Freely forgiven, freely forgive by Max Lucado
The passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “The Applause of Heaven,” first published in 1990 by W Publishing Group.
March 24, 1989. A cold night off the coast of Alaska.
The captain of a tanker barked orders to a second mate. The orders were vague, the night was black, and the collision was disastrous. The tanker ship Exxon Valdez ran hard aground on Bligh Reef, dumping eleven million gallons of crude oil into one of the most scenic bodies of water in the world. Petroleum blackened everything from the surface of the sea, to beaches, to otters, to sea gulls. Alaska was infuriated, and Exxon, the company which owned the tanker, was humiliated.
The collision, terrible as it was, was mild compared to the ones that occur daily in our relationships. You’ve been there.Someone doesn’t meet your expectations. Promises go unfulfilled. Verbal pistols are drawn, and a round of words is fired.
The result? A collision of the hull of your heart against the reef of someone’s actions. Precious energy escapes, coating the surface of your soul with the deadly film of resentment. A black blanket of bitterness darkens your world, dims your sight, sours your outlook, and suffocates your joy.
Do you have a hole in your heart?
Perhaps the wound is old. A parent abused you. A teacher slighted you. A mate betrayed you. A business partner bailed out, leaving you a choice of bills or bankruptcy.
And you are angry.
Or perhaps the wound is fresh. The friend who owes you money just drove by in a new car. The boss who hired you with promises of promotions has forgotten how to pronounce your name. Your circle of friends escaped on a weekend getaway, and you weren’t invited. The children you raised seem to have forgotten you exist.
And you are hurt.
Part of you is broken, and the other part is bitter. Part of you wants to cry, and part of you wants to fight. The tears you cry are hot because they come from your heart, and there is a fire burning in your heart. It’s the fire of anger. It’s blazing. It’s consuming. Its flames leap up under a steaming pot of revenge.
And you are left with a decision. “Do I put the fire out or heat it up? Do I get over it or get even? Do I release it or resent it? Do I let my hurts heal, or do I let hurt turn into hate?”
That’s a good definition of resentment: Resentment is when you let your hurt become hate. Resentment is when you allow what is eating you to eat you up. Resentment is when you pokes, stoke, feed, and fan the fire, stirring the flames and reliving the pain.
Resentment is the deliberate decision to nurse the offense until it becomes a black, furry, growling grudge.
Grudge is one of those words that defines itself. Its very sound betrays its meaning.
Say it slowly: Grr-uuuud-ge.
It starts with a growl. “Grr . . .“ Like a bear with bad breath coming out of hibernation or a mangy mongrel defending his bone in an alley. “Grrr. . .”
Being near a resentful person and petting a growling dog are equally enjoyable.
Don’t you just love being next to people who are nursing a grudge? Isn’t it a delight to listen to them sing their songs of woe? They are so optimistic! They are so full of hope. They are bubbling with life.
You know better. You know as well as I that if they are bubbling with anything it is anger. And if they are full of anything, it is poisonous barbs of condemnation for all the people who have hurt them. Grudge bearers and angry animals are a lot alike. Both are irritable. Both are explosive. Both can be rabid. Someone needs to make a sign that can be worn around the neck of the resentful: “Beware of the Grrrrudge Bearer.”
Add an M to the second part of the word, and you will see what grudge bearers throw. Mud. It’s not enough to accuse; the other person’s character must be attacked. It’s insufficient to point a finger; a rifle must be aimed. Slander is slung. Names are called. Circles are drawn. Walls are built. And enemies are made.
Remove a GR from the word grudge and replace it with SL and you have the junk that grudge bearers trudge through. Sludge. Black, thick, ankle-deep resentment that steals the bounce from the step. No joyful skips through the meadows. No healthy hikes up the mountain. Just day after day of walking into the storm, shoulders bent against the wind, and feet dragging through all the muck life has delivered.
Is this the way you are coping with your hurts? Are you allowing your hurts to turn into hates? If so, ask yourself: Is it working? Has your hatred done you any good? Has your resentment brought you any relief, any peace? Has it granted you any joy?
