One of our New Year’s traditions is to watch TMC’s annual tribute to the actors, writers, and directors who passed away in the previous year. It is a sentimental overview of each one’s life and contribution to the movie arts. Every year it makes us sad, but appreciative. This year there was a very brief tribute to the great Hal Holbrook that caught my attention. They showed a clip from a Jon Krakauer movie called Into the Wild. Holbrook was talking to a young man and said this amazing line: “When you forgive, you love. And when you love, God’s light shines on you.”
As we say in my industry, that will preach.
It occurs to me in this first week of the new year that many of us are going into 2022 with the same grudges we carried in 2021 … and perhaps longer. There is a certain hypocrisy in that for believers. We fully expect that God will forgive our sins … in fact, we are counting on it. We know that Christ died for our sins, and we believe that when we approach the throne of grace with repentant hearts, our sins will be forgiven. This is the Gospel promise.
But when it comes to forgiving others, we sometimes set a higher standard than the one God sets for us. We hold onto hurts and offenses like they are oxygen masks on a plane that is crashing. We tell them over and over to anyone who will listen. We hurl them in the face of the one who inflicted the pain every chance we get. We rarely let a new argument pass without bringing up these ancient wounds, using them like a weapon to re-inflict pain back into the relationship. But rather than give us life, grudge-holding and unforgiveness only take us down in flames with the burning plane.
Listen to the wisdom that Proverbs 17 offers:
Proverbs 17 (Names of God Bible)
Whoever forgives an offense seeks love,
but whoever keeps bringing up the issue separates the closest of friends.
This is a hard lesson today. It will require some soul searching. When an offense has become a comfortable blanket in which we wrap ourselves as a defense against the coldness of the offender, we can easily forget that God calls us to a higher account. We are reminded to forgive, even in those awful moments where forgiveness is not being sought. We are reminded to stop throwing the sin in the face of the offender.
We are reminded to seek love.
But truly, God’s direction to forgive is really for your own benefit. When you forgive, YOU are released from the offense. When you forgive, the memory of it can finally be given over to God and you don’t have to carry its heavy burden anymore. When you forgive, the prison of hurt, anger, and pain that you were trapped in is finally opened wide. You were the prisoner of the offense, not your offender, and only forgiveness can make you free.
This is not a call to forget. Remembering the source of pain helps us avoid it the next time. No one is supposed to remain in an abusive relationship after forgiveness. That is not God’s plan. Forgiving and walking away without holding onto the grudge is the best way to set ourselves free.
Are you holding onto a grudge? Do you bring up old hurts when you argue with someone you love? Do you dwell so much on past offenses that you can’t see the beauty of today?
Set yourself free. Forgive the offense and seek love. And when you love, God’s light shines on you.