(If you haven't seen the movie please do yourself a favor and rent it because it is phenomenal! )
If you have seen it do you remember the scene when the Joker says;
"You see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are. So in a way, I know your friends better than you ever did..."
Do you remember that moment? It stands out to me right now because there are so many times in this life when everything you believe is called into question and your convictions are put to the test. In fact the trials we often face in this life are the litmus paper, the counterfeit marker that expose "faith" for what it truly is.
Sadly we live in a society where words are becoming cheaper and cheaper everyday. Think about the words "I love you." or even the word "love" what does it mean anymore? Years and years ago when a man would give someone his word it was as binding as a contract, reputations would be at stake when someone would give their word on a subject. What does it mean when someone says "I promise" now?
Or how about the idea of commitment, when someone is committed to another in our current society does it really carry as much weight as it once did? I'm inclined to say no.
Basically what I am saying is that the old adage that "talk is cheap" is really quite true in our current society.
The truth of the matter is that many days when I think about how those who choose to follow Jesus are commanded to demonstrate his love to this world it is pretty daunting. One of the biggest struggles that I face as a human being is the concept of not only loving my friends and family as much if not more than I love myself, but also showing that same love and kindness to my enemies.
Yes, that's right I did say enemies.
A particular passage that stuck out to me on this subject is when Jesus was speaking to His followers in Luke chapter 6;
“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are un-thankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate."
Luke 6:27-36 (NLT)
Sometimes I just can't understand why this is such a big deal to Jesus. He doesn't just suggest this idea to His followers but rather commands it! And this isn't the first time He says something of this nature.
In Matthew Chapter 18 the subject comes up again;
"Then Peter came to him and asked, 'Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?'
'No, not seven times,' Jesus replied, 'but seventy times seven!'" (v.21-22)
Doesn't this just fly in the face of our culture?
Early on in my life there were times when I tried to be a "good Christian" but this was something that I never ever played by the rules on. I just couldn't. How can you forgive (much less love) someone who has mistreated you? Perhaps they have caused you some sort of physical pain or perhaps the pain is purely emotional. Maybe they have stolen from you or perhaps they have spread some sort of rumor behind your back that was nasty. People like this are cruel, they really shouldn't be loved or forgiven. This was the reason I just couldn't follow God's words when it came to this...
As I understand more about faith and trusting God I have come to understand that when God commands something it is not to modify our behaviors or to "keep us in line". God doesn't want people to be on his leash. He doesn't want us to behave because we have some big religious shock collar on us. So often people view God as the cosmological enforcer who places an unbearable amount of rules upon us and when we fail, (which is often) there is nothing God likes better than to smack us down and to make us feel guilty right?
I cannot tell you how much I am realizing that this is far from the God I know. I'm learning more and more that the reason that God has set boundaries for those that believe in Him is because God alone knows the best way to live and He wants that for us!
Is there someone in your life right now that you love with all your heart?
Imagine they were taking some sort of deadly substance in small doses, something that you knew would eventually lead to a heart failure or a fatal stroke, but they continue to do it because it feels good to them. It gives them a rush. Suppose you tried time and time again to tell that person that you love with all your heart that they should stop because what they are doing is destroying them. Are you doing it to keep them from having a "life" or are you doing it because you want them to have life to the fullest?
God feels the same way for us! The reason that He has commanded these things in the Bible is because He knows that pursuing things like anger and holding onto bad feelings steal our joy from life. They tie us up rather than free us. God doesn't want us to be imprisoned but rather to be free.
I have been privileged to see both sides to this idea.
There have been times in my life where I have felt that I have been completely wronged and have chosen not to forgive but to hang onto anger and bitterness in my life. I can't tell you how much life in those periods that I have wasted. Do you think that the people I held anger against cared that I was not forgiving towards them? Nope. They continued living and pursuing their lives and I was left with nothing but empty feelings and a lack of joy.
But let me pose this question to you; what if Jesus Christ had acted like we do in these moments?
I have to confess that quite often in many of the situations that I am facing the choice of whether or not to forgive I personally have had some part in creating that hardship. In other words, more often than not I am partially to blame for the conflict; please understand that this is not always the case mind you; in fact sometimes people are taken advantage of for no reason at all other than that there are people in this world who prey upon others. It is a sad fact but true nonetheless.
When you read Jesus' story what strikes me is that He was wronged and hurt for no legitimate reason at all. Can you imagine? Think about all those angry religious leaders twisting His words in any way they could, slandering Him to satisfy their agenda. (It drives me crazy watching news reports that only tell one side of the story, I'm quite sure that this was way worse!)
Think about how terrible it must have been when Jesus was beaten beyond recognition, and yet it still wasn't enough for his accusers! He needed to be crucified, put to death in the most awful way conceivable at that time. Can you imagine how you would feel toward those people who demonstrated such hate toward you?
I don't imagine I would ever forgive them, much less love them. I couldn't I would feel vengeance in my heart, I would wish horrible things upon them and wish them to suffer as I had to suffer. This is precisely why I need a savior. This is precisely why Jesus inspires me.
Jesus never told others to do what He himself wouldn't do. Look at Luke chapter 23;
"Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.'" (v. 34)
I pray desperately that you may hear his words with every ounce of weight they carry because as He said these powerful words he was nearing His death on the cross. He was in agony and He forgave the ones who not only physically hurt Him but slandered Him and delighted in the fact that He was being put to death.
See the thing that gives me the strength to forgive others who have done wrong to me is because my God did just that for me and everyone else like me. That is the kind of love I want to have toward others.
Just today I was text messaging with a close friend of mine who has been going through some rough stuff. One of these things was that a one time trusted "friend" had taken advantage of her for a large sum of money. This was something my friend didn't deserve in the least and to be honest just hearing about how this person had taken advantage of my friend made my blood boil.
She had taken him to court for either the car or payment and he said he had junked the car, long story short we found out today that he lied about junking the car so he could keep it and she still doesn't have her money back.
But here is the cool part of this story... my friend chose not only to forgive this person today, but she is taking Jesus at His word and praying for this person who has wronged her. I am sure that this is not an easy thing to do and to be honest I think I would struggle very hard with forgiveness if I was in the same situation, but words can't even begin to express how proud I am to know this woman. I truly believe that it is because of people like her, people who have right hearts and take Jesus at His word, that this world will become a better place.
May you and I both take this example to heart and do our best to love and forgive those who wrong us and persecute us. May we always strive to be the light and hope to others, that Jesus is to us!
You no longer have to carry the weight of anger and bitterness. And while pain will still remain in many situations I have come to see that pain is a natural part of healing in humanity. Sometimes it is the only way to acquire wisdom from a particular situation so that when you are faced with it again in the future you will know how to show others the love you have been shown.