Sometimes we have a hard time remembering, as people who put our faith in Christ and trust in a loving Heavenly Father, that even though we're ambassadors of that faith and who that faith represents, we aren't God, we don't live in eternity, and there are certain things that it's pretty naive to expect the "temples of flesh" we reside in to be capable of. One of those things is being able to forget a great evil done to us.
Some Christians mistakenly believe that we MUST forgive when sinned against. While that's a nice, utopian idea of Christianity, the truth is we must be WILLING to forgive and SEEK reconciliation when possible - but unless I've missed it somewhere, we only MUST forgive if and when the offending party repents. This is the message Christ taught. In Luke 17:3, Jesus said the following...
Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.
And verse 4...
And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”
I don't think it's coincidental that this passage follows the verse about millstones being hung around necks.
The key Greek words in that verse (Luke 17:3) are as follows...
Sins = "hamartanō" which means, sin in its various forms - injustice, dishonorable actions toward, lack of uprightness toward, et cetera...to be wronged in some fashion
Rebuke = "epitimaō" which means, in its purest form, "to find fault with" or to "charge a penalty" - to judge (gasp!), along with rebuking (particularly sharply), chiding, confronting, et cetera
Repents = "metanoeō" which means a "turning of the mind" and "to amend the ways" - in other words, a person doing a complete 180 in thinking and action
Forgive = "aphiēmi" which means to "let go, remit, forgive a debt"...it's also a word that speaks to "divorce", so it could be used in the sense of "divorcing yourself from the debt owed"
I want to apply my own situation here. I still, occasionally, deal with a closed-minded person or two who say "You're just bitter and want revenge...You need to forgive them and let it go." Total BS. Both statements. Particularly troubling when those statements come from professing Christians who claim to use the bible as the measure of absolute truth in their lives.
You betcha I'm bitter about what those religious fools did to me. I lost a LOT. I'm human. As far as vengeance, though, if I wanted to carry out my own means of revenge on them, I'd have headed west with a baseball bat and gone all "Walkin' Tall" on the whole crowd of fools long ago - Buford T. Pusser style. There's no denying that I've been angry enough, on MANY occasions throughout this deal, to have helped a few of the idiots in my ex-fiancee's life meet their insurance deductibles (have you forgotten the patriarse's post engagement speech to me which included reference to a supposed hitman telling someone "I'll kill ya"?). While I HAVE been extremely sharp with my words toward them in my confrontations with them ("epitimao"), I haven't been violent toward them, nor have I tried to do them personal harm. I was actually trying to salvage any hope of a music future for my ex and her sisters while all of this was going on, risking my own reputation in doing so. I didn't pursue a civil action against them (bringing suit) when the opportunity was there. I tried everything else, though. I've been a rabid grizzly, a gentle lamb, thrown their own legalism and legalistic standards right back on them (to no avail - total hypocrites), outed them openly to their own crowd and circle (which proves you can't really shame people into doing the right thing - or they'd have done right long ago), tried to approach them through many others. These are just very spiritually and emotionally sick people with hearts so hard they could sharpen knives and minds so narrow they could give you a paper cut. One associate who tried to deal with them, concerning all this, described them this way...
"They pop up out of their hole and tell a lie, then jump back down in their hole when you call them on it, then, they stick their head back up out of their hole to tell a couple of new lies to cover the first lie, then they dive back in their hole so they won't be called on it, and it just goes on and on like that. This is the most screwed up and paranoid bunch of people I've ever seen. Never seen anything like it."
That comment came via an email. When I called him to follow up on it, he couldn't even put his confusion and frustration into words.
The only apology I've received from anyone was from her grandfather, and that was for having called me names - before going on to tell me that he was happy for what his deviance had accomplished in his next few sentences (which speaks to heart and motive). While the things the man called and said about me were garbage, poisonous, disgusting, and pulled from the depths of his rectal area (at a later point in my story I'll post some of his statements), manufactured entirely in attempt to hurt me, and said with all malice - those were and are the LEAST of his offenses toward me, so his repentance is pretty much another one of those "What the...?!" moments.
Now according to Christ, should I extend forgiveness to these people? Or should I look to God to offset the loss they introduced into my life and eventually bring them to a reckoning? The people who Christ "let have it" and spoke against (among several groups, really) are those who refused to repent (amend their ways). And, He made sure others knew about them, too.
Let's look at how Paul handled a particularly troubling individual and his experience with him in 2nd Timothy 4:14-15...
Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.
If you look at the Greek words, harm (or, in some translations, evil), comes from the Greek word "kakos", which means harm, injury, destruction, et cetera, and those with the connotation of bad intent in doing them. Paul then says "apodidōmi", which is his way of saying "God will bring a reckoning on this man, Alexander, and will give him what he's due for how he treated me." Note that he doesn't state any expectation of mercy, but a hope of reckoning and recompense. He then warns to "phylassō" Alexander, which means to keep your eye on, be on guard against, be wary and distrusting of, because Alexander has "anthistēmi", opposing them, and, in modern terms, been a pain in the rear-end toward that which is right.
