Facebook, Twitter and text-messaging are not the biggest threat to personal, face-to-face relationships in the 21st Century. Granted, social media are surely artificial and distracting, but the larger problem Americans face in regard to love and friendship is ignorance. We have met the enemy, and it is us. Here in the USA in 2014 we are painfully uneducated in the most basic laws of relationship.
For instance, many Americans seem to think that forgiveness means doing a favor for someone who has wronged you. In fact, forgiving someone who has offended you is mostly about doing yourself a favor- especially when you have no authority in the matter, and the offender is blissfully unaware of what’s going on in your mind. Angry people tend to forget that our rage is not magically transmitted over the miles to people who have hurt us in the past. I may be stewing over past injuries every day, but that callous cad who hurt me is most likely moving forward with his destructive life. Revenge by mental telepathy is the stuff of voodoo and legend. In real life, concentrating that intensely on someone you hate just creates headaches, high blood pressure, misery and stress for you and your inner circle- no one else.
In this age of tolerance, we quite commonly assume that forgiving someone who has hurt you requires that you excuse bad behavior. That’s not true, either. You can forgive someone even as you believe his behavior was negligent, criminal, or profoundly evil. You can forgive someone who committed a crime against you even as the state presses forward with prosecution. To forgive someone is not to absolve him of wrong doing.
Simply put, forgiveness is the act of releasing an offender from the dungeon of your heart. When I forgive someone, I choose to let go of my anger and my desire for revenge, which may well be eating me alive, and leave that person’s fate in the hands of God or others. Maintaining and feeding this grudge is stealing my joy and damaging my faith in God. In fact, it keeps me mentally tied to a painful chapter in my life I should have closed many years ago. Forgiveness breaks the chains of bitterness which trap you in the past. It strips off the blindfold of rage and allows you to finally see the possibilities in your life today. You’d be surprised how many adults continue to nurture toxic emotions for parents who abandoned them as children, taking some small comfort in the fact that a negative relationship is better than none at all. In fact, there is no relationship, and accepting the reality would be much healthier.
One final thought: forgiveness does not demand reconciliation. Jesus forgave the people who ordered his crucifixion. We have no evidence that very many of those angry souls were ever reconciled to Christ. That’s a different law of relationship, and we’ll consider that in a couple of weeks.
In the meantime, let’s embody the Gospel: Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
And lift up the Cross!