Sunday, May 13, 2012
When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray, he gave them what we now recite in most Christian worship services, The Lord’s Prayer. In that universal prayer we intone God to forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. But how many folks have continued reading in the book of Matthew to find that Jesus goes on to say that our Heavenly Father will offer forgiveness only if we do likewise. It seems that fellowship with a merciful God is only possible if we too are merciful.
I believe one of the most teachable events in contemporary times revolved around the Amish school shooting in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 2006. A father with three children of his own had lost his first baby daughter after only twenty minutes of life. He blamed God for her death and the anger fermented within him for nine subsequent years. He never forgave God and instead chose to enter the school house and shoot ten girls to get even with him and then killed himself. The Amish community did not respond with revenge or outrage or lawyered up in press conferences or blame games. They quietly impressed the world by extending forgiveness to the terribly ill man along with comfort and assistance to his mourning family.
When we’re wronged by another person, often times we humans have a knee jerk reaction for revenge and retribution. And the reaction can fester into a focused hate and sullenness. Yet many of us that have experienced this reaction eventually do come to realize that as long as we harbor these negative feelings, the offending individual still has control of our lives—we’ve allowed them to occupy free space in our mind. The Amish demonstrated that offering forgiveness and holding no grudges enabled them to focus on their own healing. Although God has still not restored this world to its original perfection, this broken test environment provides the ideal conditions for exercising free will choices such as revenge or forgiveness. And a closed and hardened heart is neither capable of giving or receiving forgiveness.