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New Year's Resolution: Forgive

New Year's Resolution: Forgive

By the Rev. Dr. Mark A. Quay
Special to Virtueonline.org
January 5, 2018

About nine years ago, I was told this poignant story, which still resonates with me.

During a battle in the Civil War, a woman's husband and both of her sons were killed when Union artillery came crashing down on their farm by mistake. Like many who lived in her native western part of Virginia, her family was neutral in this war-there was no reason for their deaths. She buried their bodies in the front lawn next to the shattered remains of what was a magnificent oak tree.New Year

Sometime after the war, she was visited by a family friend, the former Confederate General, Robert E. Lee. He saw the shell-torn trunk of the oak tree and asked about it. She replied that the tree was where her family was killed by Union cannons. She kept the tree's remains as a testimony to her grief and anger. She would never forgive them for what they did.

General Lee saw this widow's face filled with rage and anger and bitterness, shook his head sadly, and said, "Cut it down, madam, cut it down."

It is all too easy, in this sin-filled world, to find occasion to harbor grudges and unforgiveness against others. People are often selfish, unthinking, and callous, and the wounds they inflict can strike very deeply into our souls. Yet if we refuse to forgive, if we keep the shattered trees of others' sins against us standing around in the front yards of our lives. We choose to have our lives defined by our woundedness and by the sinful actions of others, rather than by God's love and grace.

Jesus Himself discussed the seriousness of failing to forgive. He was pretty blunt: failure to forgive those who hurt us will result in our not being forgiven. In the words of the Lord's Prayer found in Matt. 6:12 we read, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Jesus goes on to say in vss. 14&15, "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Do you hear what Jesus said? God is willing to be as forgiving to us as we are to others.

It's not just in Matthew we find this idea. In Mark 11:25, we read, "And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." And in Luke 6:37 Jesus told us, "... forgive and you will be forgiven."

Some of you may ask, "How can this be right? How can my forgiveness be conditional upon my forgiving others? Isn't God gracious and merciful? Isn't God willing to forgive if we repent of our own sins? Why do I have to forgive others?" Well, yes, God is gracious, merciful, and forgiving. The problem's not with God, it's with us. If we hold on to the sins of others and do not forgive them, we are deliberately disobeying God's commandments. We are choosing to live in a state of unrepentant sin. And we are also saying there are some sins that can't be forgiven, and that, my friends, makes a mockery of the power of the cross.

This is the time of year for resolutions. We promise ourselves and others that we'll quit smoking, start exercising, lose weight, or any of a thousand other well-meant but not-likely-to-succeed intentions. May I make a suggestion for what I think is a more productive undertaking? This year, forgive one person you haven't forgiven: the father who ridiculed, the mother who was so harsh, the former friend who betrayed, the drunk driver who caused that horrible accident, whomever you still won't forgive, even though years have passed. It's your life in Christ, don't have it defined by the sins of others. Ask God for the power of His Spirit to forgive as He forgives. You will be blessed.

The Rev. Dr. Mark A. Quay is Rector, St. Peter's Anglican Church in Birmingham, AL. Author's Page at Amazon

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