Friday, July 22, 2005

The Trouble with Forgiveness

I was in Canada on July 7, 2005, on an island retreat, without television, radio, Internet, or newspapers, so all we heard was that there had been simultaneous terroist bombings in London. Not knowing the extent, my mind immediately went to that terrible day, September 11, 2001, and I dissolved into tears. Thankfully, we found out the next day, the terror attacks in London were not of the same magnitude as 9-11, but any time innocent life is destroyed it is a cause for mourning.

Then, yesterday, there was another set of "copycat" attacks in London - I praise God for His mercy that no lives were lost in those attacks.

I have a lot of issues with Islam. My heart wants to find its Christ-center and pray sincerely for these humans who must, as Carolyn Arends so eloquently put it, "live in such a hell that perpetuating these acts seems rational and justifiable." But, I just cannot yet. The first international incident that I have a clear memory of was the hostage crisis in Iran in 1980. Throughout my life, almost every act of terrorism against civilians has been done by people who call themselves Muslims. And then, that dark day, September 11, 2001, came, and my soul revulsed, and the rage poured in. I cannot yet separate these actions from the religion of Islam. I cannot yet forgive them.

But I know that as we have been forgiven by God, so must we forgive others. There is no way around it. Jesus says over and over, throughout the Gospels, that continued forgiveness from God is directly related to our forgiveness of others (Mark 11:26, Matthew 6:14, 15 and 18:21-35). The original forgiveness, the saving grace of God, never washes away, but, as regenerate sinners, we must acknowledge our continual need for forgiveness by expressing true forgiveness. So, I struggle every day with this hatred that I feel.

I think that I could forgive these monsters were it not for their choice of victims. In other words, if they carried out attacks merely against military targets, I would not have this rage against them. I hate for anyone to die, but at least military or political centers have a symbolism that is understandable. It is the fact that this scum targets people just going about the business of living that makes me ill and hardens my heart. Knowing that they hate my daughter Sadie, who is a delight and a joy and a person so free in her love of others and open and trusting - knowing that had she and I been on any of the hijacked flights on 9-11, that had they seen her sweet face, it would not have stopped them from killing her cold-heartedly by ramming that airplane into the side of a building - knowing that they would slit her throat at any given opportunity and record that heinous act on video tape while shouting that "Allah [not God - never my God!] is great!" - knowing all these things - I just cannot "turn the other cheek." Sweet Jesus, forgive me!

One other thing I hate is that so many secularists associate their satanic god, Allah, with the one, true God of Israel. Then, all religious people get lumped together in the secular mind - Christians, Jews, Muslims, oh, they're all the same, dontcha know? Lord God, please keep Your people from ever falling out of Your arms and into the arms of the Evil One - keep us from ever doing the will of darkness under the name of the Lord of light. Help us to be the peacemakers, whom You call blessed.

I am really, really trying to shed this hatred for Islam, especially for Arab Muslims. It is a constant work for God, since my rebellious nature is always getting in the way of His refinement. I want to pray Jesus' last prayer - "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." - and mean it.

I do not want to be bound to this earth - I want my spirit to commune with the Most High. I know that everything suffered through in this fallen world will fade away in light of eternity - yet, I have so much trouble letting go. I know that the evil terrorists will pay forever for their vile deeds, yet that strangely doesn't bring me much comfort. I don't want to think of people being forever separated from the Holy One - I want people to get it right, right now, here on earth and stop causing so much pain. And, maybe that is the key to open the door to forgiveness. When I think of human souls, led so far away from the light, being kept forever away from the Father, having thought all their time on earth that they had been serving God, I pity them.

Oh, but then I think of Sadie's precious face, her love of life, her exuberance, and I think of the person who wouldn't mind blowing her to bits. I think of the killers in Israel who ran up to a car with a pregnant woman and her four daughters inside and didn't stop shooting until they were all dead. I think of those vile Islamic Chechens in Beslan, Russia last year that took an entire school hostage and killed over two hundred children. I think of every bus blown up in Israel. I think of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. I think of the eleven Israeli Olympic athletes murdered in Munich, Germany in 1972. I think of the Pan-Am plane that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 270. I think of TWA Flight 800. I think of American troops being attacked in Iraq by suicide bombers while they were handing out candy to children. I think of the USS Cole in 2000. I think of the nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia in 2002. This list could go on and on.

