Forgive the Grief-Givers by Max Lucado
All the passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “Facing Your Giants” published in 2006.
THE MOST SACRED symbol in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is a tree: a sprawling, shade-bearing, eighty-year-old American elm. Tourists drive from miles around to see her. People pose for pictures beneath her. Arborists carefully protect her. She adorns posters and letterhead. Other trees grow larger, fuller, even greener. But not one is equally cherished. The city treasures the tree, not for her appearance, but her endurance.
She endured the Oklahoma City bombing.
Timothy McVeigh parked his death-laden truck only yards from her. His malice killed 168 people, wounded 850, destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, and buried the tree in rubble. No one expected it to survive. No one, in fact, gave any thought to the dusty, branch-stripped tree.
But then she began to bud.
Sprouts pressed through damaged bark; green leaves pushed away gray soot. Life resurrected from an acre of death. People noticed. The tree modeled the resilience the victims desired. So they gave the elm a name: the Survivor Tree.1
Timothy McVeighs still rock our worlds. They still, inexcusably, inexplicably maim and scar us. We want to imitate the tree—survive the evil, rise above the ruin. But how?
David can give us some ideas. When Saul “McVeighs” his way into David’s world, David dashes into the desert, where he finds refuge among the caves near the Dead Sea. Several hundred loyalists follow him. So does Saul. And in two dramatic desert scenes, David models how to give grace to the person who gives nothing but grief.
Scene one. Saul signals for his men to stop. They do. Three thousand soldiers cease their marching as their king dismounts and walks up the mountainside.
The region of En Gedi simmers in the brick-oven heat. Sunrays strike daggerlike on the soldiers’ necks. Lizards lie behind rocks. Scorpions linger in the dirt. And snakes, like Saul, seek rest in the cave.
Saul enters the cave “to relieve himself. Now David and his men were hiding far back in the cave” (1 Samuel 24:3 NCV). With eyes dulled from the desert sun, the king fails to notice the silent figures who line the walls.
But don’t you know they see him. As Saul heeds nature’s call, dozens of eyes widen. Their minds race, and hands reach for daggers. One thrust of the blade will bring Saul’s tyranny and their running to an end. But David signals for his men to hold back. He edges along the wall, unsheathes his knife, and cuts not the flesh but the robe of Saul. David then creeps back into the recesses of the cave.
David’s men can’t believe what their leader has done. Neither can David. Yet his feelings don’t reflect theirs. They think he has done too little; he thinks he has done too much. Rather than gloat, he regrets.
Later David felt guilty because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. He said to his men, “May the Lord keep me from doing such a thing to my master! Saul is the Lord’s appointed king. I should not do anything against him, because he is the Lord’s appointed king!” (24:5-6 NCV)
Saul exits the cave, and David soon follows. He lifts the garment corner and, in so many words, shouts, “I could have killed you, but I didn’t.”
Saul looks up, stunned, and wonders aloud, “If a man finds his enemy, will he let him get away safely?” (24:19).
David will. More than once.
Just a couple of chapters later, Saul, once again, is hunting David. David, once again, out-shrewds Saul. While the camp of the king sleeps, daredevil David and a soldier stealth their way through the ranks until they stand directly over the snoring body of the king. The soldier begs, “This is the moment! God has put your enemy in your grasp. Let me nail him to the ground with his spear. One hit will do it, believe me; I won’t need a second!” (26:8 MSG)
But David will not have it. Rather than take Saul’s life, he takes Saul’s spear and water jug and sneaks out of the camp. From a safe distance he awakens Saul and the soldiers with an announcement: “GOD put your life in my hands today, but I wasn’t willing to lift a finger against God’s anointed” (26:23 MSG).
Once again, David spares Saul’s life.
Once again, David displays the God-saturated mind. Who dominates his thoughts? “May the LORD … the LORD delivered … the Lord’s anointed … in the eyes of the LORD” (26:23-24).
Once again, we think about the purveyors of pain in our own lives. It’s one thing to give grace to friends, but to give grace to those who give us grief? Could you? Given a few uninterrupted moments with the Darth Vader of your days, could you imitate David?
Perhaps you could. Some people seem graced with mercy glands. They secrete forgiveness, never harboring grudges or reciting their hurts. Others of us (most of us?) find it hard to forgive our Sauls.
We forgive the one-time offenders, mind you. We dismiss the parking-place takers, date-breakers, and even the purse snatchers.
Vengeance fixes your attention at life’s ugliest moments.
We can move past the misdemeanors, but the felonies? The repeat offenders? The Sauls who take our youth, retirement, or health?
Were that scoundrel to seek shade in your cave or lie sleeping at your feet … would you do what David did? Could you forgive the scum who hurt you?
Failure to do so could be fatal. “Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple” (Job 5:2 NIV).
Vengeance fixes your attention at life’s ugliest moments. Score-settling freezes your stare at cruel events in your past. Is this where you want to look? Will rehearsing and reliving your hurts make you a better person? By no means. It will destroy you.
I’m thinking of an old comedy routine. Joe complains to Jerry about the irritating habit of a mutual friend. The guy pokes his finger
Enemy destroyers need two graves.
in Joe’s chest as he talks. It drives Joe crazy. So he resolves to get even. He shows Jerry a small bottle of highly explosive nitroglycerin tied to a string. He explains, “I’m going to wear this around my neck, letting the bottle hang over the exact spot where I keep getting poked. Next time he sticks his finger in my chest, he’ll pay for it.”
