It was the blunder heard 'round the world. Campaigning yesterday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told aides that a lady who asked him hard questions about immigration was a "bigoted woman." He didn't know his microphone was live, or that today's New York Times and other news outlets would give his mistake global coverage. Now the woman he insulted may hold his political career in her hands. What should she do? What should you do when someone hurts you today?
Yesterday we explored Jesus' warning, "I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment" (Matthew 5:22). We learned that the anger Jesus teaches us to reject is not angry emotion (thumos in the Greek) but the decision to continue being angry (orge in the Greek), to choose vengeance rather than forgiveness.
Biblical forgiveness is the decision to pardon. It is not pretending that you were not hurt, or excusing the behavior which hurt you, or trying to forget that the offense happened. To pardon is to choose not to punish, as when a governor pardons a criminal. She does not pretend the crime did not occur, excuse the behavior, or forget the offense. She chooses not to inflict the punishment which the law allows.
As you know, our culture authorizes revenge. If they lie about you, you are justified in lying about them. If they gossip about you, or slander you, or hurt you in another way, you can hurt them in the same way. Jesus teaches just the opposite: choose to pardon those who have hurt you. No matter what they have done to you. How do we handle our anger in this way?
First, act on your anger immediately, before it takes root in your soul: "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold" (Ephesians 4:26-27). Deal with this infection before it spreads. Admit it, and give it to God.
Second, guard your tongue, especially while you are angry: "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless" (James 1:26). What we say shows who we are.
Third, choose to pardon, for the sake of those who have hurt you and for the sake of your soul as well. Tim Stafford was right: "I would rather be cheated a hundred times than develop a heart of stone." A wise elderly saint added, "I will never allow another person to ruin my life by making me hate him."
The Didache is the oldest theological document outside the New Testament. It gives us good advice: "Love those that hate you, and you will have no enemy" (1:3). Ask God's help, and it will be yours.
The poet Edwin Markham lost everything when an unscrupulous banker betrayed his business confidence. He hated that man. As a result, he could not write poetry, but doodled circles on paper for hours. Finally he realized he must forgive the man or die. He said aloud, "I forgive him." For the first time in months, words began to flow. Looking at the circles on his paper, he wrote:
He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win.
We drew a circle that took him in.
With whom do you need to start your circle today?
By Dr. James C. Denison
President, the Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, Texas
April 29, 2010
Topic: forgiveness and the soul