So, I was thinking about all the wonderful conversations I get to have with people about faith and other spiritual matters. I was thinking that there are two concerns that are persistently present. The first is a concern of global proportion. In the face of violence and brokenness we see every day – a shooting here, a a terror attack there; a murder on a local city street or a casualty in Afghanistan; another child dead of abuse or just starving to death – people wonder, “Why?” Why do people take life? Why do people do such unspeakable things to others? Why can’t we get along, be more civil, stop shouting at each other? Why can;t we even discuss our faith or politics without getting ugly?
The second concern flows from the first. “Pastor, how can we forgive?” Sometimes this question is applied to those aforementioned terrorists and gunmen . Sometimes it is applied to those people, much closer, who have so deeply hurt us we cannot imagine forgiving them – ever. The questions implied in our struggle are: Doesn’t God have a means of overcoming the evil of the world? Isn’t love and forgiveness wasted upon those who so violently or unrepentantly do harm and wreak havoc?
The gospel of Christ does not offer an easy solution. First, we are commanded to love and pray for our enemies. (Matt. 5:44) Second, we are commanded to forgive as we have been forgiven (The Lord’s Prayer). The unconditional love of God shown in the death of Christ for our sin, becomes the model for how we treat others. We might long for a better way; a way that allows for a pound of flesh; we might rail at God with the shear impossibility of forgiving people who seek to damage and destroy us, but as Richard Lischer says in his book The End of Words, “We preach God’s love to those who are staggering through loveless relationships. We preach forgiveness to injured parties who possess a moral right to say ‘Never again.’ Worst of all we preach reconciliation to those who, either consciously or unconsciously, seize upon our words for permission of continued sin. Of them the Scripture says, ‘They crucify the Son of God afresh.’ Nowhere do you see the vulnerability of the church more clearly than when it gathers up its authority and announces the forgiveness of sins.”
The truth is that the very means by which God overcomes evil and our enemies is through the cross. Jesus dies out of love for even the enemies who nail him to the tree of death. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus says “Father, forgive them, they know not what the do.” The very way that God looses us from our pain and restores the brokenness of the world is through the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness frees us from being eaten alive by the hate. But even more than that, it compels us to move toward those who are against us, with open hearts and hands. It compels us to risk hurt to take the path of peace.
I must confess, and it is indeed a confession, that there are a handful of people for whom the thought of reconciliation seems impossible for me. In some way, I may carry the hurt and hate to my grave, where God will indeed heal the pain, and refine the hate out of me. Until that day, however, I will be called each day by Christ to forgive as I have been forgiven. I will be challenged to practice forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a feeling, it is a practice – I will try to pray for my enemies and with stuttering words utter words of forgiveness.
One strategy for helping all of us deal with the brokenness of our world and the hard time we have with forgiving others is through our prayers. So maybe we should be praying for our enemies each week as we gather. I’m not sure this is a popular solution, or an easy pill to swallow. In fact, as I have tried this in other places, I have actually had people stop coming to church. But, think with me…. What if each week, as the congregation prays during worship, we add a petition dedicated to one thing: praying for our enemies. I know it doesn’t make sense, and it is going to bug me as much as it does you. But, it seems to me that if we are going to trust God to change us and the world; if the cross truly has power to make a difference, we need to take the command to pray for enemies and forgive seriously. It is perhaps the only way the gospel addresses our world and our pain; our brokenness and our sin. Besides, it is a command from the Lord. Who knows, God might just use those prayers to transform our enemies and the world. Maybe God will transform us.
What do you think about forgiving enemies, letting go of hurts and hates? What about praying each week for enemies? Can we do that? What will happen?