Speaking of echoes of past hurts, I heard a prison counselor (I was not myself in prison) speak once about the fact that anger is almost never an original response. It is generally among people the second thing we feel after hurt or fear.
We are hurt, and we want to lash out. We fear for ourselves or our future, and we tend to want to take control.
For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
My sinful nature wants to rub the noses of those whose oaths and words I trusted with my very life, whose words were lies, hollow reeds, untrustworthy, transient, disposable. I have to live with the consequences of trusting against prudence, and forgetting the Word of the Lord.
The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts the Lord is safe.
The bigger the pain, the greater the anger. But I’m of Celtic ancestry, and my nation’s past is riddled with tragedies of our people’s capacity for vengeance, though it is the very stuff of legends. (Rent Next of Kin for an amusing taste of the mafia learning what Celtic/hillbilly revenge looks like.) In the farming country the KKK left my family alone because they knew our reputation, and no one wanted to be the person to bring my uncles down around their ears, though my best friend in grade school was a black Muslim.
But we’re not called to revenge ourselves when we hurt. And follow along, it is not enough simply to NOT revenge. Christ’s example calls us to a radical position of blessing and love for those our sinful human nature would vent itself upon.
Psalm 4:4 Be angry and do not sin, ponder in your own hearts on your beds and be silent.
Romans 12:19- Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
So it is not enough for me to simply abstain from rage and vengeance when they might be justly claimed by heart and hand. That is only half the Gospel, and the lesser half by far. This is where any honest inspection of the New Testament paints such a portrait of forgiveness that it is impossible to separate forgiveness from fellowship, love, and reconciliation. For without reconciliation and love, the following passages become nonsense at best or passages that condemn us to hell at worst.
Matthew 6:11-15 Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
And in the same sermon: Matthew 7:1-2
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
So, not only can I not avenge myself when hurting and angry, but I cannot simply shun and abandon those who have hurt me. What good is a forgiveness that says, “I forgive you, and I never want to see you again.” if I then hear the same words from Christ? Such a forgiveness still leaves me bound for hell from the very measure that I have just used! “Depart from me” are the very words of condemnation Jesus uses to condemn the damned to hell in Matthew 7:23, so how dare I use those words, “depart from me, you worker of lawlessness” and call them forgiveness when in Jesus’ mouth they are the very syllables of damnation? Am I so cock-sure in God’s grace that I think I need have no fear of Jesus’ own standards? Am I so absent-minded that I could then live without fear as every time that I utter the Lord’s Prayer I am praying for the Lord to send me straight to hell by the standard that I am using?
Again, in Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness in Matthew 18:15-35!
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[f] in heaven.19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask,it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.[g] 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.[h] 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife andchildren and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant[i]fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundreddenarii,[j] and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,[k] until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Jesus gives a purpose and goal of forgiveness in Matthew 18:15: It is to GAIN the brother back again. How can I claim to be God’s if, in my hurt and anger, my heart wants the very opposite of God’s goal in his commandments. Jesus commands me to confront my brother to gain him back again. American Christianity claims that forgiveness is something internal, and can be done while severing the brother from our lives, the exact opposite of the Godly goal.
Peter’s question in Matthew 18:21 is pure nonsense if we can forgive and cast out in Christian love! If we can forgive and cast the sinner away from our hearts and lives, then the answer is not seventy-seven times, but once! I can forgive my brother who harms me and throw him out where he can never harm me again! Then I have “forgiven” and gotten rid of the problem at the same time!
But Jesus follows up with a parable immediately after, that says if we do not forgive our brother from our heart, we are in a very, very bad place. There is a trilogy of Greek phrases here in Matthew 18:35 that do not translate well into English. It loses an important emphasis. My Bruce-the-Monk clumsy translation will drop the ESV’s your part of your brother for the actual phrase hekastos autou, Hekastos (each, every, or as an adverb, at all times, always) is completely dropped from the English translations from the King James on, though it is clear in the Greek and adds an emphasis on an already emphatic and terrifying sentence:
So also will my Heavenly Father do to you, if you do not divorce/release everything always from your brother from your heart.
This is a clumsier translation by far, but it is interesting not only because of hekastos, but because the world for “forgive” is actually divorce/drop/let go of used in the Lord’s Prayer.
So, if my brother sins against me, I have my brother and his sin and my hurt. If I cut out all of my brother’s sin, then I just have my brother and my hurt. BUT here is the Christian Gospel brought home. Life here on Earth is hurtful. The response to the pain is not to lash out, but to take up my cross, my pain, my suffering, and follow Christ.
Where do we follow Christ? Christ left his comfort, his right, his throne and went chasing off in loving desire (the word frequently used for Christ’s desire for his disciples’ fellowship is the same word translated elsewhere as passion/strong desire/lust) for his enemies who were actively hurting them. Ephesians 1 says that the joy of our redemption was such that Christ looked forward to it, cross and all, before the start of time in creation.
I can’t claim to have that heart, a Christ-like heart or Christ-like forgiveness if I do not have a Christ-like love, a love that passionately desires my enemies by my side, a forgiveness that defines them as beloved and desired instead of hated or revenged.
Days like today, that feels like dying, but I heard somewhere that the person who wants to save his life will lose it, and the one who loses his life for His sake will gain it. (Matthew 10:29, 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24).
So, rejected, I must accept. Hurt, I must embrace. Scorned, I must long for those who scorn me. Hated, I must love. Forgotten (yeah, right) I must remember, hope, and pray, because that is what true love does (1 Corinthians 13) instead of the false forgiveness, which having been shown as counter to Christ, is ultimately a blasphemy and hatred of the other because it does not seek what Christ seeks, does not seek the kingdom on earth as in heaven, does not seek Christ’s will to be done, and therefore rejects God.
Here my sinful nature wants to fail the way America’s church fails. We have such a long list of people we must never forgive, never love. Adultery? Divorce! Let Hosea never be spoken of again! Crime! Punishment, and let 1 Corinthians 6 be cherry-picked to the bones.
We do not live God’s Way, and wonder why our nation does not remember God or honor Him? How can they say, “See how they love one another!?” when we reject the inconvenient, shun the wrongdoer, divorce the unfaithful, discard the unpleasant, lie to one another, deceive, abuse, exclude, and betray God’s grace in every way?
But in this case, it is hard, because it means offering love and open doors to the Vandals at the gates. It means sacrificially accepting hurt for a passion to have those who hurt me brought back into my presence, for the passion for their fellowship outstripping my own self-protection.
It means sacrifice.
It means Christ.