"I Can Never Forgive Him!"
Apr 13, 2012 by Craig Blomberg | 1 Comments
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals--one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:33-34 NIV)
I had finished teaching the Sunday School class on the parable of the unforgiving servant. I knew “Linda’s” marriage was fragile. I didn’t know what other buttons I had pushed. “You don’t know my father,” Linda almost screamed at me. “You don’t know what he did to me. I can never forgive him. I will never forgive him.” She pronounced her words carefully. About a half-year later, her husband told me she had filed for divorce. Not long after that, she claimed not to have any Christian faith.
We sent the husband of one of our church staff to what we thought was a Christian counselor. Rumor was “Joe” had cheated on his wife, but he denied it. Unfortunately, all the counselor did was ask Joe if he was prepared to work on his marriage. When he said no, he spent the rest of the time with Joe helping him plan how to leave his wife, our church, and even the Denver area, as quietly as possible. No Scripture was ever brought to bear on Joe’s behavior, no call for repentance, no words to the effect that it was a sin for him to leave his wife for another woman, which is what in fact he did. Just help him achieve “closure.” Apparently the wife had said a few hurtful things to the husband that he was unwilling to forgive, so all the counselor was willing to do was to try to help him move on.
Someone needs to give people like these Desmond Tutu’s book on the Truth and Reconciliation movement in South Africa. Someone needs to immerse them in the Amish community for awhile, where forgiveness of enemies is routine and genuine. Someone needs to introduce them to men and women in the Middle East or West Africa who have been mutilated and partially dismembered by attacking forces in ethnic wars, who nevertheless reach out to their attackers with forgiveness through the Christian gospel.
More importantly, all of us need to meditate a whole lot more on the first thing Jesus said as he was excruciatingly nailed to the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Of course they know. They know exactly what they are doing. They are carrying out orders from their military commanders, who in turn answer to Pontius Pilate. They are executing someone who claimed to be a king without Roman authorization. In fact he claimed to be the Messianic King, the one who would overthrow the Romans. The Jews say Jesus has blasphemed, but that charge has to do with their law. All the Romans care about is that he has committed treason, dared to deny that Tiberius Caesar in Rome is the supreme ruler of the universe—dominus et deus (“Lord and God”). For that Jesus must die, and die publicly and in agony as a deterrent to everyone else who might be tempted to follow in his footsteps.
Of course at a deeper level they don’t know at all what they are doing. Because they don’t believe Jesus is Lord and God, they cannot accept what he has said and done. They don’t know that they are making possible an atoning death for the sins of humanity. They don’t know that, if they genuinely repent at some later date, this death will make it possible for them to be reconciled with God in Jesus.
And we are called to take up our crosses and follow him. No, we can’t add anything to the atonement. But we can certainly imitate his model. “Father, forgive my abusive spouse, s/he does not know what s/he is doing—and help me to do so as well. I may need to separate for the sake of physical protection, but I have no biblical grounds for divorce, and certainly not if the abuse is only “emotional.” “Father, help my clients to see that forgiveness is possible. They may choose to go their own way, but may I never have to stand before you on Judgment Day and answer for having encouraged someone to leave their spouse without unequivocal biblical grounds for doing so.”
The examples could be multiplied. “Father, I can’t have a wholesome relationship with ‘M’ or ‘N’ unless they show signs of true repentance and change. But please forgive them, and help me not harbor a grudge, plot retaliation, blame you, lose faith, or do anything else that keeps me from growing in imitation of my true Master, Jesus Christ.”
Did we learn anything this year on Good Friday? Did we even bother to worship with God’s people on it? Or did we just jump straight to the joy of Easter? And then how much of our Easter celebration was truly Christian? What will our kids remember—eggs, bunnies and ham or the gospel message?
Without the cross, there is no resurrection. Until we die to ourselves, we cannot be raised to walk in newness of life. If our sense of entitlement, our rights, our self-absorption, our “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is no different from the average American’s, then we are not saved. Father, forgive us.