Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. – Matthew 5:44
In their remarkably sensitive and insightful book, The Wounded Heart, the authors make an extraordinary claim. In fact, when I first read it, I didn’t think it was merely extraordinary. I thought it was crazy, offensive, and wrong. After reading the book, I believe they are right.
Their assertion had to do with the need for forgiveness of the one who has been a victim (!) of abuse. I hesitate even to write those words because they are so extraordinarily countercultural, and counterintuitive. The abuser needs forgiveness, not the abused! But Allender and Lee-Thorp unfold the need for the grace and healing of God in the heart of one who has been abused which comes from forgiveness.
The need for forgiveness has nothing to do with causing the abuser to abuse the victim. It has nothing to do with the abuse being the victim’s fault. It has everything to do with the way our hearts naturally protect themselves. It has to do with loss of hope. It has to do with our imperfect faith and our fallen nature.
We don’t forgive like Jesus did. He forgave those who were nailing him to the cross. But we can’t just claim, “Oh well, I’m not Jesus. He could forgive his abusers. But I won’t.” The example of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, helps ground us. Stephen – a mortal sinner like you and me – forgave those who put him to death! We don’t have a pass here.
That’s where our own need for – and God’s gift of – forgiveness comes in. We need forgiveness desperately. God gives it freely. Let that soak in. Whatever dark secret lurks accusingly in your soul, God shines the light of his grace and love to banish it. Whatever scar might have been inflicted on you, the balm of Gillead soothes and heals.
The highest act of Christian love is to forgive someone. It may be the most difficult, but it will also be the most impactful. It lays a path for reconciliation. It opens the floodgates of our true baptismal identity. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. He prayed for his enemies and forgave them. We show our true identity in Christ whenever we do the same.