Forgiveness: Shortcut to healing

I walked into the hospital room just as the doctor was leaving. “He said I could go home,” the patient beamed. “And just think–after seven months!”

She had entered the hospital on March 6, and today was October 9. Through every day of the Spring, all through the hot Summer, and into the Fall, she had lain in that hospital room as sick as anyone I had ever seen. Even two weeks earlier, I wondered why she didn’t just give up. And here she was leaving.

I pulled up a chair and asked the question on my mind:  How had she gotten better so fast?

Something radical had happened.

“It was two things,” she said, and she gave me permission to tell her story. “They found out how to cure my infection and then a man came into my room. He stood right there and told me he sensed that I had a spirit of unforgiveness deep within me.” She smiled at me, then added, “Now, imagine someone coming into your room and telling you you’re carrying a grudge and it’s keeping you ill! But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right.”

And what did you do, I asked.

“I did what James 5:14 tells us to do–I called for the elders of my church and they prayed over me. I confessed my sin and gave it up to the Lord. I started getting better at that moment.”

I thought of two verses of Scripture. “There is no health in my bones because of my sin” (Psalm 38:3). “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

In wartime England, the embattled population had to deal with the bombs falling throughout the nightly raids. As bad as that was, there was an additional eerie aspect involved. A large number of the bombs did not go off. Across major cities, signs announcing “Danger: UXB” could be seen. Unexploded bombs. Crews were especially trained to dig these out and defuse them. It was dangerous work and claimed the life of many a worker.

Even now, a lifetime later, we read that farmers in Europe sometimes plow into a buried bomb which explodes.  These things have lain in the ground for 75 or a hundred years. Truly amazing.

Old sins and ancient grudges linger like unexploded bombs in the hidden recesses of our hearts, corroding everything around them and leaking their poison into our systems. Many a church is unhealthy because of UXBs in the collective memory of the congregation or the hearts of key leaders. Many an innocent pastor has been victimized by sudden detonations of ancient explosives in churches they went forth to pastor with the purest of motives and the highest of purposes.

Long-held guilt and old grudges need to be dealt with, to be dismantled and neutralized. They need to be faced and confessed, then yielded to the Savior. By His death on the cross, sins can be forgiven and sinners made whole.

We need forgiveness. We need to be forgiving.

As those who have been chosen of God…put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone.

Hard to do? Well, read on:

Just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things, put on love (Colossians 3:12-14).

The husband said: “Why are you always reminding me of my past mistakes? You told me you would forgive and forget?”

Wife: “I just don’t want you to forget that I have forgiven and forgotten.”

As Pastor Frank Pollard was learning to use a computer, he spent hours typing two chapters of his next book. Suddenly, the power went out in his house. When it returned and the computer came on, his material was gone. Frank phoned the computer salesman.

“Where did it go? I typed it in there. Those two chapters have to be in there somewhere. I worked 14 hours putting it in there. Where did it go?”

The salesman said, “It’s gone. That’s all I can tell you.”

Frank: “You can’t just tell me it’s gone. It has to be somewhere. Where is it?”

That’s how it is with our sins, Frank would tell his congregation. “When God pushes the delete button, your sins are erased.”

We need God’s forgiveness. We need to forgive others. We need to forgive ourselves.

Someone has called it “dark grandiosity,” this penchant for not accepting God’s forgiveness and refusing to forgive ourselves. To refuse to forgive myself, to refuse to accept God’s forgiveness, to dwell excessively on my guilt–all this is a form of pride, of egotism, of self-focus. It implies my actions are the most important in history.

I admit it is possible to overdo the humility and repentance business. I once had a church member who apologized to me for everything she did and almost every word that came out of her mouth. Finally, I could take it no longer. I turned to her and said, “Please. Stop that! Quit saying you’re sorry for everything you do!” She looked sheepishly and muttered, “I’m sorry.”

One more thing….

I cannot forgive you for what you did to someone else. I cannot forgive a debt you owe to my brother. I can only forgive you for what you did to me. That’s why the scribes were exactly right by what they said about Jesus.

Inside the crowded home where Jesus was teaching, they brought a paralytic carried by four men. Jesus looked at this scene, turned to the patient and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Well, that did it! The scribes in the room–they were experts on the Old Testament scriptures, you recall–almost exploded. Their minds went into overdrive as they thought, “Who does he think he is? Only God can forgive sins.”

Exactly right. Only God can forgive what has been done against God. Which, had they known what we now know, would have told those religious experts precisely who Jesus was claiming to be. (This story is found in Mark 2:1-12)

Pastor Frank Pollard commented on the nails used to crucify Jesus. “When they got those nails out of the commissary that morning, they were nails that could have been used to build a boat, a house, or a bridge, but instead they were used to hammer the Son of God to those hideous logs. Hate took those nails and said, ‘These are my nails and I’ll kill you with them.’ But love received the nails and said, ‘No. These are my nails and I will save you with them.’”

In “Through the Looking Glass,” Alice in Wonderland says, “It’s a poor memory that only works backwards.”

A pastor in Boston was attacked and slandered by a church member. She wrote the bishop accusing the pastor and telling lies on him. Finally, after moving to another city,  she came to know Jesus Christ and was overcome by the guilt of what she had done to that servant of the Lord. One day she wrote him a long letter telling all she had done, saying she how sorry she was, and asking for his forgiveness.

A few days later, she received a telegram from that minister, containing three words:

“Forgiven, forgotten, forever.”

Hard to do?  Indeed it is.  Impossible even, without the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

–Hebrews 10:17 is quoting Jeremiah 31:34: “Your sins and iniquities I will remember no more.”

–“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)

–“You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19)

There may be some things in life better than forgiveness, but until we receive this–and extend it to others–we can receive none of them.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”


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