Sermon for April 15, 2018
You don’t have to live long to find yourself needing to learn to forgive. If you watch small children, you can get an idea of the process that goes on when one is hurt and tries to find forgiveness. One child does something, intentionally or not, which hurts another. Where there was once connection, a harmony and selfless play, there is now a divide. The hurt child is now left feeling isolated within his own identity, confused, cut off, alone.
Defenses now up, without some type of insight or guidance, the hurt child will begin to isolate himself, believing this will protect him from being hurt again. He might do this through a type of revenge, or simply cutting himself off emotionally, and even physically, from the offender(mommy, I want to go home!). In the short term, this initial reaction might work- but it won’t last.
The hurt child may even begin to emulate the offender, believing they were hurt because the offender was stronger, and might have something they lack. This can happen when the abused becomes the abuser, many times even becoming more ruthless than the original. Regardless what the specific tactic the hurt child chooses, and there are many, the risk is that the hurt child isolates themselves from the offender, never learning to confront the situation in a healthy way, but then also allows that situation to spread to relationships throughout life. This isolation, this type of cut off and fearful person, is the devil’s playground.
Forgiveness can be so difficult though. It’s one of those things that seems most scarce when you need it most desperately. Kids are such good examples to watch because their feelings are so raw. Even for adults, who supposedly know better, it can be so incredibly hard to resist the temptation to isolate ourselves, to strike out against perceived threats, believing this is the best protection. Jesus warns us not to rely on our own understanding, however, because this can be like the hurt child without the parent’s guidance. Bad things are to come when isolation occurs and it is allowed to persist.
One of the first things one has to understand about forgiveness is that it is not, in any way, implying that what happened to cause pain to another has our consent, is to be overlooked, or allowed, in the future. If a person attempts to injure one of my children, I would forgive them even as I sent them to their destruction. One can, at the same time, have a forgiving and compassionate heart while not allowing evil to go unchecked. A parent would not allow his child to be victimized over and over without a response but they also wouldn’t want their child to become like the perpetrator either.
A key element to understanding forgiveness is the idea of sin. As I’ve talked about before, sin, at its most basic level, is our separation from God. Sin is a most basic kind of isolation. What did Satan cause to happen in the Garden of Eden? Did he bite Adam or Eve or otherwise physically attack? No. The goal was to separate man from God spiritually. It is in sin, in isolation, that the devil gains a foothold with man.
Now, go back to the beginning of the sermon. The two children start off with a connection. Call it friendship, fun, being in the moment. Whatever term you choose, the kids are not self aware but just having fun together. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. In the same way, Adam and Eve are experiencing the beauty and perfection of life in God’s Grace, without any self awareness. Just bliss. Think about a wonderful time in your life when it just seemed like things were going so well. You were, almost effortlessly, just living, happy. Keep that in mind for a moment.
Then, in a flash, one child hurts the other. The hurt child is now totally self conscious, anxious, afraid. Adam and Eve now, fooled by the serpent, become self conscious, try to cover their naked bodies, are separated from God and into their own identities. Isolation begins a downward spiral. The simplicity of joy in the moment, without self consciousness, and thereby fear, is now gone. Now, go back to the time you were thinking of above and think of when you were shocked out of such a time, blindsided by some harsh reality in life that caught you totally unprepared. It’s shocking, on such a visceral level, to feel so good, so secure, and then to have everything turned on its head.
So, now we are stuck feeling cut off from God in moments when we need the ability to forgive, and understand, the most. We find it almost impossible to forgive when we are feeling so totally victimized, whether it be by a specific person or just life in general. How can we find our way back to God and out of this feeling of isolation and fear? How can we find our way back to God when we might even be intensely angry at God Himself for allowing this all to be?
The key lies in rejecting fear and isolation as being a solution to the feeling of fear and isolation.
You must know that fear and isolation can never protect you from fear and isolation. It simply doesn’t work that way. When people believe this, it’s when they get hurt in relationships and then pretend not to want them anymore. It’s easier for them to choose to be alone than to be blindsided. It can also be a cause for suicide. Someone might be so afraid, and in pain, that they choose the worst thing themselves just to pretend they aren’t afraid anymore. You may have heard people proclaim, “I’m not afraid to walk alone, I’m done with people, I don’t need God, I don’t give a f*ck, I’m done, period….” They are desperately using fear and isolation in an attempt to solve their overwhelming fear and isolation. This can never work and I think, on one level or another, we’ve all been here before.
Rather than killing you from the outside, this will kill you from the inside. Once you’ve let fear and isolation inside, the devil doesn’t need to attack you anymore. In fact, the devil has no power over you beyond what you allow. Christ has promised you that. But if you let these things in, you’ll destroy yourself. There is a great Buddhist saying that illustrates this- “Hate is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. What does it matter if you think you’re surviving life but you’ve allowed your spirit to be broken?
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
Think of forgiveness as a waypoint to true transformation, to actually being saved through Christ. Forgiveness is a waypoint in that you are still feeling somewhat isolated, perhaps in pain, from what another has done, even though you’ve made a choice to forgive them. It is still, however, you’re idea of yourself, forgiving your idea of another, and so there is still work to be done to be able to find Christ in all the elements of the situation. It is a crucial first step, however, to truly allowing Christ to save you, but it is not the end. Jesus is pointing the way for us when he says that as we forgive, so we will be forgiven. He is pointing out to us that there is no difference between you and another on the level of saving Grace.
The importance, and courage, of this first leap of faith should not be underestimated. In the example of the children above, often we order forgiveness, as parents, wanting the kids to just ‘get over it’ and be friends again. If you watch though, you will see that it takes a decision by the hurt child to trust the encouragement of the parent and take a leap of faith in forgiving and moving on. This is no small thing. In the same way with us, Christ calls us to be active participants in our faith.
So, if forgiveness is a waypoint, where does it lead us? Jesus came to end our state of sin, our isolation from one another, and God. Through the saving Grace of Christ, we are returned to God, from our error of self-consciousness and ego. Christ, in his sacrifice for us, reverses the cruel game of the serpent on Adam and Eve. Through Christ, we lose our individual selves and are reunited with the divine, where no isolation, fear, anxiety, or any of the other innumerable ills of the isolated soul, exist. Christ shows us that it is not through self preservation, in isolation and fear, that we find freedom, but through self sacrifice in Him.
When we stop identifying with our own individuality, and that of the one who has hurt us, and we identify with the unifying nature of Christ with each of us, the concept of forgiveness is no longer needed. There is unity between two aparrent separate identities and that unity is achieved through Christ. In those who are evil, who have hurt us, it can be hard to see Christ through the evil of that individual. It is in these moments, when it is hard for us to see, that the strength of our faith must carry us through, the reliance on, not our individual understanding, but that of Christ within must be allowed to prevail.
I understand that, especially for those in pain right now, struggling to forgive and understand what is going on, these can seem like untouchable ideals. If it feels that way, it’s ok. Find a way to keep moving forward in faith. Use scripture, clergy, family, friends, prayer, counseling, workouts, whatever- but find a way. Don’t use fear and isolation to combat fear and isolation. Be easy with yourself, let others in to help you, and reach out. Christ’s promises are not to be left as a intellectual ideal but a living truth for all.