A Note from Pastor Rick: Forgiving God’s Family
Annie Lamott wrote, “Forgiveness is letting go of the hope for a better past.” This is an interesting perspective on forgiveness, especially toward those who we expected to be a blessing, but who have been occasion of disappointment and hurt. Christmastime can often remind us of those past hurts and overshadow our celebration with the pall of loss and sadness or pain and disappointment. Forgiveness can help us let go of our hurts and resentments and free us to embrace more fully the joy we all desire to mark this blessed season.
I recently read in a Christmas letter sent by a ministry colleague an exhortation that deals with the need many of us feel to forgive God’s family. I thought it was excellent and wanted to pass some of the heart of it along to the family of God at Wellspring. I know that many who read our weekly e-newsletter may have just cause to feel hurt by members of God’s family. Indeed, some who read this missive may even have allowed themselves to become estranged from the gathered family/body of Christ. I hope these thoughts may be helpful.
The Scriptures expect that we will experience hurt from fellow followers of Jesus. Indeed, it was already the experience of the church in the first century. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:2, “Be patient; put up with one another in love.” Paul knew that we sometimes get rubbed the wrong way by other followers of Jesus. He goes on later in the chapter to write, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, freely forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (4:32). If we don’t do this we will miss out on what it means to be an active part of Christ’s body, “joined and held together by every supportive ligament, growing and building itself up in love, as each part does its work” (4:16). This is an essential part of God’s plan to bless us, and through us to bless the world.
Even in New Testament times some believers had opted out of connection with the family of God. In the book of Hebrews, the author exhorts his readers (and us) to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb 10:24,25). This passage is unambiguous. We are not to leave off fellowship with other followers of Jesus. There are two reasons. We need their encouragement and they need ours.
Having pastored for forty years now, I am keenly aware of how easy it is for Christians to genuinely disappoint, hurt and offend one another. I know how often “the church” can visit hurt upon its members. I have witnessed this often over the years. I have experienced it myself. I have also been the occasion of that disappointment and hurt more times than I like to remember. I know the hurt is real and that forgiveness is hard. I also know that it often seems like the easiest and best course is to simply drift away from the occasion of that hurt and separate one’s self from the family of God.
But a couple truths seem compelling to me. First of all, the mistakes Christians make, or that “the church” makes are not God’s fault. They are not what God intended in his family. Secondly, God did design for us to grow together and be made whole and complete and fruitful in his family. We are made to be in family; in a real community of spiritual brothers and sisters. This is where fullness and fruitfulness in life and in Kingdom mission are experienced. And thirdly, even when we are hurt by other Christians, by our church family, grace can abound through forgiveness and reconciliation. The Kingdom principle is true, “Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound” (Rom 5:20).
No family is perfect. Not even God’s family. The ideals are higher; the hopes are higher; the expectations are higher in God’s family. This can make disappointment all the more painful. But part of God’s plan for our growth and fullness of blessing is the process of loving and being loved by imperfect and forgiven people. If, to build upon Annie Lamott’s perspective on forgiveness, we let go of the hope for a perfect past we can open ourselves to the prospects of a redeemed present and the brightness of a better future than we had ever imagined. Like any good Father, God is anxious for his family to be home together at Christmas.