“I worry about fast forgivers. They tend to forgive quickly in order to avoid their pain. Or they forgive fast in order to get an advantage over the people they forgive. And their instant forgiving only makes things worse…People who have been wronged badly and wounded deeply should give themselves time and space before they forgive…There is a right moment to forgive. We cannot predict it in advance; we can only get ourselves ready for it when it arrives…Don’t do it quickly, but don’t wait too long…If we wait too long to forgive, our rage settles in and claims squatter’s rights to our souls.” – Lewis Smedes

Forgiveness is the only way forward.  In a world such as ours with so much violence and wrong-doing, there is no other way forward.  When I was a young man, I spent a lifetime in Lebanon as it tore itself apart in 1983-84.  I remember asking a local man why they were fighting.  He took me by the hand and led me to an old swimming pool.  He told me that that was where “they” had machine-gunned his family.  He told me he lived only for the opportunity to exact revenge.  He wanted the chance to destroy their village – to kill them all.  I didn’t correct him.  I don’t correct grief.  But I thought to myself that if the remedy for his pain at the loss of his family was the visitation of a greater pain by the annihilation of their village, what would be the remedy for that pain? Would two villages suffice? When does that end? In whose swimming pool does that end, and how much blood will it take to fill it up? He spoke as if he held vengeance on a taut leash as a beast at his heel and his command, waiting for the moment he had prayed for when he would let go of the leash and sic the beast upon his enemies.

I hear the chuckle of the same dark spirit when I hear about how two or three young people were gunned down on our streets in revenge for a gang-related shooting the night before. Sometimes I even know them. No one ever really remembers how these things start.  But with hate dancing across their eyes, they can show you the place where “they” did them wrong.  A young man showed me the place where he was shot…a porch on a slum street. The wounds left him in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down.   He told me he knows the man who did it.  I asked him why he hadn’t turned the man in.  With a mocking look, he only smiled at me. I fully understood his meaning.  How much blood will it take to heal that wound?  When he gets his revenge, will that make him walk again? And with that new wound inflicted in vengeance on some day yet to come, how many mocking looks will cross how many faces of that man’s family members as they tell someone where “they” had done them wrong and are asked why they haven’t turned in the shooter?

And what of the little terrors…the less bloody betrayals and hurts? What of those? I hear the cackle of the beast of vengeance in the muttered hatred between ex-spouses fighting over custody rights.  I hear its mockery in the curses of the worker unjustly fired by a boss seeking to rise on the ladder of success.  The specter of  vengeance isn’t confined to the ghetto. It doesn’t feed itself only among the poor. It prowls factories, boardrooms, and school hallways…even church aisles and fellowship halls.

Forgiveness isn’t merely an option for those seeking holiness.  It isn’t an act of naivete, either.  It is all that stands between us and chaos.  It is an act of disciplined will – an act of incredible, responsible love.  It is a cross endured for the sake of a humanity that not only will not understand, but will most likely not even notice.  It is also wisdom.  It is the realization that it is evil that perpetrates evil…a spirit at work in the world.  Forgiveness is an act of radical love…the absorption of evil and the refusal to send it back out.  Vengeance isn’t an act.  It is an entity.  The only way to stop its rampage is, when it sets itself upon us, to lay its leash in the hands of God – the only one who can control it.  As Ghandi said, “An eye for eye makes whole world blind.”



  1. Sam Said:

    Another amazing insight Brother! Where will it end without forgiveness?
    Thank you for this reminder.

  2. Tim Cox Said:

    An interesting article with some good points. But the only quote was from Ghandi? Did the Bible have nothing to say to you on this subject?

    “Forgive one another, just as in Christ God has forgiven you.” Eph 4:32. Or the parable of the unmerciful servant – who was forgiven greatly, but was unwilling to forgive even a little. Or the Lord’s Prayer?

    Does not the ultimate sacrifcial forgiveness – God coming to earth in bodily form to live the perfect life we cannot, and die the holy death so we will not – enter into the discussion of forgiveness?

    You do not speak for Christ if you do not speak of Christ.

    • Brian Said:

      Tim, I know it’s easy to jump to conclusions when all you can see is a written page. But in your response, I think you’ve made an important error (and in so doing, done wrong to a brother in Christ).

      I find the assumption troubling that in order to be able to speak truth, one must always reference scripture – or the negative side of that, if one doesn’t cite scripture one must not speak from a Christian perspective. Maybe you don’t know Max; but to suggest that he is not rooted in Christ because he chooses to reflect on forgiveness through personal stories is unfair and unfounded. I gained a lot through reading C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, which is overtly rooted in Christian theology — but Lewis nowhere cites scripture or even mentions Jesus by name (to my best knowledge).

