Yesterday, I was listening to an audio book by Tim Keller titled, “The Reason for God”. Somewhere in the eleventh or twelfth chapter, Tim Keller begins to speak on forgiveness and how it relates to salvation and why Christ had to die for our sins. He uses the analogy of someone who borrows your car and backs into your garden gate, damaging the gate and part of the fence and the damage is not covered by insurance. You can choose to allow the other person to pay for the damage or you can pay for it yourself, but either way someone has to pay the cost. He goes on to say that true forgiveness requires costly suffering.
I love Tim Keller’s sermons and they usually help me understand some aspect of the gospel more clearly, but this particular sermon had me thinking on another line of thought regarding forgiveness. In this particular analogy, Tim gives two options –either the person who has damaged the gate must pay the cost or you bear the cost – and then he briefly touches on a third option in which both parties share the cost but this is not really relevant to the analogy of forgiveness. Of course to forgive would mean to fully bear the cost of someone else’s mistake, but I think that sometimes we chose still a fourth option – we ignore the damage and we call it forgiveness.
I think that perhaps sometimes we ignore or minimize the damage out of self-righteousness because we want others to think we have been willing to pay the cost. Other times perhaps we ignore the damage because our pride doesn’t want to admit our perfect garden has a broken gate and a damaged fence.
Tim Keller says true forgiveness is agonizing, but I wonder if sometimes it seems easy because we have chosen to ignore rather than forgive. Of course if the infraction is minor, then the cost is minor and we must also remember that there is within us a human tendency to exaggerate infractions against us, so we must be careful to keep things in a proper perspective. But when we minimize the damage against us, do we also minimize the value of relationships?
What happens if we don’t properly assess or ignore the damage? What happens when we dismiss a wrong as insignificant or non-existent and we refuse to fully suffer the cost? Do we devalue the relationship either with the person who has wronged us or with others when we devalue wrongs? What if it is a friend who has wounded us, by dismissing the wrong or ignoring it and convincing ourselves that we have forgiven without fully paying the cost – without fully allowing ourselves to feel the suffering -, do we jeopardize other friendships? Rather than enduring the agony to repair what has been broken, do we simply refuse to ever loan or give of ourselves again?
Sometimes I think we’re wounded so deeply we don’t want to bear the pain and so we chose to ignore it rather than face it; however, I also think our tolerance for pain in this country may be pretty low at times. Perhaps there are times when we are wounded – especially as children – that we are simply unable to assess the damage, and I think that there may be times when the Lord lifts that burden from us for a season, but when we see that our gate is broken perhaps the Lord is allowing us opportunity to become partakers in His suffering. He is giving us opportunity to be humbled by hurt.
I think that sometimes we are self-righteous Pharisees and we don’t even realize it. We are still trying to save ourselves, not by trying to save ourselves from sin, but by refusing to admit that there is sin in this world from which we need to be saved. We are given the opportunity to humble ourselves and admit that we are broken and at the same time we are offered the chance to exhibit great courage while building intense compassion by allowing ourselves to bear the costly suffering of forgiveness. If we refuse to allow ourselves to suffer deeply, then I wonder if perhaps we limit our ability to love deeply.
However, as I ponder these questions, I also find great comfort knowing that when we truly cannot bear the agonizing cost; when wounds seem too deep to mend and gates too damaged to repair, Christ has already paid the full price – He has fully suffered the agonizing cost – for all our broken gates.