Sunday, April 15, 2007

Evidence of Easter: Forgiveness

In the 20th chapter of John, the Risen Christ returns to speak a word to the church: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
The Greek word for “forgive” is cancel. The Greek word for “retain” is clutch. That’s the eternal choice: are you going to cancel or clutch? Are you going to let go or hang on? Amazingly, many of the people who struggle the most with this choice are church people.
I subscribe to a magazine called The Presbyterian Outlook. About three weeks ago, the editor wrote a wonderful piece on the power of forgiveness. I know the man, so I went online to the magazine website and wrote a quick note of thanks. “Your work is consistently helpful,” I said, “and I really appreciated the article.”
No more than twenty minutes later, I received a piece of hate mail. Actually it was a piece of hate e-mail. A minister in West Virginia had read my two-sentence note online, and fired back his artillery at me. With plenty of angry words, he called my friend a hack, told me how he has ruined the magazine, and said in no uncertain terms that I was wrong to give him a compliment, because it’s people like him who are "destroying our church." Then he added a few surreal words: “And have a happy Easter.”
Anybody who stands up in front of other people for a living will receive some unusual mail; I've certainly had my share. If it’s signed, it goes into a file. If it’s unsigned, it goes into the circular file. This was really unusual, because it’s the first time I was ever condemned for complimenting somebody for an article on forgiveness. Obviously he’s still clutching something that he doesn’t want to let go.
What do you do? Do you forgive or retain? Cancel or clutch? For my part I decided to cancel the poison; I looked at that nasty e-mail and hit the word “delete.” And I pray God will lighten the writer’s heart so he can release his grip on my friend.
In the words of Lewis Smedes, "When you forgive, you set a prisoner free. And then you discover that the prisoner was you."

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