Yet, God has forgiven me, I know He has. I know that He has separated me from my transgressions as far as east is from west. Why cannot I let go of these events? Am I a hypocrite? No, I do not believe that I am, because a hypocrite tries to hide his failings behind a mask of righteousness. My righteousness lies only in Christ's sacrifice. I have no problem laying out all of my failures to meet His standards for the world to see. I think a lot of us are struggling with this, especially since September 11, 2001. I am so interested, dear blog reader: how do you deal with forgiveness? Does forgiveness mean inaction against evil? If you take proactive measures to prevent further terrorist attacks, using retaliative force, is this wrong from a Christian perspective?

I've asked seminary students, Christian friends, and myself these questions over and over. I hate war. I think it is so awful to put people in a situation wherein they must become killers. I do not know how our amazing troops handle it without becoming monsters.

Is there ever a reason to use the ultimate force of taking life? Jesus said to "turn the other cheek." Would that have worked against Hitler and Hirohito in World War II? I think even most Christians would say, "No." I cannot believe that Jesus would have thought it better to allow the Nazis to continue incinerating Jewish people, than for the Allies to advance through Germany and Poland, liberating many while killing many too. Can you express forgiveness while, at the same time, fighting an enemy to the death? Can you love your enemy and kill him too? I think that fighting Islamic terror is even more difficult, because it is more insidious, more scattered, more decentralized. How much more easy to bomb a hostile country like Germany which is spreading itself across Europe like a festering boil without falling under the censure of the world, than to detain suspects or detect sleeper cells without violating international laws and civil liberties!

These are the tough questions. One thing that Jesus makes clear is that one of the signs of His Coming will be "wars and rumors of wars." He goes on to advise: See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. - Matthew 24:6-8. In light of this, what can we do but get along as best we can - watching, hoping, praying, loving, forgiving? If I cannot be filled with a forgiving spirit now, through the grace of God I can throw myself upon His mercy and pray, similar to the prayer for belief of the troubled father in Mark 9:14-29, "Lord, I will forgive; help my unforgiving!"

And, above all things, despite my many shortcomings of faith and obedience, I am confident of this very thing: That He who began a good work in me will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ - Philippians 1:6. Amen.

Your comments and suggestions would be appreciated. This is a long and continuing struggle.


Serena said...

Justine, I think what you are struggling with is the difference between forgiveness and pardon. Forgiveness is a state of heart we need to have shalom in our life. We can forgive because Yeshua did. Pardon is a different matter. Pardon requires repentance on the part of the offender. It requires restitution. It requires the offender coming and saying "I was wrong to do such and such to you, will you forgive me?" If we don't cultivate forgiveness in our hearts, we will become bitter. We can forgive those who do wrong against us, but pardon is something we better make sure we are led by Father to give if the requirements for it aren't met. There has to be accountability and consequences for wrong actions.

I think when we struggle with anger, hatred and bitterness that we have to go to Father with it and cry out for Him to do His work of grace and mercy in our hearts. Only He can work in us so that we leave vengeance in His hands as we are instructed. "Don't seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God's wrath. For it is written, "Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord." Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head." Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Rom 12:19-21) Really, only Father can pardon someone and He says we are to give place for His wrath.

I think when we see that our hearts are just as depraved as those doing those horrendous acts, than we can have the humility to deal with the individual person. That does not mean we need to entrust our lives into their hands. That would be foolish, but it does enable us to vessels of our Father's love to those that could possibly yet know Him.

I know that when my first husband left me with with five children for the homosexual lifestyle, I struggled so much with this. It was during that time that Father started teaching me about pardon and forgiveness. He showed me that I was capable of the most heinous of sins in myself and that I desperately needed Him. That enabled me to forgive, but to know that He was the one to pardon and only as He showed me to give pardon, could I do it. My first husband pastored a church for a few years, he was an elder in the church we were in when he started acting out what was in his heart. We had what we thought was a good christian family. All my illusions got shattered, but in that I gained so much more.

I think we like to think that we are not capable of such horrendous acts. We don't understand that people can do such things. When He shows us the blackness of our own hearts, it removes that element of pride from us and gives us the capability of His love flowing through our lives. One of the people that has exemplified that to me is Elizabeth Elliot who went and lived among the people who killed her husband and brought them the life-changing message of Yeshua and His sacrifice for us.

Another thing that has helped me is to realize that all religion has the same element to it. That is any religion other than that in James 1:27 that looks after the widow and orphans and stays set-apart from the world. The religion of man can justify the most horrendous of actions, and even say that they are doing it for G-d. Paul did that and that is most likely why he said that he is the chief of sinners. There have been those who said they belonged to Christ and they would surround a synagogue of Jews and burn it down and sing songs of Christ as they did it. There is no difference from that than the religion of Islam. The only thing that makes a difference is if we have a personal blood-bought relationship with the Almighty. If we love Him and hear and obey His voice, then we will not get caught up in that religion that "has a form of godliness but denies its power." How can we expect anyone who is still a son of the devil to act any different than that?

