I was watching a reality TV show last week and there was a woman on the episode who kept telling another woman she had forgiven her and that she loved her even though it was so obvious that she wanted nothing to do this woman because of what she had done.
I kept shaking my fist at the screen. I guess I’m a little bit weary of people confusing words with realities. As if saying ‘I forgive you’ means we forgive someone. As if saying “I love you” fulfills that command.
If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve heard “I love them so much, but…” (followed by an explanation of all the things disliked about a person) – no – if i had a dollar for every time I’d spoken like that, I’d be a rich woman.
Here’s a question: is loving and forgiving actually a bigger problem inside the church than outside?
The first obstacle to loving and forgiving well is acknowledging that you aren’t really loving and forgiving well, and maybe this is where Christians seem to be at a disservice. We don’t always have the freedom to say what we really mean without being worried someone is going to ask us to change. If we said ‘I actually think that person sucks and I want nothing to do with them” people might ask something of us that we don’t feel ready for. And forgiveness is a process. Sometimes it takes patience with the ‘I don’t like them’ phase. And, out of fear that no one around us inside the church will give us the space we need, we learn to say, “I love them and I forgive them, I just don’t want to be around them.”
Not much anyone can do with that.
God will mess that right up. God, who meets our “I love, I just don’t like you” with His version of love that includes affection and emotion and closeness. God, who meets our “I forgive, but I will never let go of what you’ve done” with His version of forgiveness which puts our failures as far from us as the East is from the West – never to be considered again. It’s not practical, it’s not logical, I don’t get it at all, but that’s how He loves.
God, who sees through our words, to the hardness in our hearts and, if we will have ears to hear, speaks lovingly the truth: it is our failure, not the failure of others that leads us not to love and forgive.
So often we convince ourselves that it is their sin that is between us – what they have done that has fractured the love and relationship – but all their sin has done is offered a temptation, an excuse, for our own disobedience.
By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.
1 John tore me apart this AM with its total defeat of the lie that the obstacl
e between us and full forgiveness and love is the other person’s sin. Cain didn’t hate Abel because Abel was a sinner; Cain hated Abel because Cain was a sinner. 1 John says that you and I fail to love our enemies, not because they are unrighteous, but because we are.
Look, I know that the person you have ‘forgiven’ (but still secretly don’t like) is unrighteous. I know that they have failed you and their sin has hurt you and they have broken the commands of God. I know that they’re the kind of person you should keep your distance from. Got it.
But the text helps navigate that defense reminding us of what righteousness really is. The command we had from the beginning and the one that Jesus emphasized was one of the greatest commandments was to love each other. What makes a person truly unrighteousness is failure to love.
The thing that is making it impossible for you to move forward in love with that person, is not their unrighteousness, but yours.
What a game changer that truth is.
I want to tell it to everyone in the world. Mostly, to try to convict people who haven’t given me the forgiveness I crave. Mostly, so that I can stop feeling like it’s my failure and my sin that has cost me relationships. I want to point out to them – that what is between us is not what I have done, but their inability to forgive what I have done.
But, gosh, what a misapplication of this text that would be, when these words are the sweet Spirit seeking to stop the cycle of anemic forgiveness and lip-service to love that is running rampant in the church. And that cycle will be stopped through my heart, not theirs.
I cannot control anyone else – that’s part of the point of this text. Worrying about what they did or didn’t do is a distraction from the true obstacle between us that God is asking us to overcome: our own unrighteousness.
So today I’ll throw off the fear of being naive and foolish, the fear of letting people off the hook, the fear of being hurt, and I will love as recklessly and ridiculously as I have been loved by the One whose child I am.