thirty biblical reasons to vote democratic in 2020: #5 Forgiveness

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” — Colossians 3:13 (NLT)

Ah, sweet forgiveness…

Hundreds (thousands?) of books have been written on forgiving, so how can I write just one small blog post about it? I can’t and I won’t even try. But I will show you the photograph that graced the bulletin board over my desk for three years.

Imagine the anger and the hatred that would disappear from this president if he would only forgive those he holds a grudge against. In my kinder moments, I feel sorry for him–indeed, for anyone who can’t forgive. It is a radical act, against all our selfish instincts for survival, yet it sets us so free. No longer a prisoner of our bitterness and resentment, forgiving allows us to love again.

And here’s a freebie verse: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven…” — Luke 6:37 (ESV)

And that is a segue into tomorrow’s final verse of this series–Colossians 3:14.

 

Walls or Bridges?

I used to tell a story in my days working in libraries with kids, and its been on my mind lately. I know reading is not the same as hearing, but do your best to hear it being told…

Once upon a time there were two neighbors who were also farmers and friends. They’d been all three for almost forty years. Trading stories, tools, helping each other put up hay–all the things that farmers, neighbors, and friends do for each other.

And then one day they had a falling out. Oh, it was over something stupid, like Paul lost Joe’s favorite hay rake; or Joe called Paul a name in jest and Paul took it wrong. What they argued about doesn’t really matter because the next day Paul took his tractor and dug a big ditch between the two men’s properties. Water from the top of the hill searched out the ditch and now a decent-sized creek was the boundary line between the two farms, when before, there had been none.

There was a terrible silence between the two men for weeks.

One day Joe looked up from working in the barn to see a man standing in the doorway. He was carrying a wooden tool box that was well filled with awls, rasps, screws, and nails. He had two saws in a pack on his back. “G’mornin,” he said with an easy smile. “Got any projects you need done or things you might need fixin’?”

Joe thought a bit and then smiled back. “You’ve come at a good time. Follow me.” Joe led the carpenter down to the rushing stream. “Ya see this crick? T’wasn’t here three weeks ago. My neighbor put it in to spite me, and I’m mighty mad about the whole thing. I want you to build me a nice wall with that pile a lumber I have in the barn. And I’ll pay ya well if ya do a good job.”

The carpenter nodded. “I have just the project in mind for you. I think you’ll be pleased.”

“I have to go to town today,” Joe told the carpenter. “I can get ya more wood if you think you’ll need some.”

“I think this will be plenty,” the carpenter told him. He took his saws from his sack, spread his tools on the ground, and hurried off to haul the lumber he needed to get to work.

When Joe returned from town late in the afternoon, his jaw dropped at the sight. There across the creek was a graceful wooden bridge with sturdy railings and a deck big enough to support a tractor or a truck or a wagon. And there on the other side of the bridge was his neighbor Paul waving and smiling. He crossed the bridge and grabbed Joe’s hand, shaking it up and down with abandon. “I have to say I don’t know what possessed you to have this bridge built after these last weeks of ugliness between us, but I am so glad you did. I’ve wondered and wondered how we could ever make a bridge over what happened, and dog gone it, you went and done it. Built a bridge right over it.” He shook his head in amazement.

Joe was stunned into silence, but he had a grin smeared all over his face. “T’wasn’t me,” he finally stuttered to his friend. “It was this here carpenter gent’s work.”

They turned to look at the carpenter who was packing up his tools. Joe called to him, “Please don’t go. I got several other projects for ya — you did a fine job on this one.”

The carpenter shook his head and smiled.  He shouldered his saws, picked up his tool box, and waved at the two friends. “I can’t stay,” he told them. “I’ve got other bridges to build.” And with those last words he disappeared over the hill.

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We live in a world that builds walls, but bridge building can be done by anyone–you don’t have to be a carpenter or an engineer. What kind of bridge can you build? A footbridge? A covered bridge? Or a glorious bridge that overcomes fear and unforgiveness? Imitate the carpenter–love your neighbor and build a bridge, not a wall.

This story has been around for a long time, mostly as Author Unknown. I found it as “Old Joe and the Carpenter” in Thirty-Three Multicultural Tales to Tell by Pleasant DeSpain. Margaret Read MacDonald published a version by the same name in Peace Tales. When I searched the internet I found an original version–much longer and more colorful–as a story On the Hills and Everywhere written by Manly Wade Wellman (ca. 1956) in a book of stories called John the Balladeer.  This is my own version. 

the quality of mercy is not strained…

i have a friend who has demons in his head.

oh, you can call it whatever modern scientific terminology you want — schizophrenia, bi-polar or borderline personality disorder, or just mental illness —  but the truth is, they are demons.

they came and went. when he had wrestled them down, he was a wonderful man — a loyal friend who loved to laugh, a Jesus-lover, an i’ll-do-anything-for-you type of guy. he drove a bus full of hurting kids and loved them up every day, talking, laughing, and giving them little presents…he loved life then — God, his wife, his friends, his dog…

but when those demons were legion, he did odd things: quit his long time job because he thought no one liked him; left the church where people did love him, so he could go alone to a church where no one knew him; kept busy to the frantic pace where no one could keep up with him, just so he wouldn’t have to be still and hear the voices.

we, who don’t struggle with those kind of demons, can’t begin to fathom the darkness. so we try not to think about it.

until something unspeakable happens.

and even then, we still can’t fathom it.  over and over i think, what could i have done? what if we’d just called them that night not too long ago when we were thinking of asking them if they wanted to go to a concert with us….

instead, we went to the concert by ourselves. three days after her funeral.

i cry out to God. these were your beloved children… isn’t satan supposed to be defeated?

the sun is shining today and i am longing for rain. i can’t shake the grief.

even though i know there are others struggling just as much.

even though i know she is home with Jesus and at peace.

we are still here wondering what we could have done to keep this tragedy from happening. wondering why a just God allowed something so awful to happen. trying to find something that will ease the pain and make it okay to walk out in the light again.

it isn’t a matter of forgiveness. i’ve forgiven him. he’s my friend.

it isn’t a matter of always expecting blessings. i don’t. i’ve lived with sorrow, unanswered prayer, and i own plenty of sins.

aren’t we all just one cracked neuron short of big sin?

but grace…

because of grace i don’t have to worry about my own sins. for through nothing i’ve done, through grace, they’ve been wiped clean. all i had to do is believe that Jesus died for me and my record is erased. this prisoner has been set free.

so how do i pray?

the verses that usually give me comfort sound like platitudes to me.

oddly, the verses that give me the most comfort are stark:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God — Romans 3:23 

there is no one righteous, not even one — Isaiah 59:1 

the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise — Psalm 51:17.

but this one comforts me too: for I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more — Hebrews 8:12

and so i pray for mercy.

may it be so.


 

The title of this post is from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. I had to learn it in Miss Closser’s 9th grade English class. It didn’t mean much to me then. But it does now… in part it reads:

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest.
It becomes the throned monarch better than
      His crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty 
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.