Let’s say you get even. Let’s say you get him back. Let’s say she gets what she deserves. Let’s say your fantasy of fury runs its ferocious course and you return all your pain with interest. Imagine yourself standing over the corpse of the one you have hated. Will you now be free?
The writer of the following letter thought she would be. She thought her revenge would bring release. But she learned otherwise. I caught my husband making love to another woman. He swore it would never happen again. He begged me to forgive him, but I could not—would not. I was so bitter and so incapable of swallowing my pride that I could think of nothing but revenge. I was going to make him pay and pay dearly. I’d have my pound of flesh.
I filed for divorce, even though my children begged me not to.
Even after the divorce, my husband tried for two years to win me back. I refused to have anything to do with him. He had struck first; now I was striking back. All I wanted was to make him pay.
Finally he gave up and married a lovely young widow with a couple of small children. He began rebuilding his life—without me.
I see them occasionally, and he looks so happy. They all do. And here I am—a lonely, old, miserable woman who allowed her selfish pride and foolish stubbornness to ruin her life.
Unfaithfulness is wrong. Revenge is bad. But the worst part of all is that, without forgiveness, bitterness is all that is left.
Resentment is the cocaine of the emotions. It causes our blood to pump and our energy level to rise.
But, also like cocaine, it demands increasingly larger and more frequent dosages. There is a dangerous point at which anger ceases to be an emotion and becomes a driving force. A person bent on revenge moves unknowingly further and further away from being able to forgive, for to be without the anger is to be without a source of energy.
That explains why the bitter complain to anyone who will listen. They want—they need—to have their fire fanned. That helps explain the existence of the KKK, the Skinheads, and other hate organizations. Members of these groups feed each other’s anger. And that is why the resentful often appear unreasonable. They are addicted to their bitterness. They don’t want to surrender their anger, for to do so would be to surrender their reason to live.
Take bigotry from the racist, and what does he have left? Remove revenge from the heart of the zealot, and her life is empty. Extract chauvinism from the radical sexist, and what remains?
Resentment is like cocaine in another way, too. Cocaine can kill the addict. And anger can kill the angry.
It can kill physically. Chronic anger has been linked with elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other deadly conditions. It can kill emotionally, in that it can raise anxiety levels and lead to depression.1
And it can be spiritually fatal, too. It shrivels the soul.
Hatred is the rabid dog that turns on its owner. Revenge is the raging fire that consumes the arsonist. Bitterness is the trap that snares the hunter.
And mercy is the choice that can set them all free.
“Blessed are the merciful,” said Jesus on the mountain. Those who are merciful to others are the ones who are truly blessed. Why? Jesus answered the question: “. . . they will be shown mercy.
The merciful, says Jesus, are shown mercy. They witness grace. They are blessed because they are testimonies to a greater goodness. Forgiving others allows us to see how God has forgiven us. The dynamic of giving grace is the key to understanding grace, for it is when we forgive others that we begin to feel what God feels.
Jesus told the story of a king who decided to close out all his accounts with those who worked for him.2 He called in his debtors and told them to pay. One man owed an amount too great to return—a debt that could never be repaid. But when the king saw the man and heard his story, his heart went out to him, and he erased the debt.
As the man was leaving the palace grounds, he encountered a fellow employee who owed him a small sum. He grabbed the debtor and choked him, demanding payment. When the fellow begged for mercy, no mercy was granted. Instead, the one who had just been forgiven had his debtor thrown into jail.
When word of this got to the king, he became livid. And Jesus says, “In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.”3
Could someone actually be forgiven a debt of millions and be unable to forgive a debt of hundreds? Could a person be set free and then imprison another?
You don’t have to be a theologian to answer those questions; you only have to look in the mirror. Who among us has not begged God for mercy on Sunday and then demanded justice on Monday? Who hasn’t served as a bottleneck instead of a conduit of God’s love? Is there anyone who doesn’t, at one time or the other, “show contempt for the riches of his [God’s] kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance?”4
Notice what God does when we calibrate our compassion. He turns us over to be tortured. Tortured by anger. Choked by bitterness. Consumed by revenge.
