” leaving the sinner free of his burden.
Or as the Psalmist put it, he wipes our sin away.  As a mother washes grime from a child’s dirty face; he removes it from us as the East is from the West.
A scapegoat. A washed face.  It is poetic language for what God does within his own mind.  He changes his memory; what we once did is irrelevant to how he feels about who we are.
It’s like that when we first forgive someone.  When you forgive that person, you may be the only person healed.  The other person may be hostile or apathetic about your pain.  So when you forgive, you must often be content with editing your own memory.
It’s something you do inside your own mind.
” . . .and forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.”  Matthew. 6:12  NLT
“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”   Ephesians 4:32  NLT
“You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you.  Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”   Colossians 3:13  NLT
The reason we can show mercy to others, is because He has shown mercy to us.  In fact, you could almost say that the mercy we show to others IS the mercy He shows to us.  We simply receive it and pass it on.  Our forgiveness flows from our forgiven-ness.  You can’t forgive until you have been forgiven. 

Sometimes we don’t forgive people for what they do but who they are.
I recommend forgiveness to you.  It is a tell-tale sign that you have been forgiven.  I have never regretted the forgiveness I offered that cold night many years ago.  Not one minute.  But I have never leant them money again either.



3 thoughts on “The Heart of the Matter

  1. This reminds me of that scene in “The Silver Chair” when Eustace and Lucy are discussing with Puddleglum whether to free Rillian from the chair. They are afraid of the consequences (Rillian could kill them), but Puddleglum tells them that Aslan said they were to help the person that asked for it in his name and did not guarantee that obedience means safety.

    Your obedience in forgiveness was not pleasant, but you were obedient to His voice. We would do well to follow your example. Like Saul was told when he offered the sacrifice in violation of God’s command: “Obedience is better than sacrifice.”

  2. I must dust off the old C.S. Lewis books. What most people don’t realize about forgiveness is that it is seldom a one time event. The decsion is made in a a moment, but the heart still sends invoices on a regular basis. I have to re-forgive after each one of those emotional invoices.

    That is why Jesus said for us to forgive 70X70. He didn’t mean that on the 491st emotional invoice we were under no obligation to forgive. It was simply a way of saying, “As often as you feel and emotional invoice being delivered in your heart…forgive again.”

    I learned a long time ago…there are no easy payments. They all cost someone something. In fact if if forgiveness is easy it probably isn’t true forgiveness.

    Thanks for the thoughts Karl.

  3. Well said. I wonder if Jesus winces a bit every time He sees the scars in His hands and contemplates the cost of my forgiveness. No, forgiveness is most definitely not free.

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