ELEPHANTS DON’T FORGET, BUT THEY DO FORGIVE!
Series: When Faith Meets the Family Circus
May 28, 2017
A while back my good friend Jeff asked me, “David, what is the most hopeless issue you have to deal with in your line of work?” It was a fascinating question, one I hadn’t ever considered before. And I suppose my friend expected me to say something along the lines of ministering to the family of a suicide victim or stillborn child, or perhaps doing visitation in a nursing home or prison.
I surprised him when I responded, “Unforgiveness.” He asked what I meant. And I told him that the hardest matter I have to confront on almost a daily basis are the vindictive, spiteful emotions, the seething grudges, the unforgiveness that persons harbor toward one another. It’s a far more debilitating form of cancer than any melanoma I’ve seen inflicting damage on someone’s body. It can absolutely destroy someone’s soul.
And the place where I have seen it wreak its greatest destruction has been in the home–between husbands-wives, parents-children, brothers-sisters.
This morning, as we continue our series “When Faith Meets the Family Circus,” we are reminded of the old saying, “Elephants don’t forget, but they do forgive.” Today we are going to talk about the vital role of forgiveness in the family….
- FORGIVENESS IN THE FAMILY IS NEVER A MATTER OF KEEPING SCORE
A while back a 16-year-old boy was venting his frustrations to me about his home life. He said, “Man, like, Mom and Dad are arguing all the time. And it’s like they keep a scorecard in their heads of everything each has done to the other over the last nine years. And, like, they just replay that over and over and over. It makes me want to throw up!”
Today Translations, a British company, conducted a worldwide poll of language translators to discover the top ten hardest words to translate from their native language. After the votes were tallied, it was agreed that the hardest word to translate is found in the Bantu language spoken in the Congo. The word is “ilunga,” which means “a person who will forgive any abuse for the first time, tolerate it the second time, but never a third time.”
Ilunga. What an interesting word! “A person who will forgive any abuse for the first time, tolerate it the second time, but never a third time.” Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven!”
That’s an earthshattering statement. A person who forgives twice is called an “ilunga.” A person with the ability to forgive an unlimited number of times is called a follower of Jesus. Are you an ilunga or a follower of Jesus?
Now we don’t know why Peter asked this question. Perhaps someone had gotten under his skin, calling him a dumb, worthless fisherman. The rabbis did one better than the ilungas—they said you had to forgive three times. Peter was more generous—he doubled the amount and threw in one more for good measure.
To forgive someone who has hurt you seven times is a lot. On most occasions it’s hard to forgive even once. But Jesus answered Peter, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven!”
Now just what is Jesus advocating here? That we become doormats—verbal, emotional, physical punching bags for other family members to take advantage of?
There was a woman with 14 children, ages 1-14, who sued her husband on grounds of desertion. “When did he desert you,” the judge asked.
“Thirteen years ago,” she replied. “If he left 13 years ago, then where did all these children come from?” the judge inquired. “Oh,” replied the woman, “He kept coming back to say he was sorry.”
How about it? Is Jesus saying we should just keep looking the other way and pretending nothing’s happened when someone keeps hurting us time and time again? No, I don’t think so.
There are wives and husbands who ought to walk away from an abusive spouse. There are children who ought to walk away from abusive parents. And there are parents who ought to cut the cord with abusive children. Jesus is not advocating some self-destructive, co-dependency here.
What Jesus is promoting here, though, is a pro-active attitude. Jesus is calling us to an attitude of letting go—of letting go of the circumstance in which a family member has wronged you and trusting God to deal with it and that person.
–Forgiveness is not saying the offense never happened—it did.
–Forgiveness is not saying everything is fine—it’s not.
–Forgiveness is not saying we no longer feel the pain of the offense—we do.
–Forgiveness is saying “I’m okay, and I willing to let God deal with whether you’re okay. I am no longer going to keep a scorecard of the past. I am no longer going to let what you did to me control my life. I’m turning you and the situation over to God. I forgive you, unconditionally, no strings attached.”
Kent Crockett, in the The 911 Handbook, puts in this way, “Unforgiveness keeps us chained to whomever we do not forgive. When we go to bed at night, the unforgiven person is there to keep us awake. When we go on vacation, the unforgiven person travels with us to our destination. The only way to get unchained is to forgive and release the person who has offended us.”
