Something has led me to start researching a new book, tentatively called Time to Forgive? There’s a question mark in the title because I want it to be honest about how brutal the call to forgive can be, as well as how important it is to work toward, and how different people have moved in that direction.
Forgiving someone after their abusive actions can seem like an impossible imperative. Of course, a lot depends on how serious the act has been. The victimizer could have done anything from an everyday offense to a never-to-be-forgotten atrocity against us or those we love.
On the other hand, for decades now I’ve been drawn to the Bible passage in Philippians 4:8. It says to think about the good qualities of human actions or of life, including whatever is honorable, just, pure, or pleasing. It turns out the original language for that last word, pleasing, means “lovable” or “grateful.” This encourages me to have a basically thankful attitude for the gift of life. But the text doesn’t stop there. It also says to think about whatever is commendable, is of excellence, or is worthy of praise.
That’s about as far away as one can get from an action that has betrayed our trust so deeply that it needs to be forgiven. Destructive acts are the precise opposite of honorable, just, pure, lovable or grateful, commendable, or worthy of praise. So how are these two extremes supposed to go together?
Clearly the words in Philippians are not talking about denying the evil that human beings can do. Nor are they asking for naivete. It’s essential to acknowledge the harmful or even evil side of people’s actions and their exponential consequences, in order to deal with them and hopefully move on.
Instead, the letter says to focus on where you choose to go. You’re like a runner who looks ahead to your goal.1 So in what direction do you want to run? In other words,
+ What do you look for and focus on when you wake up each day?
+ What do you hope to find somewhere hidden or in plain sight in the midst of your life experiences?
+ In what direction do you want to be moving personally? Toward forgiveness, or toward endless life as a victim?
Forgiving can seem like an impossibly tough process, I know. But however insurmountable the obstacles may be, it helps to keep our focus on where we want to go. I find this reminder about focus is a good place to start.
Your partner in faith,
1 – For more of this runner metaphor in the Bible, see Hebrews 12:1-2.