      When Jesus taught in parables, He did not often reference the Hebrew scriptures; he trusted his audience to ruminate on the truth of the stories and the response these stories were intended to evoke – against the assumed backdrop of their knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures.

      The point I read into this blog entry is the recognition that forgiveness is not easy or cheap — but it is necessary. Sounds kind of like the cross to me.

    • Tim, you make some interesting points as well. Thank you for joining the conversation. Perhaps a good starting point for trying to respond here is to ask for some clarification. You wrote, “You do not speak for Christ if you do not speak of Christ.” We might come from different Christ-following traditions, but in our tradition, no human being has the authority or need to speak “for” Christ. As far as I know, people who come from some Catholic traditions feel that their Pope speaks for Christ. For all I know, when I stand before the Lord one day and answer for my life, God might tell me that the Pope really did speak for Christ. But the Bible teaches the rest of us lowly sinners not to makes such a claim. So I don’t. We all have one Father and one Teacher, and I am neither. I am merely a victim of the Grace of both of them.

      I do speak of my experience OF Christ. Hence, I wrote, “It is a cross endured for the sake of a humanity that not only will not understand, but will most likely not even notice.” Perhaps you missed that due to the fact that I didn’t cite it with the hundreds of Biblical references I could have used and yet didn’t feel the need to to make the point. Subtlety is not everyone’s gift, I know.

      I don’t speak FOR Christ because I believe that the only people who need anyone to speak for them are dead people or people whose powerlessness grants them no voice. I just don’t believe Jesus is dead. He speaks for himself all the time. I saw him speak to a strung-out crack prostitute just last Saturday, and hearing his voice changed her life forever. I told the woman about my experience of Jesus and how he had rescued me from hell, and I told her that if she spoke with him, maybe he could do that for her as well. She did. And he did. I have heard Jesus speak to me, and I have been changed forever. I can tell you the exact day that I came to realize that the tomb was, in fact, empty. God has never asked me, in Scripture or anywhere else, to be his “salesman”. He does ask me to tell the world of my experience of him. He asked me to be Jesus’ hands and feet. So I try to do that every day. If God does ask me to be his spokesperson, like he did Moses or Elijah (neither of which I am), I will then do my best to follow through. In the meantime, Jesus is the teacher, and I am just a fellow student.

      The living Lord, in my experience, is by no means powerless either. The Kingdom of God is not on the defensive. We do not live in an age of apologetics. Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” I don’t know about everyone (I can’t speak for them either), but I have never been attacked by a gate. The Kingdom of God is storming the gates and pulling people out of hell every day. We see it happen every week in our street ministries and our inner city missions and even right here in the neighborhood. The Kingdom of God is coming with power…real power.

      We really aren’t trying to save the saved. We aren’t trying to make sure our language matches up with the language of other people who are already saved. They’re saved already. We are trying to reach the lost as Jesus came to do, and to introduce them to the living Lord in a way that they can accept the invitation. So we try really hard to get all the religious junk out of the way…the stuff that turned the lost off to begin with – the judgmentalism, the anger, the arrogance, the hierarchies, the pettiness, the legalism. We teach our evangelists to be very aware of “Christianese” language that turns people off before we can introduce them to Christ. We don’t wear the t-shirts. We don’t use the bumper stickers. That way they can authentically meet the real living Jesus who we have met, and can be changed in the encounter.

      I care what Ghandi said even though what he said does not carry the authority of Scripture. I care because he was a “non-Christian” and a hurting human being, and that is exactly who I am trying to introduce to Christ…who is alive and speaks for himself. Ghandi also said, “I love your Jesus Christ. It is you Christians that I cannot stand.” When I stand before the Lord and answer for my life, I want to be sure I wasn’t one of those “Christians” that Ghandi was referring to who were causing him to stumble in his relationship with the Jesus Christ that he loved. It would be better for me to have a boulder tied around my neck and be thrown into the sea than to mistake my limited and human and growing theological understanding for the living Jesus and set it between the lost as if IT were Jesus. They need the real deal, not my deal.

      So I guess I am wondering what you mean when you seem to be implying that it is my role to speak FOR Christ. Maybe your tradition does empower people to speak for Christ. Could you take a moment and clarify that for me? I am still learning, and your passion for the Kingdom of God is inspiring me to want to learn more. Thank you, again, for taking the time to join the conversation. Peace.

  3. Marty Carney Said:

    Thanks, Max. Deep truth, and such a daily challenge and gift.

  4. Powerful witness to our need for G-d’s forgiveness of our own brokenness and the wounds we’ve caused.

  5. Sam Said:

    Powerful stuff – forgiveness is one of those things like apple pie – you love it in the abstract but it is hard but well worth the journey to experience in the day to day. Thanks for sharing the stories and making forgivenss real. I think it might have been Christ who made it real.

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