United Presbyterian Church of Peoria


Life Between Sundays (Blog)

The Power of Forgiveness

Posted by Rev. Dr. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker on

The Power of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is hard. Can I just say that? It's hard, it's uncomfortable, and all too often it feels wrong. Sometimes I don't want to forgive because it feels like I'm saying what was done to me or to someone I love is okay. Sometimes I don't want to forgive because I want to stay in this zone of righteous indignation. Sometimes I want to rage, and sometimes I want to get to stay "the victim" longer. Forgiveness is hard.

And yet, every Sunday we pray together, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Forgive us our mistakes, our wrongs, our failings as we forgive those who have wronged and failed us. Jesus always seems to be pairing God's forgiveness of us with our forgiveness of others.

How can we forgive certain things though? How can we forgive the 9/11 attackers, the murderer of our loved one, the one who stole something from us? Isn't it better to see them get what they deserve, to hold onto our hurt and rage until we see them hurt in the same way?

In the end, if we're not careful, we can actually absorb the worst of our enemy and on some level even become like them. It would seem that when we are sinned against, when someone else does us harm, we are in some way linked to that sin, connected to that mistreatment like a chain. And our anger, fear, or resentment doesn't free us at all. It just keeps us chained.

Nadia Bolz Weber says, "What if forgiveness, rather than being some weak, way of saying its OK, is actually a way of wielding bolt cutters and snapping the chain that links us? In all fairness, I should remind you that this is just the kind of thing that got Jesus killed. He was going around telling people they were forgiven. He went about freeing people, cutting them loose. And that kind of freedom is always threatening, and yet it's what we all want for ourselves."

A Lutheran pastor was asked to do the funeral for one of the Columbine shooters, Dylan, several years ago. This pastor had the gall to think the promises given to Dylan by God at his baptism were more powerful than the acts of evil he committed. This pastor was soon asked to leave the church after agreeing to do the funeral.

Forgiveness is hard, even in the church. This Lutheran pastor understood forgiveness, though. He wasn't saying what Dylan did was okay. He was defiantly proclaiming that evil is simply not more powerful than good, and that there really is a light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness cannot, will not, shall not overcome it.

Yesterday we heard the story of Jesus' death on the cross. "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." He was speaking about you, while dying for you, defiantly proclaiming to the grave, to the gates of hell, and to the throne of heaven that evil is simply not more powerful than good.


On Good Friday, a day of that is called good because of the power of forgiveness and the power that allows good to triumph over evil, every evil, who do you have the opportunity, the grace, the power to forgive?