The Power of Forgiveness

The Power of Forgiveness

By Stephen Green

First published in the Christian Voice Newsletter March 2013

 

Matt 6:9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. 14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

It seemed like a really good idea, to ruin the husband who had deserted her for a younger woman. Vicki Huhne, as she then was, sought out a journalist and told her how she had lied to the police to save her high-flying politician husband from a driving ban.  She took the three points he should have had for speeding onto her license.

DIG TWO GRAVES

But Vicki Pryce’s revenge came back to bite her.  Both she and Chris Huhne were convicted of perjury and both have been sent to prison.  It almost beggars belief that someone described as ‘a leading economist’ and presumably highly intelligent should have been so blinded by jealousy and the desire to get revenge that she could not see a possibility of landing in the drink herself.

According to the Chinese proverb: ‘If you seek revenge, first dig two graves.’

During the trial, Vicki Pryce claimed Chris Huhne forced her to have an abortion and tried to make her have a second.  He denies these claims, which were particularly damaging as they concerned his youngest child Peter, 20, a student of languages at Oxford.

The young man’s fury at what he had been told by his mother were his father’s actions was expressed in a string of foul‑mouthed, emotional text messages which were read out in court and exposed to public view.

Responding to suggestions that Vicki Pryce could receive a lighter sentence, journalist Nick Ferrari said (Sunday Express, 10th March) that for harming that precious father/son relationship she should be punished more severely.

Sentencing doesn’t work like that, but she is not the first estranged wife to get back at her ex-husband by trying to ruin his relationship with his children.  Such allegations are the stock-in-trade of divorce proceedings as well as surfacing years later after bitterness has festered.

VENGEANCE IS MINE, SAITH THE LORD

So what does the Bible say about revenge?  Perhaps the best-known verse is this:

Romans 12:19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

The Apostle Paul is quoting Deuteronomy and has a verse from Proverbs in mind as well:

Deut 32:35  To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.

Prov 24:29  Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work.

He goes on to quote Proverbs 25:21-22 in verse 20:

Rom 12:20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

Proverbs 25:22 ends ‘and the LORD shall reward thee.’

In another place, the Apostle Paul told the church at Colosse:

Col 3:12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus said this:

Matt 5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

REVENGE MAKES US ‘FEEL WORSE’

Tim Wilson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, ran a study in which his subjects played a game and could double-cross each other.  He then gave some of those who were double-crossed the opportunity, in the game, to exact revenge.  Interestingly, Professor Wilson found that those who got their revenge mostly regretted it afterwards.

He told Radio 4’s PM programme:

‘People thought that revenge would make them feel better, but in the end they felt worse. People underestimate what revenge will do to them.  It results in a negative rumination, in repetitive thinking.’

Professor Wilson said that revenge focuses our attention on the wrong and the person, whereas there is a better outcome for those who minimise it or think that as life goes on, it’s time to think about something else.  ‘It is so tempting to exact revenge,’ he said, but ‘the best revenge is to brush the person off as if it doesn’t matter.’

His interviewer suggested someone would need great strength of character to resist the temptation to seek revenge.  The Professor’s response was non-committal, but I hope we can do better with the benefit of faith in Jesus Christ.

FORGIVE, AND YE SHALL BE FORGIVEN

Fear of God and the presence within us of the Holy Spirit – and the latter must instill in us the former – will help where ‘strength of character’ fails.

The Bible makes it very clear that far better in the spiritual realm than revenge, better even than to ‘brush the person off’, is to forgive them.

The Lord’s prayer, with which we opened, shows that it is our Christian duty to forgive others their debts, sins or trespasses against us just as our heavenly father forgives our debts, sins and trespasses against him.

This ‘do as you would be done by’ or ‘sowing and reaping’ principle was a strong topic in the earthly ministry of our gracious Lord.  We have seen the Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, but here are similar words from the Sermon on the Plain:

Luke 6:36  Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. 37  Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: 38  Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.

When Peter asked in Matt 18:21 how many times he should forgive his brother, and suggested ‘seven times’, the Lord responded that he was factor of 70 times too light.  He then illustrated the point with the parable of the servant – which I think in the context means a believer – who was forgiven a colossal debt by his lord, and immediately went out to exact a trifling sum from his fellow servant.  His lord revoked his earlier forgiveness as a result.

FORGIVENESS HELPS MOVE MOUNTAINS

The same principle is set out in Mark 11.  Our Lord’s teaching on the power of faith and confession in verses 23 and 24 is well known and a proof text in certain circles, but if we read on just two verses we find a very clear and rarely-taught link to the necessity to have a forgiving heart.

Mark 11:23 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. 24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. 25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

Christ Jesus appears to be saying that if we do not find forgiveness in our hearts, we should not even bother speaking to those mountains we see before us.  I am not saying it is easy to forgive.  I have had things done to me in the past which have been very hurtful and damaging, and I know how difficult it is.  But if I can do it, you certainly can.  Some may say they have had worse things, terrible things, done to them. 

They may rail at God, asking why he allowed those things to happen.  Human depravity, people’s propensity to sin, is the answer to that question, but the necessity to forgive and move on is still demanded.

If forgiveness were not do-able, either as an act of will, by praying for divine strength or both, our gracious God, who knows our frame, would neither command it nor make it a condition of his own forgiveness of our many sins and transgressions.

FORGIVENESS BRINGS US CLOSER TO CHRIST

To sum up, why should we forgive rather than to seek revenge?

1 If we dwell on revenge and don’t forgive, we’ll be locked in the past, and if Satan can keep you in the past, he’ll rob you of your future.

2 Revenge can have unintended consequences, it can come back to haunt us.

3 The Lord promises to deal with them who harm us, if we let vengeance remain his property.

4 Jesus Christ commands forgiveness.  Anyone who says he loves him must keep his commandments.

5 Upon our forgiveness of others depends God’s forgiveness of us.  None of wants to stand before the Throne of Grace ‘in that day’ and have an unforgiving heart laid bare.

6 Christ died to forgive us our sins.  Forgiveness is a divine quality, and by exercising it, we grasp something of God and something of the price that was paid to forgive us.  In short, we come nearer to Christ and closer to understanding the mind of Christ.

Let us pray that their time behind bars will bring Chris Huhne and Vicki Pryce to themselves and set them on the road to faith in Jesus Christ which will lead each to forgive the other.  Let us pray for their son to find the same path to forgiveness of the real or imagined wrongs done to him.

And let us pray, each of us, to have the same heart of forgiveness which Almighty God demonstrated when he became one of us and died that we might be forgiven.

Share

1 comment

  1. Fran

    Thank you so much for this reminder of the power of forgiveness. I have benefited from this immensely. May God help us to disentangle ourselves from the snares of bitterness, anger and hardness of heart. ALL vengeance is the Lord’s and He will repay.

Leave a Reply