Whatever we may believe about eternity, judgment, punishment, et cetera, I think it's safe to say that there WILL be a reckoning (and we have no certainty what that looks like - although the evidence suggests that it could be ugly for some based upon their lives and actions - and the heart from which those things came). Concerning this, I wrote my thoughts regarding my ex's family and circle in the past, summed up this way: I want them to have a reckoning and stand face to face with and answer for what they've done. This should happen. It probably won't happen in our natural lives without a miraculous intervention from God (their hearts are too hardened), but I trust that it WILL happen in eternity. Mercy will be up to God to extend to them.
I'm not a big believer in the idea of God meting out punishment (when deserved) in this life. Not saying that He doesn't, but none of us are perfect, and when is the last time something bad happened in your life, where you knew, beyond doubt, "that was God punishing me for action A with outcome B"? Bad things happen. It's part of living on this earth. Those of you who are parents, when you have to issue punishment and discipline to your children, wouldn't it be of no worth if they didn't know what it was for? If they couldn't connect an action from themselves to the disciplinary response from you? That would be terrible parenting. God isn't a terrible parent.
The last one of the fools I spoke to from my ex's circle hit me with "God's gonna come down all over you!" Bleh. For what? Being truthful? Trying to do what was right and being so bold as to expect others who profess Christ to do right by people? I told him, word for word, "You know what? You can write that thought down on a piece of paper, fold it up real nice and tight, stick it in the leftover meatloaf in the fridge, and throw it out the backdoor...That's about how much that scares me." Total stupidity, and TOTALLY a Christian faith I want nothing to do with, constantly having to fear God dropping the hammer on me if I do something wrong. Make no mistake, I DO believe I'll have to answer for my wrongs - but probably not so much here. More likely in eternity. People aren't gonna manipulate me with that kind of ignorant fear-mongering. It's sorta like those who, everytime some disaster strikes our country, go into the "God is judging America!" spiel. Puhleeeese. We're under a NEW covenant, people. And, we're still on planet earth. God causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on ALL of us, just and unjust. Bad things happen, and to decent people, because it's an imperfect world we live in. Not because God's dropping the hammer on any group of people. This is especially strange to me coming from those who believe in a pre-tribulation "rapture". So, God will spare his people from the tribulation, but not from Hurricane Katrina, for example? Lots of Christians were among those killed and displaced by Katrina. I'd dare say there was a Christian or two in the World Trade Centers, and likely among those killed by the recent tornado outbreak. Use your heads, people. Don't oversimplify God and bring him down to our own level of thought and concepts of justice/punishment/revenge. Would the tribulation kill them "deader" than these events?
I want to take a deeper look at what Paul was saying in 2nd Timothy. The next verse after the verses I quoted earlier says this...
At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.
OMG!!! Did Paul just judge motive?!!! How could he have been a Christian?!!! How could he have been a CHRISTIAN?!!! *as I faint in a very emasculated, yet masculine, way - while rending my garments and clutching my chest*
Yes, he very clearly judged motive, and asked for mercy concerning those to whom he, personally, ascribed the lesser evil. Hey, that's sorta like what the rest of us do! Isn't it? Isn't it? Yes, it is.
I don't think God calls for us to be ignorant in the way we deal with people (or to go around making unnecessary judgments about others to puff up ourselves) and forgiveness isn't something that requires us to be pushovers (particularly among brothers and sisters in the faith) or to become something we're emotionally incapable of becoming as human beings. Forgiveness doesn't mean forgetness, and in the case of Alexander, a situation Paul obviously judged (which would involve a personal judgment about Alexander and his heart/motives) as irreconcilable, Paul absolutely wasn't gonna forget it, and didn't want anyone else to, either. He simply handed the consequences of the situation over to God while warning those to whom he was writing.
Be willing to forgive, and seek to reconcile - but when there's no repentance and no hope for reconciliation, don't be so naive as to forget. Other people might get hurt in the same way you did.
Paul also wrote in Romans 12:18...
If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
This means there will be times when it ISN'T possible, and you'll only be responsible to God for doing what's within your own power to live in peace. Beyond that, like Paul with Alexander, give the consequences to God, as the next verse says...
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
...before going on to tell us to do good to our enemies and not repay evil with more evil.
At the same time, don't be naive, and don't bring guilt upon yourself for not forgetting. Forgiveness, and its process, isn't a simple, black and white issue when not everyone involved is on the same heartwave-length. Don't let others use it as a means to manipulate or oppress you.
Don't forget that. Be wise like a serpent while being harmless like a dove.