Yes, to spend your life keeping score of what wrongs your family members have perpetrated against you is to live a shackled, sad existence. You have to break the chains. You have to let it go, and give it to God.
- FORGIVENESS IN THE FAMILY IS ALWAYS A MATTER OF KEEPING PERSPECTIVE
Now in order to fully answer Peter’s question, Jesus told a fascinating parable about a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. One servant owed about a million bucks in today’s currency.
Since this servant was not able to pay his debt, the king ordered that he and his family be thrown into jail and everything he owned liquidated to pay the debt.
Confronted with the threat of such severe punishment, the servant fell down and began pleading, “Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything.” The master took pity on him, canceled the debt, and let him go.
Now this servant, in turn, knew a fellow who owed him about $50. He refused to let the man out of the debt, having him thrown into jail. When the master got wind of this, he was furious.
Summoning the wicked servant, the master said to him, ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
Jesus concluded his parable, 35“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
This parable calls us to keep a certain perspective on things. With it in mind, we ask the question “Why should we forgive those family members who have hurt us in some way?”
First of all, forgiveness is a healing thing. We forgive for the well-being of our family. This wicked servant was eaten up with bitterness, and such bitterness will end up killing you.
It’s hard to hold on to seething resentment without it eventually taking a heavy toll on your mind, body and spirit, as well as that of your loved ones.
It’s like the little boy who was sitting on the park bench in obvious agony, tears rolling down his cheeks. A man walking by asked him what was wrong. The boy replied, “I’m sitting on a bumblebee.”
“Well, why don’t you get up?” the man asked. The boy replied, “Because I figure I’m hurting him more than he’s hurting me!”
My friends, our health and the health of our families can only improve when someone decides to get up off the park bench, and that someone ought to be you. Dr. Redford Williams of the Duke University School of Medicine puts it this way: “There is a strong correlation between hostility and death rates. People who live angry, who hold on to unforgiveness, have shorter life spans. In brief, grudgeholders are gravediggers, and the only graves they dig are their own.”
Secondly, forgiveness is a holy thing. We forgive because Christ has first forgiven us. Yes, on the cross, with his body tortured by nails and thorns and blood and sweat, and his soul tortured by the weight of your sin and mine, Jesus still cried out this plea, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing!” And God canceled the debt of sin in our lives, that we might truly be empowered to live, and to live for eternity.
If we have been embraced by such an overwhelming gift of forgiveness, a gift we can never, ever repay, should we not extend that gift of forgiveness to others, especially to those in our household?
Thirdly, forgiveness is a hopeful thing. We forgive because forgiveness is the only power that can redeem the past and alter the future.
Forgiveness is power. Forgiveness is the power to renew and be renewed, to clean and feel cleansed. Forgiveness is the power to restore to favor and wholeness. It is the most positive power in all the world.
Nothing else can rebuild a life the way forgiveness can. Nothing else can so change an individual the way forgiveness can. Nothing else can change the relationship between family members the way forgiveness can. When you pull it off, you do the one thing, the only thing, that has the power to redeem the past and alter the future, bringing hope to hopeless situations.
The grace to do it is from God. The decision to do it is yours. Heed Jesus’ admonition. Forgive your brother or sisters, your wives or husbands, your parents or children—forgive them from the heart!
Yes, perhaps the greatest need in our families today is forgiveness. It is never a matter of keeping score, but it is always a matter of keeping perspective—remembering that it is a healing, holy and hopeful thing.
A final thought–cruising up and down Interstate I-81 daily provides me a lot of time for reflection. I’ve come across some terrible accidents, and barely managed to avoid some myself. I have been starkly reminded on several occasions just how fleeting life can be.
And through this God has helped me to realize that many of the issues I get angry about and worked up over in my family are, in the bigger picture, very trivial and meaningless. Life is way too short to spend it harboring unforgiveness toward my wife, my son or my daughter.
I try to find some way to express to my family each day how much I love them each time I leave, and they do likewise, for sobering reality is we have no guarantees we will see each other again in this life again.
My friend, if you’re harboring unforgiveness toward a loved one this day, give it up and give it to God. Don’t let that be what you are remembered for eternally.
And ask God for the strength to give your family member the gift of unconditional forgiveness this day—don’t put it off until tomorrow, for tomorrow may never come—for you, or for them. Forgive today!