I find myself this weekend in one of those quandaries that, for me, can only be resolved by writing. The thoughts and feelings swirling within will only come to order as they form themselves into words and stare back at me from my computer screen. I may not find answers as I write; I’m not sure answers are possible to the kinds of questions I must ask. But understanding, peace, and perhaps even a bit beauty formed from ashes “will out” as I pour my soul, raw and reeling out onto the page where I can get a good look at it.
Yesterday we got an email. It was an email of apology, an email that was seeking forgiveness. That’s a good thing, right? So why does it hurt so much? Is it because the thing we suspected all of those years ago is now confirmed? I thought the pain was over, the wound healed–or covered, at least–by a soft and accustomed scab. Now, in the time it takes to read a short email, the scab is torn away and the wound again bleeds freely. I remember that my mother always told me not to pick at scabs. She said that scabs removed were more likely to leave scars. She was right.
Forgiveness is extended–obviously; that’s a no-brainer. If I’ve learned anything from suffering it’s that withholding forgiveness does more damage to the withholder than the unforgiven. So why does it hurt so much? Is it because the brokenness of the world is made more evident in this situation? Is it the shock of suddenly being thrown back into a time that is past, finding out that it isn’t entirely forgotten, finding out that there’s a scab where I imagined only a faded scar? I think all of this is true.
And there’s something else; it concerns confession. Is it necessary to confess if the person you wronged didn’t even KNOW that you wronged them? Doesn’t that stir up feelings that are better left alone? Confession to those actually involved makes sense, but why stir the pot? I know I’m into really “iffy” territory here. I realize that there are some things, unknown and hidden things, that have to be brought to light in order for a relationship to grow and be healthy, but it seems like there are other things better left between those who committed the wrong and God. The only conclusion my husband and I could come to, one lesson we found we could take away, is that guilt is ultimately stronger than hurt. Hurt heals; guilt festers.
We pondered and discussed this idea and I could see the truth in it, but I still was a little upset over the pain. It seems so very unfair, but then my husband came up with another thought, one that is beautiful in a stark and haunting sort of way. He said that all redemption requires suffering and that if we look at this suffering honestly we will see that the suffering is not usually on the part of the person who needs redemption. Jesus modeled this for us. He suffered; I am redeemed.
And now, as I write, I am reminded of one of my favorite chapters in Tim Keller’s The Reason for God: “The (True) Story of the Cross.” I go and take it off the shelf and I find answers. Keller explains that all forgiveness requires suffering. He calls forgiveness “a form of suffering.” He explains that when you forgive, “You are absorbing the debt, taking the cost of it completely on yourself instead of taking it out of the other person. It hurts terribly.” He quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship: “My brother’s burden which I must bear is not only his outward lot, his natural characteristics and gifts, but quite literally his sin. And the only way to bear that sin is by forgiving it in the power of the cross of Christ in which I now share….Forgiveness is the Christlike suffering which it is the Christian’s duty to bear.”
And there it is–the understanding, peace and beauty I was looking for. It works every time. Thank you, Jesus!