...to each other and to God
Friends and family are what makes life worth living, aren’t they? Having the grandkids round for the afternoon, a weekend away with your best mates from school, a family picnic or lunch at a country pub, or even just sharing a laugh with your neighbours over a cup of tea at the Summer Event.
But not all relationships are so rosy. Many people have former friends, or even family members, who they hope never to speak to again. The brother who took advantage of your parents’ will. The neighbour who gossiped about you. The mother who always favoured your little sister. The Dad who walked out on you – or the Mum who took you away from Dad. The partner who cheated on you.
And where a real wrong has been done, it’s hard to make up. “After what he’s done…” “How can I ever believe him again?” “She’s going to have to make the first move.” And so the years go past, and the resentment stays.
And maybe you think it’s ok like that. You’ve pushed it to the back of your mind, and you can get on with your life. Until something stirs it up again – a night-time memory, a phone call out of the blue, seeing him (or her) in the street. And you discover you’re not free of it at all.
Actually it matters far more even than that. You see, Jesus said: “If you do not forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive you.” I reckon it’s one of the hardest things he ever said. How could Jesus be so harsh? Surely God is compassionate, and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy? How could he put conditions on his mercy?
But here’s the thing. God’s perfect plan is to bring us all back together, together in our diversity – languages, races, cultures, backgrounds, personalities – together in perfect love. In heaven there can be no bitterness, no resentment, no grudges, no jealousy, no blanking, no condemnation, no keeping a safe distance – if there was, it wouldn’t be heaven.
So if you hold on to a grudge or a dislike or a resentment against your brother, or your sister, or your parent, or your neighbour, you couldn’t possibly fit in there. By not forgiving, you’re disqualifying yourself from heaven.
But the amazing thing is that it works the other way round too. Knowing how much you’re forgiven by God is what makes forgiving others possible. God made the first move. While we were still his enemies, Christ died for us. And when we grasp quite how much we’ve been forgiven by God, it sets us free to forgive others.
So if you’ve got someone who’s done you wrong, someone you would really rather not have anything to do with, follow God’s example and reach out to them. Break down the wall you’ve built – and make yourself fit for heaven again. And if you don’t think you’ve got it in you to do that, discover God’s forgiveness in Jesus.
Note: Forgiving doesn’t mean saying that everything is ok, that wrong things done in the past don’t matter. Nor is it forgetting – there are some things you can’t forget. It simply means deciding not to bring it up, or use it against the other person – to their face, to others, or to yourself.
This article first appeared in The Rufford Brick issue 8, September 2015