For the longest time, those words Christ uttered with his body pinioned to the cross didn’t make sense to me.
“Father, forgive them.”
I didn’t want the witnesses to be forgiven. They didn’t deserve it. As they hurled insults at him, making a mockery of my God, he suffered the unthinkable.
Why would he say such a thing?
I would have much preferred him to say something like, “Father, punish them,” or “Father, condemn them.”
But no. In a moment where everyone he loved had abandoned him, including his own Father, he sent up a plea for forgiveness. He longed for the unrighteous to be made righteous through his suffering.
He turns the attention of history’s greatest love story from his agony to our need.
I just didn’t understand it. And because I didn’t get it, I failed to see my own need to extend forgiveness as well.
To me, forgiveness meant excusing what was done, and my list of offenses was long. I had been stolen from in every way possible: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Was I simply supposed to slap a band-aid on everything which had been done and pretend I was okay?
I simply couldn’t do it. So for years, I carried the weight of a bitter heart around with me into every relationship, every church service, and every attempt to worship. I wondered why God seemed so distant and unreachable.
There seemed to be an invisible curtain stretched across the sky, blocking me from his light.
Until we see our own need for forgiveness, we will never know how crucial it is to extend it to others. I was blinded by my own self-righteous armor and couldn’t grasp how desperate I was for His grace.
In the middle of a severe bout with postpartum depression, God brought me to my knees. I saw that even my honest attempts to be good were like filthy rags in the sight of a holy God.
I finally understood that by extending forgiveness, I was ultimately setting myself free. Free from bitterness and anger. Free from shame.
As Jesus hung there on the cross, he didn’t simply forgive those who persecuted him. He asked his Father to forgive them.
He released the burden into the hands of the One who reigns in Heaven. And when you and I forgive, we do the same.
Forgiveness releases the burden of judgment to the Ultimate Judge.
We were never intended to carry around that weight, my friends. When we do, we live lives that are bitter, angry, and depressed.
If you are holding a burden of resentment or grudges today, it is time to stop making excuses and release it. And if those feelings of hurt are recoiled by new events, come before God and release it again.
Will you sit with me and close your eyes for a moment? Imagine yourself holding onto a glass bottle as you stand at the edge of the ocean. In that bottle are little scraps of paper which represent all of the harm others have caused you.
Pray, “Father, I trust you. I know your plans are good. I don’t understand but I believe you do. I forgive this person (or persons) and ask that you help heal my heart.”
Grasp that bottle for the last time, and with all of the strength you have, release it into the waves.
Now lift your hands to the Heavens because it is in His hands now.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13 NIV
*All pictures taken by Abby McDonald