When a policeman asks, “That sign you just passed, No Right Turn on Red,” did you see it?” Would you answer, “Yes…but I told the truth…do I still get a ticket?” If you have done that, you have made your own rules. You are trying to convince the policeman that your rules are more important that the ones that really matter. In Words We Live By, Brian Burrell tells of an armed robber named Dennis Lee Curtis who was arrested in 1992. He apparently had scruples about his thievery because he always kept a list of rules when he robbed. The police found a list when Curtis was captured that contained several rules, such as, “I will not kill anyone unless I have to; I will not rob mini-marts or 7-Eleven stores; I will rob only seven months out of the year.” He expected these rules to help him, but he learned after he was caught that he was being judged not on the standards of the rules he made, but on the laws of justice established by the higher law of the state.
We can understand how easy it is for a person to create their own morality, their own rules in life. If only we could follow God’s laws perfectly- if we could, there would be no strife among nations, no disagreements among people, no crime, and no injustice. Our only salvation is found in learning to live like Jesus Christ, who was able to live God’s law perfectly, and whose life shines as a beacon for us to follow. Remember when asked what the great commandment was, Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22)
That was a rule no one has been able to master. Even the Pharisees, the keepers of the law, went astray when they questioned why the disciples had not ceremonially washed their hands. The Pharisees were convinced that keeping the rules for piety was what life was all about. Proper washing of the hands, kosher eating, and ritual observances were the key things for the Pharisees. Jesus makes the point that these rules do not matter as much as what comes out of you – it’s what you say and do to others that matters. If something looks good but it doesn’t come out of our hearts, it is not good after all. The Pharisees wanted the disciples to follow their laws not to help others, but to preserve the keeping of the laws.
Jesus and the Pharisees disagreed on a fundamental question. How do people of faith display their faith? How can the people of God live out their calling as God’s people?
It begins with that great commandment, loving God with all our heart! How do we dedicate our whole heart to serve God? Spiritual disciplines, acts of service to others, and fellowship would be to help put our hearts on the right track. Another step is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a way we can live out our faith and train our actions to match the motivations of our heart. Remember that Jesus forgave from the cross: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Once a man returned to his car in a parking lot & found a note under the windshield wiper. The note read like this: “I just smashed into your car. The people who witnessed the collision are watching me. They probably think that I am writing down my name & address, but I am not.” Nothing more was written on the note.
If someone received that note on their car windshield, the anger could last for weeks! It would be very difficult to forgive such a terrible, hypocritical act. Keeping that anger swirling around in the heart would have a negative effect upon life, spiritually and physically.
The book, Forgive for Good, A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness gives the results of years of research that shows when people forgive, the stress in their lives decreases. Life improves spiritually and physically. The angst and tension is smoothed out like a wave that finally reaches the beach to rest after being tossed about in the ocean’s storms.
In response to this study, Katherine Kehler writes, “People who forgive experience greater physical vitality. People who forgive feel less hurt and anger. They have concluded that the problem with grudges is that each time we think about the hurt or anger at the heart of the grudge, it’s a reminder of the helplessness we felt when it occurred.”
The study recommends steps for moving towards forgiveness, such as, Know exactly how you feel about what happened; Forgiveness is for you. Make a commitment to do what you need to feel better; Seek peace, not necessarily reconciliation, with the person(s), who hurt you; Get perspective and recognize that distress comes from hurt feelings and thoughts and not what hurt you in the first place; When you feel upset, redirect your thoughts to that which is positive; Give up expecting things from other people that they choose not to give you; Instead of mentally replaying the hurt, seek new ways to get what you want; Focus on goodness, love and beauty. Remaining in the hurt only gives power to the person who hurt you; Rewrite the story of the grievance in your mind so you can focus on the heroic choice to forgive.
The Apostle Paul recommends similar steps in Philippians 4:8: “Finally…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” He was teaching to make our hearts inside pure, so we could truly become like Christ, living life inside out- our exterior actions matching our interior life.
Two years ago I attended a conference for ministers. The keynote speaker was Dr. Gregory Jones, the Dean of Duke Divinity School. He was reporting his progress on a book that focused on forgiveness. One of the motivating factors was an incident that happened as he entered a faculty party. He saw a colleague he had not expected to see and said to his wife, “I didn’t know he was going to be here, let’s leave!” Then he realized how much the grudge he held in his heart was affecting him. He was so focused upon a past slight that it was affecting his life. He was leaving a party because he had not forgiven someone.
In a similar way, the Pharisees had left the party because they focused more on their rules than on God’s love.
Many times in life we become angry at someone because they have broken one of our rules. Let us remember the rule that really counts: the rule of God’s love. Let us not harbor resentment in our hearts. Forgiveness is good for our spiritual and physical health. Let us clear our hearts and minds so we can serve God. A theologian stated, “The practice of forgiveness is the most important contribution to healing the world.” Do you agree? If we could release our grudges, we might be able to feel better about ourselves and better about others, but we hold onto those grudges because we feel our law is more important than the law of God’s love.
We can help each other learn to forgive. We can, as the theologian stated, heal the world and release the power of forgiveness across the globe. A new fellowship of love would be created that welcomes everyone into the party, and that is what God desires.