Misunderstandings: Forgiveness and Love

like2loveI was thinking more about forgiveness. I feel like I’m really good at forgiveness because I don’t really stay angry. I don’t really get angry that much, when it comes down to it. I don’t hold grudges. But now I’m starting to think that I don’t really forgive people and love them. I just stop thinking about them and what they did. Which was never really an issue before, but now I am called to forgive some people that I have to continue to think about. And I am having difficulty because I want to just forget about it and them. I don’t mind suffering through not getting to exact my revenge, but I don’t want to remove their sins so that I can bear to be around them. Or consider them. Or think about them in passing. To put it into the framework of the metaphor of the cross, I think I am willing to be the substitute but I don’t want the atonement. I want to just stop thinking about them altogether. It’s not really the same thing. Wanting to not think about someone at all isn’t loving them. It’s just a very innocent sounding way to murder them in your heart.

But Tim Keller says this: “Forgiveness must be granted before it can be felt.” (You might remember, I quoted that the other day ago.) Which I take to mean, you can do it before you feel it. Like love. You can love someone without feeling it. It’s not really “fake it till you make it.” It’s more of a reframing of how we do things. Society would tell us that we have to feel pleasant things for people before we can love them “authentically” and that our actions must mirror our feelings or we are hypocrites. But that means we don’t do anything unless we “feel like it” because that would be “inauthentic.” No one wants to be fake.

I don’t think that is a Biblical idea, though. I think the Biblical idea of being our “authentic selves” is about being in Christ and being obedient and true to what God would have us be. So if forgiveness means loving someone and loving them means wanting good for them, I can do that without feeling it. When Jesus forgave us on the cross, he may or may not have felt it in his heart. At Gethsemane, he prayed that he would not like to go to the cross and die for us. But he would do it, out of obedience. And he prayed for us. He asked God to forgive us. So I can pray for good for someone, I can work for good for someone, without really liking it. Even if I don’t get all warm and happy when I think about good things happening to someone else, I can pray for them to happen. And even if I don’t feel good about someone, I can still do good things for them, like help them or give them a birthday present or whatever.

It is a sin to hate someone in your heart, but it is not a sin to feel nothing for them. Love is not about feelings. It is about what you do with regards to someone. If I want you to die a painful death at my own hands, but I give you a cheese Danish and tell you to have a good day, that is hypocrisy and not love. But, if I am shopping the Danish aisle and I think, “You know, who likes Danish? That one guy. But I don’t like that guy. He kicked me in the face! I don’t want him to have any Danish. But, Danish is a good gift of God and God wants us to enjoy his good gifts. Moreover, maybe if I give him a Danish, he will see the beauty of the Danish that God made through the hands of the baker and he will get to know God through his joy in the Danish. And he may love God more. That would be a good thing that God would want.” Then I buy you a Danish and give it to you, with a handshake and a “good day to you!,” that is loving you. Loving you like Jesus.

I don’t have to like you to love you and I don’t have to like you to forgive you. I just have to love you to forgive you. And vice versa.

I may not like the idea of people who have hurt me being saved in heaven with Jesus. But, if I love Jesus and, therefore, love the people who have hurt me, I will forgive them and love them and want them to be saved in heaven with Jesus. I may not like the idea but I will hope for it. Because I love God, and God loves them. And I think that the best kind of love is born out of obligation and commitment.

like2love3Was that last sentence surprising? I know it goes against what many people think, the ideas that are generally put forth about love in Western culture. I have to admit, I don’t really understand why so many people devalue the idea of duty and obligation. I don’t know why people prefer the idea that a person would love them as an outpouring of feeling rather than a sense of honor and obligation. I don’t understand why someone would prefer any relationship to be based on liking the same things and having fun hanging out, rather than on covenant and connection and history.

Feelings change. If I only hang out with someone because I like them and they are fun and we have lots of laughs, what happens when their spouse – or their dad, or their kid – dies, or they lose their job, or get cancer, and they aren’t so much fun anymore? My husband may not like me every day, but if he feels covenanted to love and care for me, a duty given him by God, well, that’s not going to change. God does not change. And if my husband has to set aside his own feelings, desires and well-being to obey the calling that God has given him to fulfill that duty, isn’t that the most loving, most sacrificial thing he can do? Isn’t that the very definition of loving me as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her?

I guess, after all these years, I’m finally learning that forgiveness and love don’t mean having warm feelings for someone. They certainly don’t mean not having bad feelings for someone. Forgiving someone means letting go of your desire for revenge so that you can love them, which means picking up a desire for their good. And none of that has anything to do with feelings. It is intentional. It is active. You can feel angry and do those things. You can feel hurt and do those things. It might be harder, but you can do it. Jesus did it and he made a way for us to do it.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”                                             –Colossians 3:12-14

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