Writing is therapeutic. That is what some people suggest. I have never thought about it in that light but perhaps as I write these words I will discover whether that is true. Here is why: I just got an email that was both hurtful and produced a great deal of angst and anger in my soul. Last week, as I was thinking and writing about the topic that will consume this missive, I took a break and drove to the bank where I pay my mortgage. It isn’t my normal bank, the one I frequent once or twice a week. When I pulled up, next to me was an old friend, one who broke friendship after 17 years. I am still not sure the reason and as time passes, the details get more foggy. But this friend won’t look at me, won’t talk to me, and won’t respond to email. He and his wife left the church nearly 10 years ago. It is a long story and one many of us who knew them well still can’t quite wrap our minds around to this day. And of course, there are two sides to every story. There is a bitterness in him that saddens me. Forgiveness certainly doesn’t define this relationship, or lack thereof.
I was thinking about forgiveness that day just before banking. Actually, I was pondering John 17. We are in the season of Advent and one of the things Jesus’s coming to this world made possible once again was oneness with God. I read John 17 and it feels “thick” to me. There is more here than I can get my head around. There is something that is going on between Jesus and His Father that was transpiring long before we came on the scene as people. They have something between them that can be detected beneath or behind the words of Jesus in this chapter of John’s Gospel. And what they have is the true definition of community/oneness. There is a type of eternal community into which we are invited and of which we might occasionally taste. But it strikes me that what They (Father & Son) share is far more than we can grasp. And we settle for far less than what They want us to know. Our ideas about oneness—sometimes shallow while at other times a bit closer to the ideal—are woefully short of what is available (only occasionally) to the Church. And by “Church” I don’t mean an organization but rather to us, God’s people, together in how we live and relate to one another.
What an incredible thing to consider: we have been invited into the community of the Godhead that has existed in perfect joy with perfect relating from eternity past. Jesus’ desire, as he prays words I suspect the disciple were privy to perhaps even the night before his death, was that we might come to know this type of oneness. How tragic that we settle most often for being cordial, a word to which I will return later. Once I was asked by a friend if I had an impossible vision for our church. I didn’t know what he was talking about so I wagered that I probably didn’t have this type of vision. I think the kind of oneness Jesus and the Father long for us to know might qualify as an impossible vision. But then, He has made it possible, at least in moments. In fact, a few weeks back I sat in a small group and for various reasons I found myself retreating internally. Aware of it, I repented. Instead, I stepped into my fears and tried to listen for the Spirit on behalf of a friend. By the time an hour had passed it seemed that something good, really good, had taken place. I felt a deep joy in my soul and while it is hard to define, it occurred to me later that what I felt was a oneness with the Trinity as I joined in on their purposes.
How ironic that as I think about forgiveness, I have had two situations press in on me that require forgiveness. That day at the bank I was most encouraged that what I felt wasn’t a defensiveness or a smugness because my old friend is bitter and I am not. Truthfully, there was an initial moment of a chuckle over the stupidity of it all, a chuckle that certainly contained an element of smugness but it wasn’t primary. Instead, I felt a deep sadness as I pondered the event driving away from the bank. I prayed for him and I prayed for myself. I prayed that God would reveal to me where else I need to forgive. One of the dangers of my profession is that I can begin to speak on topics that haven’t gotten ahold of my own heart. I prayed that day that if I am going to talk about forgiveness then I need to wrestle with it in my life. Who do I need to forgive? I am grateful God has done some good work with regard to my old friend. But there is this matter of the most recent email and the anger I feel at this other person. Work needs done there and right now I am not sure I want to go there. It is so much easier to nurse our pain, isn’t it? It feels good to do so, keeps the flame of anger burning, while stoking the energy of justification in how I feel and want to respond. And not to mention the countless other chances to forgive that will present themselves in the days ahead. Ugh!
You might be thinking or asking about the connection between John 17 with Jesus’s desire for us to know oneness and my stories about forgiveness. As I thought about oneness it occurred to me that one primary inhibitor of this oneness is our lack of forgiveness. Do you know that as Jesus reengaged with the disciples after his death and resurrection, He spoke first about two things: peace and forgiveness? See it for yourself in John 20:19ff. Later, the Apostle Paul, among others, speaks powerfully about forgiveness, implying that without it we grieve the Holy Spirit and make it impossible to hear Him. The opposite of forgiveness, it seems, is bitterness, which in turn leads to poor relating that is anything but what goes on within the membership of the Godhead…to which we are invited.
I am a grudge-holder. Perhaps I should start a small group similar to AA: "Hi, my name is Kent and I am a grudge-holder." My flesh likes to keep score. You might not know it on the surface because when I get hurt, what I tend to do is close off my heart and then become cordial (there’s that word again). But cordial isn’t the definition of oneness and doesn’t lead to unity. It might pass for it in many communities but not in the one of which I have been made a member, namely, the one that bears the name of Jesus and the Father. It is this community in which I have my primary membership and then I am given the privilege to represent this Eternal Community in my earthly ones. The Spirit of the relationship of the Father and Son is my Helper, intent on helping me to do more than cordially relate. Rather, He is the Spirit of love, the rich kind of love that exists between Father and Son, and to love means to forgive, to let people off the hook and not keep score (Col 2:14). What a high calling! I think too, it is the place where joy and oneness are found, perhaps not oneness with another person at any given moment but certainly oneness with the author(s) of forgiveness, Jesus and our true Father.
So, who do you need to forgive? Take it seriously because our bitterness impinges on our happiness, contributes to our unhealthiness be it physical or spiritual, and makes us impotent in representing the kingdom of God here on earth.
Grace upon grace to you,