By Rob Furlong
As I write this, news of the death of Tina Turner, the “Queen of Rock and Roll”, has broken. Reading through a tribute to her, I was interested to learn that she had converted to Buddhism. If you are familiar with her story, you will know that for many years she was physically and emotionally abused by her husband, Ike Turner, until she found the courage to leave and regain her life.
As with all women who have been abused, she was left with deep emotional scars and so she turned to the Buddhist faith to learn how to forgive her former husband. Despite her best intentions however, she admitted she was unable to come to the place of truly forgiving Ike.
I don’t tell this story to condemn Tina Turner or any other person who has been abused in any way – forgiveness in situations like these is an incredibly difficult and complicated process and requires thoughtful, sensitive, counsel.
We know forgiveness is essential to the peacemaking process, but we also know it is incredibly hard to extend.
Is it possible to truly forgive someone, especially the person who has deeply wounded us?
I believe it is.
Philip Yancey calls forgiveness an “unnatural act”, describing it as, “achingly difficult, and long after you’ve forgiven (the other person), the wound (they have inflicted on you) lives on in memory.”
As Yancey explains, we struggle to forgive because there is that part in us that also cries out for justice.
He quotes Helmut Thielicke, a German who lived through the Nazi years:
“We say, ‘Very well, if the other fellow is sorry and begs my pardon, then I’ll give in.’ Then I watch like a hawk to see whether the other person (gives) some small hint which shows that he is sorry. I am always on the point of forgiving…but I never forgive. I am far too just.”
While acknowledging the challenge of forgiveness, Yancey cites several reasons why we should forgive, and the most compelling one for me is this – we forgive because God forgives us!
He puts it this way:
“By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am. By forgiving, I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness to God to work out. I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.
“Though the wrong does not disappear when I forgive, it loses its grip on me and is taken over by God, who knows what to do. Such a decision involves risk, of course: the risk that God may not deal with the person as I would want.
“I never find forgiveness easy, and rarely do I find it completely satisfying. Nagging injustices remain, and the wounds still cause pain. I have to approach God again and again, yielding to Him the residue of what I thought I had committed to Him long ago. I do so because the Gospels make clear the connection: God forgives my debts as I forgive my debtors. The reverse is also true: Only by living in the stream of God’s grace will I find the strength to respond with grace toward others.”
I have found Yancey’s words and experience to be true in my own life. Someone hurts me deeply and I am inclined to rehearse what they did, rather than forgive. But as I process it in my heart, I am brought back again to the words of Jesus, who said, “Love your enemies”, and so I forgive.
And yes, there are times when I am reminded of the hurt, and it begins to surface again, and so I come to God, ask Him for His strength to forgive … and I forgive again.
I can forgive because God has forgiven me … and this can be true for you as well!●
By Rob Furlong