Forgiveness

See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you…

…May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”

1 Samuel 24:11-12, 15

David and his men were being chased down by King Saul and his army. David and his men were hiding out in the back of a cave when Saul went into the cave to go to the bathroom. While Saul was relieving himself, David snuck up and cut off a piece of Saul’s robe. All of David’s men wanted him to kill Saul, and David could have easily taken his revenge in that moment for all the ways Saul mistreated him. Instead, David seeks reconciliation and peace.

David comes out of the cave and humbly reveals the situation to Saul, and Saul breaks down at David’s kindness and generosity toward him. But notice David’s words to Saul because they are a perfect description of what happens when we forgive someone.

When someone has wronged us, the Lord commands us to forgive them. For followers of Jesus this is not a suggestion. This is a command. We forgive because we’ve been forgiven of so much. We are the most forgiven people on the planet. Who are we not to forgive? When we lavishly accept mountains of forgiveness from Jesus and yet refuse to squeeze out a handful of forgiveness for the ways other people have wronged us, we are trampling on the cross of Christ.

But notice David’s words. Forgiveness is not saying that what the other person did was okay. Forgiveness is not making excuses for other people’s wrongdoing. Forgiveness is not making light of the ways people have hurt us. Forgiveness is not a declaration that what they did was fine. It’s not an invitation for them to do it again and for us to be a doormat.

Instead, forgiveness is declaring that we will not be the one to bring justice and fairness into the situation. Forgiveness is giving up the right to seek revenge. I like the way David said it to Saul, “May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you…” And then he reaffirms this idea when he said, “May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”

When we forgive we are not saying there shouldn’t be justice. What we are saying is that we are not the Judge. God is. When we forgive we are putting the situation in God’s hands and declaring that He is the one who will bring justice. We are trusting Him to be the Just Judge. And in so doing we are also saying, “My hand will not touch you.” But this doesn’t just mean avoiding physical violence against the person who wronged us. It also means, “My heart will not resent you” and “My mind will not harbor bitterness toward you.” There are many kinds of revenge–many that originate in the heart and mind–and forgiveness is giving up our supposed “right” to all forms of revenge.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean we instantly rebuild trust with the person. Rebuilding trust is the process of reconciliation and is step number two. Reconciliation requires two people willing to work to rebuild the relationship. Forgiveness does not. Forgiveness does not require that you trust the person, but it does require that you trust God. We must trust God enough to release the situation into His hands and trust Him with the outcome. Forgiveness is something that we work through between us and God. The third party is not required in this process. We can forgive family members who have long since passed away. We can forgive people who are no longer in our life. It doesn’t require their participation.

Reconciliation does require the other person’s participation and, if it is possible, we should pursue it. But it is not always possible, nor recommended, that we reconcile with some people. There are situations that are just too toxic for reconciliation. But no situation is beyond forgiveness. Forgiveness sets us free from the damage that resentment and bitterness does to our own heart. Forgiveness is a gift to us, made possible by Jesus’s death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to forgive when it seems impossible. Jesus gives us the grace to forgive when we don’t want to.

Below is a great prayer of forgiveness by Rodney Hogue. Who do you need to forgive today?

PRAYER OF FORGIVENESS:

In the name of Jesus, I choose to forgive as I have been forgiven. I now choose to forgive _____________. I release any right I have retained to bring revenge. I release them from my hands and place them into Your hands, Jesus, my Just Judge. I break every curse I have sent to them and call forth a blessing to them instead. Thank you for the grace to forgive and the power to live in freedom.

Checking In

When David was told, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors,” he inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?”

The Lord answered him, “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah.

”But David’s men said to him, “Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!”

Once again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him, “Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.” So David and his men went to Keilah, fought the Philistines and carried off their livestock. He inflicted heavy losses on the Philistines and saved the people of Keilah. 

1 Samuel 23:1-5

David was on the run from King Saul who was trying to kill him. Yet, when he hears news about the Philistines looting one of the towns of Israel, he wants to help. David doesn’t want to get caught and killed, but his mind is not on self-preservation. His heart is for the people of Israel. His heart is tuned in to the heart of God.

Notice that David continually checks in with God. Scripture says that David “inquired of the Lord.” When you read the story of David you’ll noticed that he does this over and over again. He checks in with the Lord to see if he is the guy who should help in this situation. This shows that his heart and his life are surrendered to the Lord. He’s not fighting the Philistines out of bravado or trying to prove himself. He’s fighting out of a place of obedience.

When his men respond to him in fear, David checks in with the Lord again. In other words, he listens to his men. He takes their fears seriously and considers them. Then, he ultimately submits their fears to the Lord and asks if they should still go and fight. When God says, “Go,” David goes. He is fully obedient, fully surrendered, fully submitted to the Lord. His life is not his own. He knows he belongs to the Lord. And because of this, the Lord promises to go with David and give him victory.

David is modeling for us a heart-posture we should have before the Lord. Throughout our day, but especially when making decisions, we need to check in with the Lord first. Then, we need to hear from trusted friends and family. We need to listen to their concerns carefully. Finally, we need to go back to the Lord and submit their concerns to Him. We start with the Lord and we end with the Lord. He is the beginning and the end.

Even as Christians, we’ve tried to come up with ways of making decisions that don’t include asking the Lord. We try to work our systems and strategies thinking that human wisdom will be enough. But it’s not. We need God’s direction–wisdom that comes only from the Holy Spirit.

I think we avoid asking and listening to the Lord for a few reasons: 1) We haven’t cultivated a relationship where we are regularly hearing from the Lord because 2) we don’t think we can hear from the Lord. Or, 3) we haven’t been taught how to hear from the Lord, or 4) we don’t think God would speak to us even if we could hear Him.

The truth is that God wants to speak to us, and we can hear from the Lord. We do need to first learn how to hear from the Lord and begin to cultivate a relationship with Him where we hear from Him. And we don’t start with gigantic decisions. We cultivate a relationship of hearing from the Lord with smaller things first, things that don’t stir up so many of our emotions and our swirling thoughts. If we can begin to hear from the Lord on smaller, daily things, we will be better prepared when big decisions come our way. We will have learned how to hear the voice of the Spirit speaking to us. We’ll begin to learn how to discern His voice from our own internal monologue. We’ll be able to sense when it is a lie from the enemy or a statement from the Lord.

This is the kind of relationship David had with the Lord; it’s a picture–a foretaste–of what is available to us in Christ. Now that we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, this kind of dialogue with the Lord is even more possible for every believer. The question for us is whether we are willing to surrender our lives in the way that David surrendered His.