A Crisis of Forgiveness
Christ, the epitome of a servant leader, humbled himself to the depths of human pain in his death on the cross. His death was the ultimate lynching. Even still, he forgave us all. He gave us an example of how we are to respond.
Lynchings, mob killings in which the victim is denied humane treatment or justice, loom over the African-American consciousness on a perpetual basis, ignited by the undercurrent of an institutionalized evil interwoven within the fabric of our society. As we watch the protesters (and rioters), many are seeking for ways to help restore peace, and for ways to transform humanity. History has proven that lasting change requires a unified outcry and shift in consciousness. These transitions are always facilitated by servant leaders. We are called, each of us, to take up our cross and follow Christ in servanthood. For such a time as this, we’ve come into the Kingdom of God, but how do we begin? As with Jesus, we humble ourselves before God and then walk in his ways of forgiveness and repentance. They are spiritual tools for a change in the heart and mind of man.
Through the grace of God, those who’ve perpetuated this engrained evil can gain a godly sorrow that’ll lead to repentance. The afflicted, by the same grace of God, can extend forgiveness. Lewis B. Smedes, in his book Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Deserve, calls our condition a crisis of forgiveness. He outlines how those offended come to this crisis of forgiveness. One comes to this crisis only by the convergence of a deep, grievous offense encountering a heart already tortured by unforgiveness. To be clear, releasing the offender from the need for you to exercise punishment, a wish that they are harmed, or the repeated cycle of reliving the offense with fresh hurt, pain, and venom does not absolve the wrong doer from consequent punishment. Forgiveness releases the offended from the punishing torture of holding on to an offense. It releases God to continue to forgive us as well.
Forgiveness is a silent spiritual act that is not recordable. Only the offended and God can have certainty that it truly took place in the heart. Forgiveness, says Smedes, has color and taste, the offended and the offender who haven’t forgiven themselves know when it has taken place. Both offenders and offended are free to live a life free from the lethal poisonous venom of unforgiveness.
Forgiveness however, like the stages of change, is a continuous act. Forgiveness may need to be repeated multiple times over the course of time. Understanding the offender or why they may have offended is not the same as forgiveness. No, rather, forgiveness demands recognition that the offense was grievously hurtful. It demands one to deal with the pain and anger and then releasing the offender from your judgment and vengeance for one’s own sake, regardless of the offender’s reaction to having been forgiven. Forgiveness cannot be coerced or demanded it can only be extended by the offended. It is a gift born from the brokenness that can only be given from the heart of the broken one. Forgiveness is transformational. It is a gift to the offended and a gift to the world. Forgiveness is what the offended person deserves.
Lament and sorrow over our wrong deeds leads to recognizable repentance— The exercise of actions that denotes we have changed. Repentance is demonstrable proof that there has been a change of heart. Repentance is an active turning away from our previous behavior, turning into a new direction of action.
The aforementioned principles are applicable to the eradication of racism in America and beyond. They are the building blocks for true transformational healing. Tasha Morrison’s book, Be the Bridge, is brilliant. She systematically takes the reader through the history of how she came to racial healing advocacy, developing a posture of mutual humility, facing the truth about America’s racial atrocities and subsequent divide. Ms. Morrison talks of developing a language of empathy by active, non-defensive listening that validates the other’s perspective.
She helps us by designing liturgy for lament, confession, forgiveness, repentance, and healing – that is not a cheaply won grace. Be the Bridge is a primer, a guide to forming intentionally and proactively authentic, mutual relationships that center around true koinonia. Committing to a path for reciprocal healing requires exercising true-telling, mutual humility, and submitting to the leadership of African-Americans and other people of color as guides through the experience of racism. Ms. Morrison gives a clear and concise blueprint, a doable starting place for transformation.
The beginning of any journey starts with one step. Be a servant leader and humbly be the change we all want to see.