Forgiveness For Who?

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. – Matthew 6:9-13

A couple of weeks ago a national news story caught my attention and I have followed it pretty closely. There is an anchor for MSNBC News named Melissa Harris Perry who broke a cardinal rule in journalism when she went from reporting the news to being the news. She had a “Year In Review” special on her MSNBC show where she and her guests talked about the big stories of the year… some of the stories being lighthearted – some serious… but one in specific ended up getting her in hot water. She and her guests showed a picture from Mitt Romney’s family Christmas Card that pictured Mitt and his wife Anne seated outdoors surrounded by 22 grandchildren. Sounds hard to make fun of I know but MHP and the other show guests did just that – focusing on the youngest baby in Mitt’s arms… an african american child. They found it amusing to see this picture of two white grandparents surrounded by 21 white grandchildren and one black baby. Here’s the clip for context if you want to see it…

To say that all hell broke loose after this is probably an exaggeration … but not much of one.

People on the political right were immediately foaming at the mouth in anger demanding her immediate apology. People on the political left for the most part stayed quiet not condemning the clip but certainly not trying to defend her either.

Now here’s where my interest really got peaked… Ms. Harris-Perry immediately issued apologies in several formats… in writing, on her blog, on her twitter account and most poignantly on her live broadcast… again – you can watch that clip here. Judge for yourself how you feel she handled the apology but I felt it was sincere. Many don’t feel that way. And that… drives me crazy.

An apology was demanded. It was given. Multiple times. But that wasn’t good enough. The majority of responses to her apologies were that she wasn’t sincere, that nothing she could say would erase the stain, that she only did it because she was pressured to do so… Something tells me – she will never be able to convince some that “she means it.”

Forgiveness is one of the hardest concepts in all humanity. Many people cannot offer it… and they are the ones that definitely will have the hardest time letting someone ask for it.  Especially on big stuff.

Christians can be the most aggravating group of people when it comes to forgiveness… That passage at the beginning of this post is of course something we know as The Lord’s Prayer… I started there because it is a cornerstone of what Jesus taught us in His time here. He said when we pray, do it like this… In other words… He didn’t say, “repeat this as the only way you ever pray to my Father…,” instead He said here is a good model of the concepts you should be mindful of when you talk to Him… and my favorite line in that passage is “forgive us our debts (sins) as we also have forgiven our debtors (those who have sinned against us).” Man I love how Jesus just had this knack of hitting us right between the eyes every time He spoke! I mean think about what He is saying… God – we only deserve forgiveness if we are willing to forgive… and as good little Christians, sometimes, we say that prayer and we don’t even consider how deep the words are we are reciting. Speak for myself you say? Ok… I will speak for myself – but see if this sounds familiar at all…

Someone does something to really hurt or anger me… Maybe they are even so calloused about it that they don’t even seem to care that it hurt or angered me… or maybe they have done this particular thing so many times that I start to take the position of … “Screw it! They don’t deserve forgiveness and so I am done with them!”

Honestly, this is a very easy feeling to get … and also one that is widely accepted if not downright encouraged by the world. Common sense tells us that forgiveness is something that should be earned… that forgiveness is conditional on someone deserving to receive it from us. And that’s where the rub is… because the reality is, forgiveness has nothing to do with whether someone deserves it or not. It has everything to do with us not allowing anger to turn into bitterness and offering forgiveness unconditionally all the time – and ye, that’s crazy and it’s crazy hard to do!

But God didn’t promise us “easy.”

Ms. Harris Perry’s situation is an example of an epidemic. Not an epidemic of people saying ridiculous things on the news but an epidemic of non-frogiveness and us feeling like we are justified to not forgive people. That has to stop. Especially if we are Christ Followers.

As Christ Followers we have no rights to withhold forgiveness – ever. We are the most undeserving of forgiveness and we received it from the One who definitely didn’t have to give it. How can we possibly claim a relationship with Him if we aren’t willing to give to others what He so freely gave to us?

It doesn’t matter if Ms. Harris Perry “deserves” forgiveness. Deservedness doesn’t come into play here. And it doesn’t come into play in any situation you can think of … Forgiveness has nothing to do with the person you are forgiving or even what they did to you… Instead… It’s all about your heart and your commitment to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

As hard as forgiveness can be to give… Once you learn how and begin practicing it – you’ll find a freedom you never dreamed of… You’ll realize how captive the anger and bitterness were holding you. Honestly, that’s true of all the teachings of The Christ… When we heed 1 John 2:6 and walk like He walked – peace, love, grace, hope and yes, forgiveness abound…

Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are someone who has had a terrible experience(s) at a church or churches – stop by some weekend and give it one more shot with Eastside. Whether you have felt judged, or dismissed, or unwanted – wherever it has been – Eastside is different.

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