Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
Luke 23:24, NIV
The usual sounds of children at recess filled the elementary school playground one fine autumn day. Young girls in pigtails huddled together giggling over some silly little story or another as their male classmates shoved each other good naturedly while pretending to flex their non-existent muscles.
Suddenly, the happy atmosphere changed as a drunken, crazed man stumbled towards them with evil on his mind. The children scattered, running in all directions in a desperate attempt to escape the menacing stranger. It appeared as though all got away; every child except one, that is. In his haste to flee, seven year-old Titus lost a shoe, and in the brief moment it took for him to retrieve it, the man was upon him. As the children turned and watched in horror, the man cruelly ended the young boy’s life. Titus’ twin, along with the others, stood frozen in place, unable to speak or move.
The boy’s parents were immediately called and arrived just as the police were putting the man in handcuffs. “Lord, give me your grace in this moment,” the father prayed urgently as he hurried over to the disheveled man being shoved into the patrol car. Looking into his eyes he said, “I forgive you. You didn’t know what you were doing.”
While He walked on this earth, Jesus spoke of unconditional love; a gift freely given. On the cross, He lived out in horrific detail just what that forgiveness looked like as He willingly chose to ask one last unthinkable favor of His heavenly Father. “Forgive them, for they don’t know… .”
Scripture is replete with admonitions for us to forgive others even when they don’t deserve it, and even when they haven’t asked for it. Why should that be the case, especially if we’ve been terribly wronged or wounded? Could it be that He knew better than we that it is in the forgiving that we free ourselves from the bondage of hard feelings, anger and bitterness that keep us enslaved and vulnerable to the work of the enemy of our souls? (See Eph 4:31-32.)
In reality, forgiveness is a powerful tool. It is able to heal hearts and set free the one offering it, and if accepted, also the one receiving it. Forgiveness doesn’t rely on scales of who is right and who is wrong. There is no weighing, no measuring, no settling of scores. There is only a turning of cheeks. No one but Christ could have designed such a remarkable and miraculous life-giving gift. In the final analysis, forgiveness is acknowledgment that God alone knows the circumstances that make someone into the kind of person capable of bringing harm to another, so only He is capable of being the Judge.
Sadly, many of us fail to live with an attitude of forgiveness on a daily basis. Perhaps we don’t fully understand the necessity of treating forgiveness as a discipline—something that must be practiced just like reading the Bible, meditating and praying—until it becomes second nature.
A good way to begin is to follow the guidance of Scripture: “And whenever you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mk 11:25, NIV); “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you,” (Eph 4:32, NKJV); “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
There is one additional, often overlooked aspect of the forgiveness equation. That is, the act of forgiving ourselves. While the Bible doesn’t address it directly, it is clear that if we wallow in our own failures, we suffer and end up becoming enslaved by the very thing the Lord has already forgiven. We would do well to remember that when God forgives us, He “remembers our sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34), and that when the Son sets us free, we are free indeed! (See John 8:36.) There’s no pretending that forgiveness is easy, but according to God’s word, it is non-negotiable. God requires it, in fact. In return, however, we find freedom and new life.
To illustrate, allow me to return to the story of the little Titus. I first heard the horrifying tale of his death firsthand from Titus’ father in 2013 while riding in the back of a Land Cruiser bumping along the back roads of Kibondo, Tanzania, a village located near the border of Burundi. I had first met Bart in seminary some years earlier, but had not stayed in contact with him. This day, however, as he shared the story of his painful loss, he added a surprising detail. In the six months since the loss of their precious son, he and his wife Mary had faithfully visited the murderer in jail to share the good news of Jesus Christ. They wanted him to know that even as they had forgiven him of the terrible sin that had cost them so much sorrow and pain, the Savior waited with open arms to forgive him of all his sins and to offer him everlasting life. It was only by God’s grace that they were able to share their Savior’s love in such a way. I don’t know if this man has ever allowed God’s love to reach him, but I do know that even though he may still be in bondage, Titus’ parents are not.
Some months after returning to the States, I received an email from Bart announcing that his wife had just given birth to their seventh child, a boy. They saw him not as a replacement for Titus, but rather as a special gift, a blessing from God. They surprised me by asking me to participate in naming their child. You see, they knew that I had also lost a child, my grandson, a few years earlier. The only request was that I choose a name from the Bible. Overwhelmed with such an honor, I sent Bart a list of four or five Hebrew names along with an explanation of what each one meant. One of the names was Elisha, the name of my own grandson. I felt the meaning of the name, “God is gracious,” might be especially meaningful to them, but I simply listed it among all the others without additional comment. Within a few short hours I received a response. “Mary and I talked it over,” Bart said. “We know your own grandson can never be replaced. But we want you to know you now have an African grandson.” They included a photo of their new baby boy with the words, “Meet Elisha.”
Yes; forgiveness is the ultimate miracle; a divine gift that has the power to reverberate through time and space. Its effects can be exponential and reap benefits you may never discover. I urge you to ask the Holy Spirit to show you someone you might give this marvelous, miraculous gift to today. Perhaps it is you. I can tell you from personal experience that joy and freedom awaits you on the other side of forgiveness. Remember, whom the Son sets free, is free indeed!
— Francine Thomas