Too often I hear people tell me that a situation is irretrievable, a relationship irrecoverable. ‘Nothing can fix this,’ they say. ‘They’re a narcissist – there’s no reasoning with them,’ they say. ‘I’ve been too wounded,’ they say. And yet Jesus says, ‘Forgive.’
Of course it’s enraging when someone trespasses over your personal boundaries. Of course it’s painful to have your opinions bulldozed, or your needs overlooked, or your feelings ignored. Of course people are horrible. And of course forgiveness is difficult. If it wasn’t difficult, we wouldn’t talk about it so much, and nor would Jesus have made such a big deal of it. But he did.
I don’t think Jesus urges us to forgive in order to oppress us. He is never coercive, but always concerned with our ultimate good. And while he certainly challenges people, he always allows them absolute freedom to reject or accept his way of life. Therefore, I see his command to forgive as pointing towards our own healing. As long as we refuse to journey towards forgiveness, we can feel defined and trapped by what other people have done. Those of us who travel that road and do the necessary work, however, experience forgiveness as a powerful and empowering act, which liberates us from our past, neutralises the power of the one who once hurt us, and allows us to set new and healthier terms of relationship (which may include no relationship at all).
This is why, on 12 November at 7.45pm, we will hold an open session of Shalom on conflict in the church. As we all know from reading the New Testament, conflict has been a feature of church life since the earliest days. What makes a church is not the absence of conflict, but how it is handled: Is it ignored and swept under the carpet? Does fear of conflict dominate decision-making? Does conflict lead to bullying, demonisation or scapegoating? Or is it used as an opportunity to grow in faith, hope, intimacy and love? At this session, we will pray together, look at key Biblical texts which inform our approach, and go through the clauses of our church policy relating to conflict.
Nobody is saying that working through conflict is easy, or that reaching the point of forgiveness is quick. But we are saying that forgiveness is possible, and that we are here to help each other do this work. And if we keep practicing forgiveness in ordinary situations of conflict, then we will be well prepared if we are ever called upon to perform a magnificent act of forgiveness, the sort of forgiveness which changes lives and transforms families and heals cities and reconciles nations, and proclaims God’s kingdom here on earth.
PS: Over time, we have been building up a bank of resources on forgiveness on our website, including:
Forgiveness as the fundamental work of the church: here (and in many other places!)
Seven observations on forgiveness: here.
Five approaches to forgiveness: here.
Forgiveness as a household practice: here.
Forgiving yourself: here.
Forgiveness in situations of estrangement: here.
Praying for your enemy: here.
Or just click the tag ‘forgiveness‘ and see the full collection.
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