Joy is the spiritual fruit I have chosen to pursue in 2017. There are many references to joy (272) in Scripture and there are many (150) for forgiveness. In the Old Testament forgiveness is an act of sacrifice offered to God, often through a priest for atonement or forgiveness. Throughout Scripture it requires a blood sacrifice of a bull or dove or lamb. A faultless animal was required. But there just is not such a thing; we are all marred or imperfect in some way. It is paying a debt for our transgressions against God and man. But we can’t pay it.
Then comes the Son of God, the Perfect One, who did pay the debt, ransomed for our sins. His life was given for our lives. He died for our transgressions that we might be forgiven by God. We were given what we do not deserve. Psalm 32 tells us, “Blessed is he whose sins are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” God bought, saved us from ourselves.
There are parables of the wicked or unforgiving servant’s debt. The Master forgave him, but he would not forgive and so he was thrown in prison for life. Should he or we have mercy on those who forgive us? Psalm 130 tells us that with you (God) we are forgiven. We need to humble ourselves and receive this unmerited gift of forgiveness. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). This is the key to forgiveness, which is humility and repentance. The first time I heard this read at a Sacred Assembly called by Promise Keepers in Washington, D.C. in 1997. This prayer meeting of nearly 1.3 million men on the national mall was for our country and our sin, repenting of our wrongs and asking for forgiveness. Our country continues to move further from our founding documents ever since and so have most hearts.
I have gone to brothers or sisters and found forgiveness, reconciliation and joy, even though it has sometimes taken years and been one way.
As I write this essay, I am at odds with my own brother in a very hurtful way. I have gone to prayer and counseling and sought the Lord’s forgiveness as I have repented of my own hardening heart. Jesus in the gospels said, “forgive as I have forgiven you, if you do not I will not forgive you.” I have forgiven and asked forgiveness of my brother face-to-face, yet continued very hurtful encounters have caused me to no longer move toward him. There are times that it is just not fruitful or safe to go to someone directly. The concept of reconciliation is not universally understood. As a chaplain I have tried to bring reconciliation within families at the bedside of dying family members. I have come to see that perhaps many years of friction and dysfunction are not things I can overcome. Sometimes it is better to leave them to God to resolve if folks are willing.
The sad commentary is that we all live in less than God honoring relationships of some kind. We need to repent and ask forgiveness and do what God commands. I have done so often and now comes a time of waiting and praying for reconciliation in my life. The Apostle Paul brought helpful wisdom by saying, “If it is at all possible, as much as it depends upon you, be at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Sometimes it is not our call, it is just beyond us. I am not always joyful in this even though James said, “Consider it pure joy when you come into trials of diverse kinds, for the testing of you faith develops perseverance, and perseverance must finish its work so you may mature and complete lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4 paraphrase). He continues on to tell us that if we don’t know what to do, to ask God, and He will generously give us direction. I am asking without doubting and rejoicing that He is in it with me.