Making life better

Published 5:00 am Thursday, March 28, 2019

Dr. Thomas Long, former Professor of Preaching at the Candler School of Theology, said he was standing at the circulation desk of the seminary library when a professor friend approached. His friend was carrying a large number of books. Watching him struggle under the load, Dr. Long asked him what he was doing, teasing him a bit in the process. “What’s the pastoral counselor doing with all those heavy books?”

Undeterred, his friend quickly answered, “I’m doing some research on forgiveness.”

Dr. Long was surprised and puzzled, “Research on forgiveness,” he asked. “What are you trying to find out?”

The friend thought for a moment and then replied, “I guess I’m trying to find out if forgiveness really exists or not. You know, I see so little evidence of it in my work.”

If forgiveness really exists? That pastoral counselor’s remarks stagger us a bit.

But back to Dr. Long! He points out that here was a pastoral counselor, someone who ought to know, someone who even works to enhance forgiveness, wondering if forgiveness actually exists.

Forgiveness is often missing! There is a sign in a bank that says, “To Err is human, to Forgive is not our policy.” Well, for many people that’s true. It’s simply not their policy to forgive.

Truthfully, when we look at the sum total of human experience, we have to admit that there isn’t a whole lot of evidence to be found for forgiveness. And that’s true of all levels of human society-international, national, local, personal.

I’m particularly thinking of the nightly news report or what could better be called the “nightly crime report.” How many shootings are the result of arguments out of control, where forgiveness was missing? How many homes are being destroyed by domestic violence because forgiveness was not considered? And how much of our nation’s division and discord can be credited to a lack of forgiveness.

To be sure, I’m not talking about God’s forgiveness being missing. God is always ready to forgive. The writer of First John declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 19). But I am saying that human forgiveness is rare.

Forgiveness is actually a gift to ourselves! Certainly, forgiveness is a gift to others, but it is also a gift to ourselves . We give ourselves the gift of resolution and even peace when we forgive another. Forgiveness alone can break the chain of ungrace both in others and in ourselves.