Marriage Monday: The True Meaning of Forgiveness

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Remember the children’s literacy organization, RIF? Well, reading is fundamental and not just for kids. Light reading is great. I appreciate the relaxation that a good novel can provide (and since the first bands of Sandy are now upon us, I wish I had an enthralling, easy novel in my queue). But deeper reading is important too. And yet, life is busy and sometimes our attention spans are less accommodating of longer works. Well, guess what? I have a solution for you! The Trinity Forum Readings are published by The Trinity Forum four times a year and are “excerpt[s] from classic or contemporary texts that speak to a timeless issue.” A few examples: Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr., A Spiritual Pilgrimage by Malcolm Muggeridge, The Wager by Blaise Pascal, Wresting with God by Simone Weil (this one has some of my all-time favorite quotes, cannot recommend it highly enough), and Who Stands Fast? by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I don’t know how many I’ve read exactly, or exactly how many of them have been published, but I do know you will not regret picking one up and discussing it with a friend or two.

But this is Marriage Monday you say, what does reading these excerpts have to do with marriage? Yes, well, yesterday I read The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal. The preface was written by Laura Waters Hinson (director of As We Forgive, the documentary about Rwanda’s reconciliation movement) and the introduction was written by Os Guinness. It’s a fantastic read, and you cannot help but engage with the author and the unusual circumstance in which he found himself.  The inner conflict that Wiesenthal, a holocaust survivor, endures centers on whether he did the right thing when he was asked to forgive a dying SS member.

The narrative is so compelling that, as the reader, you too grapple with what it would mean for Wiesenthal to forgive, and what forgiving truly entails in any situation. And since I believe that Ruth Graham was right, a good marriage is indeed the union of two good forgivers, understanding forgiveness is vital for every marriage.

So what is forgiveness? Guinness argues that forgiveness is “not a virtue, a merit, or a heroic act…[but] simply treating others as God has treated us and passing on to others what we have received so much more generously than we could ever give.”

Can you really forgive without acknowledging what you’ve been forgiven? Can we really hope to offer grace to others without understanding the grace that we are offered through Jesus Christ? There is a humility and an ownership that comes from recognizing our own shortcomings. If you stop to think about it, you can see that God (the All-Loving, Holy, Creator of the universe) forgiving you is a bigger deal than you forgiving anyone anything. After all, you aren’t holy and you aren’t all-loving. And neither am I. Yet He forgives us. How then can we justify not forgiving others? I love the parable Jesus told about the man who was forgiven some astronomical debt, but proceeded to choke and then imprison a debtor of his own who owed him very little. We may be horrified by the hypocrisy, but we do the same thing. Because we have been forgiven an astronomical debt, and yet we harden our hearts and refuse to forgive. The parable should illuminate our own hypocrisy and point us to our responsibility, as followers of Christ, to forgive.

And it sounds limitless, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. May I be sober-minded and rely on Christ in me, to forgive any and every offense. Clearly, no one could do this in their own strength. It’s laughable. It’s utter nonsense. But as Paul wrote, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NIV 1984).

Praying this morning that my marriage will be protected, that I will not be faced with living out the limits of forgiveness, but praying also that our union will be marked by grace acknowledged and grace extended.

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