The Fruit Of Forgiveness

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It goes without saying that life has gotten somewhat unsettling. Perhaps that’s putting it mildly.

First came the COVID-19 virus.

With shutdowns, quarantines, isolation, and social distancing, life has drastically changed. There’s the lost employment, bankruptcies, the overwhelming of hospitals and various other agencies designated to help in health care-related emergencies. Millions hospitalized, millions infected, hundreds of thousands have already died. This set societal dissonance in action.

Then came protests about the shutdown.

Then George Floyd was killed.

As a response came the peaceful protests and the violent riots riding on the pandemic’s proverbial coattails. Cries of injustice and vengeance that are reminiscent of the days of the Old Testament sages. Good people act badly, bad people are emboldened. True prophets seem few; false prophets abound.

We like to choose easy paths out of our troubles. We like to blame others. We’d prefer for others to take responsibility. We complain when things aren’t settled to our satisfaction.

Any repairs made, laws passed, or resolutions claimed will be temporal and temporary. Humans are stiff-necked people.

Much polarization, much anger. When does it stop? How does it stop?

As a person with disabilities, my greatest fear is to be misunderstood. I’m sometimes afraid to speak when I should or how I should. With so much cultural change and divisive arguments, my social anxiety, which is daily, has increased.

A misunderstanding was the cause of a year and a half of crippling grief for me, and it caused distrust, anger, and rumors by others to swirl around me.

Space doesn’t allow me to tell the whole story. But many years before I began working in the ministry, my social awkwardness misled some to believe I was racist toward African Americans.

I’m very uncomfortable even remembering those events as I write these words. Not for the discomfort it caused me alone, but because my coworkers vented wave upon wave of anger, pent-up emotions, years of being singled out and targeted, and years of fear and frustration. All kinds of pain was experienced by those who were my friends.

I went from a friend and a coworker to a hated non-person almost overnight.

There is, thanks to the grace of God, a good turn in all what happened to me.

Fortunately, my supervisors investigated the rumors and dealt with the situation. Eventually, things began to subside. But the damage was done.

There was some residual awkwardness and fear left over.

I kept on waiting for it to happen all over again.

It was important for me to forgive.

There was no forgiveness forthcoming on the perpetrator’s part. As a fellow Christian brother, I tried, as did our supervisors, on several occasions to talk together and reach reconciliation; however, he stood by his accusations. In his mind, I remained a racist.

I would have to forgive him just the same without his acknowledgement. He was aware that I’d forgiven him; he chose not to accept it.

I also tried to talk to my coworkers, without much success at the time. It helped that I still had a couple of friends who stuck by me throughout and supported me, knowing not to believe the rumors.

What was necessary for me at that point was to lay it all before God. I still had the same coworkers who I had to face every working day. The fear was crippling. The hate I experienced was wounding.

Then came grace. It started with one person who said she was sorry. She had been working with me for some months before the misunderstanding happened, but she had believed the rumors and was angry with me nevertheless. This was an emotional moment for her.

Then, shortly after, others made it clear in words or actions that they chose not to believe the rumors and accusations, and we reconciled. God used my friends and coworkers as a powerful reminder of something I already knew.  Forgiveness is necessary. Forgiveness is needed.

Forgiveness is grace.

I’ve come to realize that what I was receiving was a collective response to years, decades, centuries of my co-workers’ and friends’ experiences of racist attitudes. I was experiencing their pain, which had been growing for lifetimes.

I’m not trying to argue for or against the realities of racism. That’s plain enough. I grew up in New York, near the city. I saw the reality of racism constantly.

Today, I see its effects daily as a pastor. The reality is that racism is devastating and divisive. It is like a poison to society.

I’m arguing for the need and necessity of forgiveness. This is not a blanket call for cheap grace that demands no repentance for forgiveness, but for me, this act of forgiveness is what God called me to. And for me, it was healing.

In times like these, it seems misunderstandings are waiting to happen.

In times like these, good things, like friendships and civility, can be undone quickly and take a painfully long time to heal, if ever.

We can’t control forgiveness. We can forgive only because we were first forgiven by a higher authority.

To forgive and to be forgiven comes from grace.

Forgiveness is the only way to truly move forward.

With recent events, I’ve been revisiting those memories of years ago. There was reconciliation, but it was incomplete. I lost several friendships. Because of mutual friendships between those who were still my friends and those who were not, I chose to keep silent on the matter.

To deal with the emotional and spiritual drain it caused me, I looked to God’s Word, and I found that the act of forgiveness is more than the words that are exchanged.

There’s a psalm that shows the necessity of Christian forgiveness: Psalm 130:1-4. It reads, “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.”

Forgiveness is needed if we are to move forward with our lives.

Forgiveness is needed if we are to worship and give glory to God.

Without forgiveness, there is no sense of closure, no conclusion, no sense of repentance or redemption. We risk continuing on a spiritual cycle that involves the ones who need to be forgiven and the ones who need to forgive.

About the Author

Peter Gordon is the pastor and director of Jabez Ministries, as well as a campus pastor at Grand Rapids Community College. He lives with his wife, Alberta, in Alger Heights, Mich., and they attend LaGrave Ave CRC.

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