Such is the punishment for one who tastes God’s grace but refuses to share it.
But for the one who tastes God’s grace and then gives it to others, the reward is a blessed liberation. The prison door is thrown open, and the prisoner set free is yourself.
Earlier in the book I mentioned Daniel, a dear friend of mine in Brazil. (Daniel was the one who took me to meet Anibal in prison.)
Daniel is big. He used to make his living by lifting weights and teaching others to do the same. His scrapbook is colorful with ribbons and photos of him in his primes striking the muscle-man pose and flexing the bulging arms.
The only thing bigger than Daniel’s biceps is his heart. Let me tell you about a time his heart became tender.
Daniel was living in the southern city of Porto Alegre. He worked at a gym and dreamed of owning his own. The bank agreed to finance the purchase if he could find someone to co-sign the note. His brother agreed.
They filled out all the applications and awaited the approval. Everything went smoothly, and Daniel soon received a call from the bank telling him he could come and pick up the check. As soon as he got off work, he went to the bank.
When the loan officer saw Daniel, he looked surprised and asked Daniel why he had come.
“To pick up the check,” Daniel explained.
“That’s funny,” responded the banker. “Your brother was in here earlier. He picked up the money and used it to retire the mortgage on his house.”
Daniel was incensed. He never dreamed his own brother would trick him like that. He stormed over to his brother’s house and pounded on the door. The brother answered the door with his daughter in his arms. He knew Daniel wouldn’t hit him if he was holding a child.
He was right. Daniel didn’t hit him. But he promised his brother that if he ever saw him again he would break his neck.
Daniel went home, his big heart bruised and ravaged by the trickery of his brother. He had no other choice but to go back to the gym and work to pay off the debt.
A few months later, Daniel met a young American missionary named Allen Dutton. Allen befriended Daniel and taught him about Jesus Christ. Daniel and his wife soon became Christians and devoted disciples.
But though Daniel had been forgiven so much, he still found it impossible to forgive his brother. The wound was deep. The pot of revenge still simmered. He didn’t see his brother for two years. Daniel couldn’t bring himself to look into the face of the one who had betrayed him. And his brother liked his own face too much to let Daniel see it.
But an encounter was inevitable. Both knew they would eventually run into each other. And neither knew what would happen then.
The encounter occurred one day on a busy avenue. Let Daniel tell you in his own words what happened:
I saw him, but he didn’t see me. I felt my fists clench and my face get hot. My initial impulse was to grab him around the throat and choke the life out of him.
But as I looked into his face, my anger began to melt. For as I saw him, I saw the image of my father. I saw my father’s eyes. I saw my father’s look. I saw my father’s expression. And as I saw my father in his face, my enemy once again became my brother.
Daniel walked toward him. The brother stopped, turned, and started to run, but he was too slow. Daniel reached out and grabbed his shoulder. The brother winced, expecting the worst. But rather than have his throat squeezed by Daniel’s hands, he found himself hugged by Daniel’s big arms. And the two brothers stood in the middle of the river of people and wept.
Daniel’s words are worth repeating: “When I saw the image of my father in his face, my enemy became my brother.”
Seeing the father’s image in the face of the enemy. Try that. The next time you see or think of the one who broke your heart, look twice. As you look at his face, look also for his face—the face of the One who forgave you. Look into the eyes of the King who wept when you pleaded for mercy. Look into the face of the Father who gave you grace when no one else gave you a chance. Find the face of the God who forgives in the face of your enemy. And then, because God has forgiven you more than you’ll ever be called on to forgive in another, set your enemy—and yourself—free.
And allow the hole in your heart to heal. (109-119)
1. Archibald Hart, The Hidden Link between Adrenaline and Stress (Waco, TX: Word, 1986), 101, 142—45.
2. Matthew 18:21—35.
3. Matthew 18:34.
4. Romans 2:4.