Friday, November 13, 2009

The Divinity of Forgiveness

I read a quote today: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet shed on the heel that crushed it.” Mark Twain said it. Very wise words. Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet shed on the heel that crushed it. I can see that violet being crushed, fragile and sensitive, soft purple, under the weight of an unyielding, cold boot. And as the delicate petals flatten out with gentle cruches, that small puff of fragrance mixed with pollen and pigment and dust splatters the edges of the heel, like water being thrown on a wall or paint on a canvas. The sweetness that comes from such a violent death is remarkable, more than my mind can really fathom right now. The violet, in all its innocence and beauty, left behind what could only be offered in death of self, the remnant itself sweeter than that which embodied it. There is power, though also pain, in death of self, blessing the crushing oppressor with that which he did not deserve. He did not deserve it. And yet received it anyway. And when the blow was dealt, forgiveness was not requested, but still given freely without hesitation, and in the same instant that the insult was received. The instant backlash resulting from the step of death. There is power, though painful it will be, in the death of self.

It is an obvious picture of what Christ did for all of us. Before the request for forgiveness was ever offered up, Christ received the crushing blow that splattered his fragrant blood on the hands that nailed him to the cross. On my hands. Before I ever cried out, while I was still stewing in my own dreadful brokenness, his blood splattered me, violently painting the sweetest essence my soul has ever known all over my disaster. The very moment my hands swung the hammer down, his forgiveness sprayed me from head to toe. I didn't ask for it. I certainly didn't deserve it. And yet his death was so sweetly offered for the power that it held.

Forgiveness is such a difficult topic. This intangible, often evasive, thing that contains such power. We often cling to unforgiveness because the other party has not repented or because they just don't deserve it. But the thing is, forgiveness has nothing to do with the other party, and everything to do with protecting one's own heart. You see, unforgiveness leads to bitterness. It leads to a hard and calloused heart. It leads to poisoned thinking and uncontrolled, unrighteous anger. Unforgiveness has so much less to do with the offending party than it does with one's own heart and relationship with Christ.

In 2003, I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and was blessed to work with a prison ministry team. This was the most cathartic time of my life, when God revealed Himself to me as Healer, Forgiver, and Redeemer. My own heart had grown bitter and cold after years of unforgiveness. But God had plans for me there in South Africa. And in the midst of large group of men who were locked up in solitary confinement for every crime under the sun, I saw the power of forgiving....

I'll unpack that tomorrow. I promise.

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