It will happen sooner or later. Somebody we know, and trust, will mess up. They’ll fall short of an acceptable standard of conduct and thrust those of us who know them into the fray. What will we do?
I suppose our natural reaction when somebody messes up is to pile up. We say, “I knew this was going to happen,” or “There was something about him that made him suspect to me.” However, when we do this we most often compound the guilt of the stumbler and we abdicate our Christian responsibility to be a healer.
In making such post-mortems about brothers and sisters who fail we find we’re living a contradiction. How can we sincerely pray the Lord’s Prayer if we’re not forgiving people? We pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And remember Jesus gave a pretty disturbing footnote at the end of the prayer emphasizing that lack of forgiveness means we have no right to expect God’s forgiveness in our lives.
The Bible reminds us that the process of forgiveness began with God. He trampled our sins beneath his feet and hurled them into the deepest ocean (Micah 7:19). Then he exhorts us to forgive ourselves, refusing to wrap ourselves in a blanket of self-loathing, and then to offer forgiveness to others.
Timothy Pickering rose in rank to general in the Revolutionary War. He went on to serve three cabinet positions under Presidents Washington and Adams until Adams fired him. David McCullough in his excellent “John Adams” wrote a memorable phrase: “Adams and Pickering hate each other with the utmost cordiality.”
When I read that phrase I thought, that’s how we do it in church! We harbor animosity in our hearts toward our spiritual family, but we do it cordially. We smile sweetly when we pass them in the hallway!
Years ago, I was driving home from a trip and decided to stop for my next scheduled oil change at a tire store I frequented. En route home the check engine light came on and the engine died. Literally. The technician failed to tighten the oil filter and all the oil spilled out on the drive home. The car was useless and the company had to rebuild my engine.
Just as oil prevents friction in the car engine, so forgiveness prevents friction in our spiritual family. We’re human, and we often do things we shouldn’t or say things we shouldn’t. Friction occurs. The oil of forgiveness helps keep relationships intact.
Members of Christian congregations have a responsibility to heed the admonition of the psalmist: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).