Re­demp­tion should al­ways be goal of for­give­ness

The Morning Call - - RELIGION - By Rev. Eric Yeakel

Like many of you, I have fol­lowed var­i­ous news sto­ries about the hor­ri­ble mass shoot­ings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio a few weeks ago. One story that stood out to me was about one of the in­jured sur­vivors of the shoot­ing in El Paso, Octavio Ramiro Lizarde, who said he hopes his faith will al­low him to for­give.

I don’t know what Mr. Lizarde’s faith is, but it got me think­ing about my own faith as a Chris­tian. How does Je­sus’ teach­ings on for­give­ness ap­ply to this type of sit­u­a­tion? When we’ve been of­fended in a mi­nor way by some­one’s words or ac­tions, it’s im­por­tant to rou­tinely for­give. But when the of­fense is a se­ri­ous wrong, are we to of­fer for­give­ness, as Mr. Lizarde hopes he can do?

It is im­por­tant to rec­og­nize that there are two di­men­sions to for­give­ness. The first di­men­sion has an in­ter­nal com­po­nent. You may have feel­ings of bit­ter­ness, anger and a de­sire for re­venge against the per­son that wronged you. In this sense, you must for­give and re­lease those feel­ings. Hold­ing onto these emo­tions has the power to con­sume all as­pects of our lives and de­stroy our re­la­tion­ship with God and oth­ers. In this sense, we must for­give, al­though it might not be easy. The more se­ri­ous the hurt, the longer the process may take. But fail­ure to for­give in this sense gives power to the one who wronged you. It is you, not they, who will con­tinue to hurt by your un­will­ing­ness to for­give.

But there is a sec­ond di­men­sion to for­give­ness that has an ex­ter­nal com­po­nent, which is ex­tend­ing mercy to those who have wronged us. What is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber with this di­men­sion of for­give­ness is that it may not ac­tu­ally be in the best in­ter­est of the wrong­do­ers if we ex­tend mercy too quickly. The per­son who wronged you needs time to wres­tle with the hurt they have caused. This is part of their re­demp­tive process, and for Chris­tians, re­demp­tion should al­ways be the goal. Yes, Je­sus tells us to for­give, but the true goal of for­give­ness is re­demp­tion of the other per­son.

The first step in reach­ing the goal of re­demp­tion is re­pen­tance. The New Tes­ta­ment calls peo­ple to re­pen­tance so they may re­ceive for­give­ness. When it comes to re­pen­tance there are four ba­sic com­po­nents:

■ Aware­ness of the wrong done

■ Re­gret for the pain and harm caused

■ Con­fes­sion and re­quest for for­give­ness

■ Restora­tion and change or a real ef­fort to avoid com­mit­ting the wrong again

After a per­son truly re­pents, then it is ap­pro­pri­ate to show mercy to­ward the wrong­doer. But of­fer­ing mercy be­fore a per­son truly un­der­stands this can di­min­ish the se­ri­ous­ness of their of­fense.

You see this some­times with do­mes­tic abuse. After an abuser beats their spouse, they apol­o­gize and say it won’t hap­pen again. The spouse takes them back, of­ten, if the abused is a Chris­tian, be­liev­ing that this is what Chris­tians are sup­posed to do. How­ever, in many cases the abuse hap­pens again. The cy­cle of vi­o­lence, re­morse, and mercy de­vel­ops a pat­tern. That’s what can hap­pen when mercy is ex­tended when it should not have been.

In gen­eral, we should not ex­tend the gift of mercy be­fore the ef­fort of re­pen­tance hap­pens. There are ex­cep­tions to that rule. There are times when ex­tend­ing mercy be­fore re­pen­tance ac­tu­ally leads to shame and guilt on the part of the one who has wronged us, and moves them to­ward gen­uine re­pen­tance. The great­est ex­am­ple of this is Je­sus and his death on the cross. From the cross, Je­sus cried out to God, “Fa­ther, for­give them, for they know not what they do.” This un­be­liev­able act of mercy would af­fect those who heard his prayer for the rest of their lives. Even now, 2,000 years later, we look at Je­sus’ ac­tions and it moves us to re­pen­tance.

The prac­tice of of­fer­ing mercy and kind­ness to those who don’t de­serve it, and the power this has to change oth­ers, is a pri­mary teach­ing of Je­sus. Je­sus taught his dis­ci­ples to love their en­e­mies and pray for those who per­se­cute us. We are called to for­give be­cause we have been for­given.

The Rev. Eric Yeakel is se­nior pas­tor of As­bury Church, a United Methodist Church in South White­hall Town­ship.­

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