Not nearly as much as Joe will, right? Enemy destroyers need two graves. “It is foolish to harbor a grudge” (Ecclesiastes 7:9 TEV). An eye for an eye becomes a neck for a neck and a job for a job and a reputation for a reputation. When does it stop? It stops when one person imitates David’s God-dominated mind.
He faced Saul the way he faced Goliath—by facing God more so. When the soldiers in the cave urged David to kill Saul, look who occupied David’s thoughts: “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord” (1 Samuel 24:6).
When David called out to Saul from the mouth of the cave, “David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed down” (24:8). Then he reiterated his conviction: “I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed” (24:10).
In the second scene, during the nighttime campsite attack, David maintained his belief: “Who can stretch out his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless?” (26:9).
In these two scenes I count six times when David called Saul “the LoRD’s anointed.” Can you think of another term David might have used? Buzzkill and epoxy brain come to my mind. But not to David’s. He saw, not Saul the enemy, but Saul the anointed. He refused to see his grief-giver as anything less than a child of God. David didn’t applaud Saul’s behavior; he just acknowledged Saul’s proprietor—God. David filtered his view of Saul through the grid of heaven. The king still belonged to God, and that gave David hope.
Some years ago a rottweiler attacked our golden retriever puppy at a kennel. The worthless animal climbed out of its run and into Molly’s and nearly killed her. He left her with dozens of gashes and a dangling ear. My feelings toward that mutt were less than Davidic. Leave the two of us in a cave, and only one would have exited. I wrote a letter to the dog’s owner, urging him to put the dog to sleep.
But when I showed the letter to the kennel owner, she begged me to reconsider. “What that dog did was horrible, but I’m still training him. I’m not finished with him yet.”
God would say the same about the rottweiler who attacked you. “What he did was unthinkable, unacceptable, inexcusable, but I’m not finished yet.”
Your enemies still figure into God’s plan. Their pulse is proof God hasn’t given up on them. They may be out of God’s will, but not out of his reach. You honor God when you see them, not as his failures, but as his projects.
Besides, who assigned us the task of vengeance? David understood this. From the mouth of the cave, he declared, “May the LORD decide between you and me. May the LORD take revenge on you for what you did to me. However, I will not lay a hand on you…. the LORD must be the judge. He will decide” (24:12, 15 GOD’S WORD).
See your enemies, not as God’s failures,
but as God’s projects.
God occupies the only seat on the supreme court of heaven. He wears the robe and refuses to share the gavel. For this reason Paul wrote, “Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. `I’ll do the judging,’ says God. `I’ll take care of it… (Romans 12:19 MSG).
Revenge removes God from the equation. Vigilantes displace and replace God. “I’m not sure you can handle this one, Lord. You may punish too little or too slowly. I’ll take this matter into my hands, thank you.”
Is this what you want to say? Jesus didn’t. No one had a clearer sense of right and wrong than the perfect Son of God. Yet, “when he suffered, he didn’t make any threats but left everything to the one who judges fairly” (1 Peter 2:23 GOD’S WORD).
Only God assesses accurate judgments. We impose punishments too slight or severe. God dispenses perfect justice. Vengeance is his job. Leave your enemies in God’s hands. You’re not endorsing their misbehavior when you do. You can hate what someone did without letting hatred consume you. Forgiveness is not excusing.
Nor is forgiveness pretending. David didn’t gloss over or sidestep Saul’s sin. He addressed it directly. He didn’t avoid the issue, but he did avoid Saul. “Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold” (1 Sam. 24:22 NIV).
Do the same. Give grace, but, if need be, keep your distance. You can forgive the abusive husband without living with him. Be quick to give mercy to the immoral pastor, but be slow to give him a pulpit.
Forgiveness is choosing to see
your offender with different eyes.
Society can dispense grace and prison terms at the same time. Offer the child molester a second chance, but keep him off the playgrounds.
Forgiveness is not foolishness.
Forgiveness is, at its core, choosing to see your offender with different eyes. When some Moravian missionaries took the message of God to the Eskimos, the missionaries struggled to find a word in the native language for forgiveness. They finally landed on this cumbersome twenty-four-letter choice: issumagijoujungnainermik. This formidable assembly of letters is literally translated “not being able to think about it anymore.”2
To forgive is to move on, not to think about the offense anymore. You don’t excuse him, endorse her, or embrace them. You just route thoughts about them through heaven. You see your enemy as God’s child and revenge as God’s job.
By the way, how can we grace-recipients do anything less? Dare we ask God for grace when we refuse to give it? This is a huge issue in Scripture. Jesus was tough on sinners who refused to forgive other sinners. Remember his story about the servant freshly forgiven a debt of millions who refused to forgive a debt equal to a few dollars? He stirred the wrath of God: “You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt…. Shouldn’t you have mercy … just as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:32-33 NLT).
In the final sum, we give grace because we’ve been given grace. We survive because we imitate the Survivor Tree. We reach our roots beyond the bomb zone. We tap into moisture beyond the explosion. We dig deeper and deeper until we draw moisture from the mercy of God.
We, like Saul, have been given grace.
We, like David, can freely give it. [43-51]
2. M. Norville Young with Mary Hollingsworth, Living Lights, Shining Stars: Ten Secrets to Becoming the Light of the World (West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing, 1997), 39.