I do not think that love toward men requires you to let them abuse you or take your life. I think that Father will show what needs to be done in the situation. That is why we need to know Him and to hear His voice and obey. He does use people to get His revenge many times, but it has to be His revenge, not ours.

I think another reason we struggle with the hatred is because of fear. We fear what people like that might do to us and to our loved ones. That is one we really need to go to Him about and have Him do His work in us. When we know that even if the body is killed that our soul and spirit cannot be killed, when we know that He is going to resurrect us and those little ones that we love, we can then entrust our lives into His hands. No one can take the most precious things from us. No one can take the blood from us or the resurrection power. No one can take our testimony from us. When we know that, we can be like those in Revelation 12 that did not love their lives unto death. When we know He holds our whole life in His hands, then we do not need to fear. He has appointed us a time to be born and a time to die. Until it is that time, we can do whatever He has called us to do without fear. That does not mean that you will not struggle with it, but it means that you will make the choice to heed His word and to obey it. He tells us not to fear. Removing that element will release us from the hatred that springs from the fear of what man may do to us.

Actually, there is no difference from the muslim that can do such horrendous acts, or the serial killer, or the abortionist, or the one seeking the abortion, or the killers in the nazi death camps or the ones that did horrendous expiriments on human lives in that time. All have given themselves over to evil, they have become past feeling, they are under the power of the evil one by their own choice. The thing is we have the same choice and if we hold hatred in our heart, we are no different. We just have not acted it out yet.

I don't know if that helps at all, but I do know that Father will help you to come to His shalom about this. You are His child and He does not want you to go on in this struggle for a long time. He will do His work in you because He has promised and He is faithful. The evidence of His working is that you have even taken the time to write with such thoughtfulness. May He fill you with His shalom and joy and work His wonderful work within you through the blood of Yeshua our Messiah.

Love and shalom,

Joelle said...

Hi Justine,
I was going to write a comment, then I saw that Serena (my mom, BTW - Hi Mom!) had already replied and of course done it much better than I could ever have done it. :) Oh well, I'll comment anyway.
I fully understand your struggle here. I don't always understand God's ways, but I know that he will reveal Himself to me if I allow Him to.
One area I used to struggle in was how God would command the Isrealites to go into a nation and destroy everyone - man, woman, and child. I wondered how a loving God could do this. Then after 9/11 they started showing how the muslims would indoctrinate their children from birth. Little babies barely speaking would spill out their hate for Isreal and America. I realized then that the reason God had Isreal destroy entire nations is because children allowed to grow up with those seeds of hate already planted would do what their parents wanted and turn and destroy Isreal. Do I like it any better? Not really, because in a perfect world in shouldn't be that way. But we live in a fallen world and it's by God's mercy that we are provided a way through and out of it.
Serena is right about the fear part. I struggle so much in that area! And now I have a 3 mo. old to have even more fear about. :D God is helping me deal with it (even when I dig in my feet and kick and scream).
I enjoyed your post and your honesty. I know God will help you in this area.

Amigo said...

First off I long for Christ's return to this earth so He will put an end to satanic religions like Islam.

I believe we are to pray for ou enemies. But I also believe it is government's job to protect us from harm, like the harm that muslims would gladly do to us. We trade part of our freedoms to government for protection. So for the government to go forth and destroy our enemies is fine with me. They can wield the Jus Gladii in our protection all they want.

Justine said...

Serena, Joelle and Amigo:

Thank you so much for taking the time to reply to my post. You have given me a lot to reflect upon as I continue this struggle.

Serena, you've hit a lot of nails on the head. Your insight astounds me, and I am humbled to have you as a reader and, dare I say?, a friend.

Joelle, you have a beautiful name and an even more beautiful spirit. Thank you for your honesty and your insights. You have a wonderful mom.

Amigo, your idea of individual's obligation to pray for his enemies and, I presume, not seek personal revenge vs. government's obligation to protect us is an important point. How do you react when people challenge Pres. Bush's Christianity in light of the Iraq war? It's a difficult thing for me to answer. I wouldn't want GWB's job for anything in the world, because I believe he does have a seeking heart and a desire to do good. On the other hand, would Jesus (or Yeshua - what a softer and more beautiful way to speak His name!) approve of the war? I honestly do not know, though I tend toward "No."

Again, I thank you all (and anyone else who cares to address this struggle). I am grateful for you and for the ways that God uses your words to reach my heart. May He bless you all!


Serena said...

Justine, that is Father not me! I pray and write and I felt I had to write that one! And yes, I count you a friend, dear sister.
Love and shalom,