I received a good response to Friday's (10/22/99) Shoveletter from a very good friend of mine, and I wanted to pass on both the letter and my response. It is what I believe plagues most of us (I speak from personal experience). This is the real stuff of our life in this world.
First, the response TO the Shoveletter:
Okay...I'm confused about something. I have always known that forgiveness between brothers and sisters in Christ was linked to His forgiveness of us. That's not a question for me. What I'm confused about is this "conditional forgiveness" that you're toppling over here. Can you share with me an example of what you're talking about, or was it something of a straw man? (I don't mean that to sound argumentative. There are times when I create an artificial construct without any real-world examples in mind, just so I can disprove the position of the thing I've created for my own purposes. Befuddled yet?).
How do you deal with reality of emotions? There are many times when my mind is totally convinced that I need to forgive someone for something they've done, but my emotions simply will not come along for the ride. I can't let go of the anger and bitterness, no matter how hard I try. How does knowledge of this theological truth conquer my unruly temper? Mark L
Good morning, my brother Mark,
I really do appreciate your response to my radical idea of forgiveness. :) And I do not take what you wrote as argumentative, but instead, I see it as the most honest and direct communication! I do so appreciate directness in the manner you wrote, for it is true communication. I love it!! As a matter of fact, I am certain that your thoughts represent the majority, so I am very glad you replied as you did. I think I'm going to send another Shoveletter out with the basic questions you asked along with my reply.
You asked if I might have created "an artificial construct without any real-world examples in mind, just so I can disprove the position of the thing I've created for my own purposes." Excellent question. The examples are too numerous to count, but the only one that really matters is the one that I might be considering at the moment, for it is the thing that is eating my lunch!!
Here is what is going on with you and me: all day long we are being presented with reasons to view each other OUTSIDE the reality of Christ. It makes no difference if the person is a believer or an unbeliever, for what Jesus did has put everything in a whole new light. The world has been revealed for what it is and we have been given eyes to see it.
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that THEY WHO LIVE should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize NO MAN according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore if any man is IN CHRIST, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:14-17
Just a note here: He didn't die for all so that we who live are put in the position to "decide" if we are going to live for Him. The "should" is contingent upon what He did and has nothing to do with man's decision.
Okay, here I am moving through my life and going through my day when somebody says something to or about me that suggests that I am not as good as they are. At least, I perceive it that way, for sometimes it is real and other times imagined ... but it makes no difference, for the real problem has to do with my perception. Where do I go with it?
Well, what have I learned in the world? It has taught me to weigh the situation so that I can decide if it is worth my time and trouble. This happens so fast I am not usually aware that I am doing it. You have your measuring stick and I have mine, though they are similar in nature because they both have markings with degrees of value from better to worse (Of course, mine is better than yours because mine is more "scriptural"! hahaha!) This little judge is calling me to determine all things by how they rate. It determines if I let it go or if I snap back with a corresponding retort ... or if I hold on to the thing and let it simmer for the rest of the day (or week, or month, or year, or decade ... or for the rest of my life).
How I perceive the world and my personal interaction with it determines my emotional responses to it. The mistake comes when I try to deal with these end results by trying to REMOVE them from my life (or to INCREASE the desired ones). It is a dead-end road.
When Paul wrote about these things he had so intertwined them with the reality of being made new in Christ that they were not seen as separate issues needing to be resolved. When feelings of anger hit you don't run from them, for they are given to you as insights into what you are using as your perception yardstick!! "Putting them off" does not require inner strength and resolve (with some help from God), but instead has to do with the miraculous reality that He has already dealt with the source from which they arise -- "the old man". That is why Paul never wrote about one as being separate from the other.
No matter how hard you try you will NEVER be able to let go of these things, for your trying is found within the same framework as sin and death. I can remember trying to wipe some grease off of me with a rag I had and the more I wiped the more the grease spread around. Who knows why it took me so long to figure out that the grease was on the rag!! Why does it take us so long to realize that the old rags of sin can never wipe the effects of sin from us?
Emotion is a wonderful thing for it is an indicator of what I am basing my perceptions on.
What have I learned in Christ? That my life has nothing whatsoever to do with the perceptions I learned in this world. That includes the whole structure of how I learned to get by in this life -- it is the game I had learned to play. But it has been done away with. No wonder I get so doggoned confused when the new person He has made me clashes with the old perceptions.
Listen to what is going on inside you AS IT IS HAPPENING. This does not take a degree in psychology; this is the reality that is screaming out from within! It is the most obvious thing that is going on with you at any given moment ... and yet we relegate it to the realm of theology or psychology. Every situation that comes your way is demanding something of you ... it demands that you must judge based on your learned measuring system. As you have considered "forgiveness" you have learned to "forgive" things within your power to "forgive" ... but it has been a deception!
Your emotions are letting you know that you are viewing yourself and/or others by your yardstick ... while the gospel declares that your yardstick is the thing you have been saved from ... he snapped it into little bitty pieces. Chances are that if the emotions are hanging on after seeing the situation in the reality of Christ that those emotions are being stirred up by something else. I have often discovered that my hateful feelings were not really about the person who said something derogatory to me, but in the simple fact that I had been damning myself in that particular thing for years! Once I got past the bogus notion that SOMEBODY ELSE was to blame for my feelings of inferiority I was able to see the obvious fact that my anger was toward myself! But I had for the longest time transferred the blame, and therefore, the corresponding feelings to another. And so I tried and tried in vain to forgive them (or even to see them in Christ) ... and I wondered why I felt these things toward them.
And, in this, I am once again presented with the reality of life vs. death. My Father has given me something tangible to behold and to declare that THIS TOO has been removed by Christ! This is His Spirit witnessing with my spirit and it is saturated with life.
What do you think?