On June 4th, 1993, I went to bed as if it were any other night. As I slept soundly, I suddenly heard the scream of my mom as she burst into my room yelling, “Someone is stealing your car!” This must be a dream.
I jumped out of bed and ran towards the door. I thought to myself, “This must be a dream and if it is I can do anything and not pay for the consequences.” Running out the door, I began running toward the street. As I approached my car, I saw the figure of a person halfway inside my car. I yelled an obscenity or two and decided in that moment, that I would kill who ever this person was. It was my dream, so I would have superhuman strength to overcome my foes. As I came to the passenger door of my car, the person suddenly stood up. There was no where he could go. I had him. All I had to do was to grab him and snap his neck. Then I would wake up and I would chalk this up to another nightmare. As I went to lunge toward him, I hesitated for a moment. It was in this moment, that my dream would change my life forever.
As I woke up from my dream, I heard a voice say, “One, two, three, lift.” I couldn’t move. What was happening to me? Why couldn’t I move? I began to scream out and fight my restraints. The voice said to me, “Joe, if you don’t calm down, you will die.” It was then I immediately realized, my dream was not a dream at all, but my reality.
I could feel my heart pounding through my chest. One EMT was working on me, while the other drove, racing me toward the hospital. Was I going to die? Why me, why now? I hadn’t even begun to live yet. I cried out to God, “Lord, please don’t let me die today. Please calm me down.” No sooner did I utter these words that I felt a hand upon my shoulder. I suddenly had a peace I could not explain. Immediately, the EMT uttered, “Whoa. What just happened?” When I asked him what happened, he said, “Your heart rate just went from critical to normal.” Then a song entered my heart and I could not help but sing, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way. To be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”
I knew I had a long road ahead of me, but I also began to understand what forgiveness was about. But what about those who did this to me? Could I really forgive them after what they did to me? It was then I was reminded of what Jesus had done for me. His life was filled with helping others, loving others and spreading the Good News to those around Him. Yet in all of this, there were still those who wanted Him dead. They beat him, laughed at him and beat him some more. They took his tattered and torn body and hung it on a criminals cross. In all of this turmoil, in all of this strife, He still uttered these words as He looked toward heaven, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” How could I do no less? How could I not forgive them? Maybe they were on drugs. Maybe they had been convinced that the criminal lifestyle was their only choice. Either way, I was lost at one time. I was violent in my younger days and yet in all of this, God still forgave me. It was my responsibility to show them the love of God in the same way, by forgiving them.
Our tragedies are not there to make our lives easy or simple. They are situations which are there to teach us valuable life lessons. Sometimes we have placed ourselves into those tragedies by our bad decisions. Other times, we are placed there by other individuals. No matter how we enter into those tragedies, we need to realize there is a greater plan for our lives that we may not fully understand. For me, I needed to be reminded of the valuable lesson of forgiveness. In Matthew 18, Jesus taught this same lesson to his disciples:
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” – Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV)
Right after this, Jesus tells a story of a man who owed his master a lifetime of debt. The master forgave him of his debt, yet when someone owed this same man a day’s wages, he became violent and refused to forgive the man of his debt. At this, the master heard about the man and threw the man in jail because of his lack of compassion that was shared with him.
What I found astounding about this story is that Peter did not ask about forgiving strangers. He asked about forgiving his own people, his brothers and sisters. Yet Jesus shares a story about a master and a servant. This leads me to believe that Peter and Jesus were on two very different pages.
I think Peter thought that he was asking a great question. He probably thought to himself, “Well if I forgive my own people seven times for the same sin, then I must be a good person.” Yet Jesus’ response was quite different. Jesus responded “seventy-seven times”. What Jesus was saying was, “I know you think you’re being a good person by forgiving seven times, but really you should forgive them every time.” In some translations, they record Jesus’ response as “seventy times seven”. Either way you look at it, Jesus wants us to forgive unconditionally and freely.
Not just that, but Peter thought his question was supposed to be for those he knew, his friends and family. I’d like to think that Jesus was using His coaching expertise when He responded to Peter. Instead of answering Peter’s question concerning his friends and family, he told him a story about a boss, his employee and a stranger. Jesus wanted to let Peter know that it doesn’t matter whether you know the person or not. It doesn’t matter if they are your employee or your boss. It doesn’t matter if they are family, friend or stranger. Forgiveness is to be given out to everyone. No one is beyond forgiveness.
When the criminal, on a cross next to Jesus, repented and asked Jesus not to forget him, Jesus responded, “This day, you will be with me in paradise.” In his last dying breaths, Jesus forgave a total stranger who deserved his punishment. The criminal deserved to die for whatever he had done. His punishment was just, yet in all of this Jesus still forgave him. AMAZING!
Likewise, we need to forgive those who’ve wronged us. We need to forgive them like Christ has forgiven us. Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (NIV) Jesus expects us to forgive each other. We need not to hold any grudges. Holding grudges will only lead to more pain and suffering. Haven’t we suffered enough in our tragedy? Haven’t our anxieties, our fears, our anger toward others been enough pain? Then why not forgive?
To get us from a place of fear, anxiety and anger, we need to forgive. Forgiveness is not a simple step we take, but is a lifestyle which Christ commands. Forgiveness is how we view the other person in light of Christ. Even if the person is unrepentant, our job is to see them as Christ desires for them with His forgiving heart.
This world is filled with people who refuse to forgive. If you take a look at the news, you will find person after person who refuses to forgive others. Our society is treading down a path of unforgiveness, so it is now our time to shine!
We not only need to forgive others because it was commanded, but we need to forgive others so that the light of Christ may shine! Yes it is true that our situations may be tragic and life altering, but that doesn’t mean we can’t shine in this time of darkness. The light of Christ can shine through the darkest of times in the darkest of places. The light of Christ can show the world forgiveness is possible regardless of our past or current situation.
Yes forgiveness is hard but it is so worth it. When you forgive others, you will have a peace you won’t be able to explain. It took me a while to discover this. Even after I left the hospital, I got so angry at times that I literally beat a tree with a baseball bat. One year later, that same tree died. I thought I killed it. But yet again, God reminded me that forgiveness is necessary. From that point forward I decided to see people in light of Christ.
We are all lost at some point in our lives, yet Christ saved us. We all do something that is sinful and against all that Christ stands for, yet Christ forgave us. We all think we are in control of our lives, but through our tragedies, Christ still guides us. We all suffer in this life, yet Christ still reigns.
Don’t allow your tragedies to stop you from forgiving others. Don’t allow the anger, fear or anxiety to define your future. Allow Christ to show you that you are worth the effort and in return show others they are worth the effort by forgiving them. Forgiveness happens when we give up our anger, fear or anxieties to Christ and in return, He teaches us how to forgive those who have tragically harmed us.
Remember, you and I survived and lived to forgive.
God bless and encourage someone today.