Free to Forgive
Read Ephesians 4:32–5:9
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
Our family travelled to Uganda this year to visit relatives who live there. One night in Entebbe we went to a fantastic wood-fired pizza restaurant right on the beach owned by a Rwandan woman, Goretti, married to a Dutch diplomat (Classic! An Italian restaurant run by a Rwandan married to a Dutchman living in Uganda!). She has an amazing story. Living in Europe when the genocide began in Rwanda, she returned to find 63 family members had been killed. How could she go on after that tragedy? She says, “You must forgive, or your life is over.”
These sorts of stories about radical forgiveness intrigue me. What motivates some to seek revenge while others spread mercy?
Perhaps the most haunting snapshot of the Vietnam War was a widely publicized photograph of a little girl running naked down the street, screaming in pain. She was burning from the effects of a napalm bomb. The girl was Kim Phuc. Years later, as a grown woman she was a guest of honor at the Vietnam Memorial on Veteran’s Day. She laid a wreath at the monument and then gave a short speech: “As you know, I am the little girl who was running in the famous picture… I have suffered a lot from both physical and emotional pain… but God saved my life and gave me faith and hope.”
She told how, in the moments after the attack, the photographer who took her picture brought her to a hospital. Years of painful burn therapy followed. Later the Vietnamese government sent Kim to Cuba to study. There she met and married Bui Huy Toan, a Christian, and became a believer herself. On their way home from their honeymoon in Moscow the couple defected to Canada, where they now live with their son. Their goal is to go back to Vietnam to share the gospel of grace with their people.
At the Veteran’s Day ceremony, Kim publicly forgave the unknown pilot whose load of napalm seared her skin and killed her grandmother and two younger brothers: “Even if I could talk face to face… I would tell him we cannot change history, but we should try to do good things for the present and for the future to promote peace.”
At that point, according to newspaper accounts, many of the veterans present began to openly weep.
The more amazed you are at God’s grace to you, the more you’ll find yourself inspired to give grace to others. This is such an important result of grace that Paul says in 2 Corinthians:
As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 Corinthians 6:1
What a haunting sentence! What does he mean, “receive God’s grace in vain”? In the previous verses we see the specific context: This is about forgiving a brother who sinned.
Earlier in the epistle Paul talks about how the Corinthian congregation had put out of its fellowship a person who had done something terrible — it may be the same man Paul discussed in First Corinthians who was openly living in sin with his own step-mother. In any case, a man had committed some kind of sin, had been put out of the fellowship, and had now repented.
Paul wants the church to receive this guy back, but the church leadership is apparently unwilling. They’re suspicious of his motives and mindful of his past. But then Paul says in Christ we’re all new creations; the old is gone, the new is come.
Then in 2 Corinthians 6:1 Paul says he fears that the Corinthians have essentially received God’s grace “in vain”; that is, they believe in God’s grace for themselves but apparently it is not changing their hearts to the point they are willing to extend grace to another.
What about you? Are you still stingy with forgiveness even after it’s been richly lavished on you? Are you secretly annoyed that God will probably forgive someone more easily than you might? Anyone who hasn’t done quite enough to receive your mercy?
I have had to wrestle with this myself. For years I felt white-hot anger whenever I thought of the man who molested me when I was his 9-year-old piano student. His identity was lost to our family after all those years, but I still fantasized vengeance periodically. I had to learn to give my hurts to God and release anger that was only poisoning me. This decision began a process of healing in my life that truly set me free.
Have you found it easy or difficult to forgive others?
Is there someone you need to forgive?
Bring to God any grievances you hold. Ask Him to help you show grace as you have received grace. Ask God to help you not receive His grace in vain. Ask Him to help you know how to show radical grace to others in a way that is wise and godly.