The next element of the Lord’s love is forgiving. Peter failed the Lord in a way we never will – he rejected him three times. But this failure creates an amazing opportunity for grace. The picture we have of Peter’s forgiveness is beautiful. John’s gospel records that soon before the Lord ascended into the sky, he went back to Gallilee. When Peter is out fishing with the other apostles, he sees the Lord on the shore. Peter throws himself into the water in his joy to be with the Lord. Why is he so eager? He had failed the Lord miserably. Because Peter is confident of the Lord’s love, and he had already experienced the Lord’s grace and forgiveness.
With committed relationships you have many opportunities to be forgiving. When I think of how we tend to be with each other, I can’t get away from the picture of us as walking bananas – we bruise easily. It is very easy to be hurt and just take it inside and rot.
Forgiving is not that one doesn’t recognize or acknowledge wrongs or pains, but that one lets it go. During the second World War, Hitler ordered that all the churches in Germany be consolidated into one church. The Brethren Church split over this issue and as a result, those who refused to participate were persecuted. There were members of all their families killed in various concentration camps. After the war, as you might expect, there continued to be great bitterness and personal feeling on both sides of the Brethren Church. Finally, the elders from both churches came together. They all went away to pray. When they were finished, they all came back and met together. When asked “What happened then?” an elder replied, “We were just one.” There was true forgiveness.
We cannot control how other people will respond to difficulties in a relationship. It is possible that a relationship might not be restored if the person doesn’t want it to be. At one point Paul writes that “we need to be at peace with all men – as far as we are able.” The point is that sometimes the other person isn’t willing. This is painful but it doesn’t take away from our responsibility. We still need to forgive and love them. Forgiveness is needed in any relationship, for we all fail. Our memories need to have a moral filter – remembering what to keep and what to forget about. To truly love we need to forgive.
I Corinthians 13: 5 – 6 addresses this point, “Love is not easily angered. It keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” These three principles could be summarized under the title Love and Wrong. Each deals with how love responds to some evil or sin in the world.
Love keeps its wholesomeness and good temper in response to evil.
Love has a short memory for the hurt it suffers.
In the presence of wrong and evil, love focuses on, and lives, the truth.
Paul teaches that Love is not easily angered. This is the first failure of many Christians – including myself. We excuse our anger and say “that’s just the way I am”, or “I’m Irish,” or that “everyone in our family has a bad temper.” But Paul confronts all these rationalizations and says, in effect, “No, it is not loving to be easily angered.” Love isn’t just the positive motivations, sometimes to love means to resist our negative emotions. Love is self control in the face of irritating circumstances.
Now there are places to be angry. There are even places where love demands that we be angry. Jesus was angry in the temple when the money changers sought to misuse his Father’s house. Paul wrote the Ephesians “in your anger, do not sin.” So this passage in front of us doesn’t condemn anger entirely. There is a place for righteous indignation. But it isn’t the norm.
The story of the prodigal son is a famous example of the sins of the flesh. And yet there was a second verse to that song. At the end of the parable, the older brother has resisted the sins of the flesh, only to succumb to the sins of the heart. The brother is a picture of bitterness, pride, cruelty, self-righteousness and sullenness. The church often acts that the sins of the flesh are worse – but are they?
Scripture says sin is sin. Thus anger can be a test of love — it can detect an unloving heart. Paul calls this selfish anger a cancer and commands believers to cut it from their hearts. Solving anger is central in loving our families. There are few things more ugly than someone who smiles in public and rages in private.
To love means to forgive. Love doesn’t keep a tab of wrongs and hurts. As I was working on this lecture this truth was very painful for me. When I think of two individuals, an anger floats to the surface of my mind. This is not a good place to be when you know that you need to write on forgiveness. I have prayed and asked the Lord to forgive me for my hard heart and I have chosen to forgive these two individuals. Who comes to your mind when you think of forgiveness? God wants you to do business with your own heart.
There is a morality to our memory. A good memory or conscience means to remember all debts we owe, but forget and forgive those owed to us. We need to, as Paul writes elsewhere, “Forgive as God has forgiven you.”
Ernest Hemingway writes in his short story, “The Capital of the World,” of a Spanish father and a son with a strained relationship. The son ran away and the father goes on a desperate search for his rebellious son. He eventually travels to Madrid and puts an ad in the local paper “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office tomorrow at noon, all is forgiven, I love you. Father” When the father arrives the next day there are 800 Pacos waiting for him. They all wanted forgiveness. We all want forgiveness, and by God’s grace we can also give it.