Seven of us met for the Bible Study in the maximum-security unit of the county jail. It was a different mix of guys since they alternate who gets recreation and programming time early vs. late. One of the guys was new to the unit. He was decidedly a type-A extrovert with lots of energy. He’s the kind of guy that makes coffee nervous. Some of the others had come a few times. Another man was one I’ve known for a few years but had lost track of him as he was transferred in and out of various units in the jail system.
I learned a new word a few weeks ago: precariat
It is a merging of the words precarious and proletariat. It is defined as “a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare.”
People who are in a constant state of uncertainty. That is the situation for some of these men as they await trial.
Our opening discussion was on forgiveness – what did they think about it, and how did it apply to them? Boy, did they have opinions. The opening discussion went on for 30 minutes and everyone participated.
The initial discussion was that, in general forgiving someone seemed like a good idea, but the real-life application was often more complicated.
Many agreed that holding onto hurts was like carrying around dead weight. One man described it as turning sour inside. We eventually turn bitter. In one of my favorite scenes from the TV show Cheers Woody tells Sam, “I’m not bitter, Sam. I’m just consumed by a gnawing hate that’s eating away at my gut until I taste bile in my mouth, but I’m not bitter.”
There was a lot of discussion about the benefits of forgiving someone.
Why don’t we forgive?
Then I asked them a question that caused them to pause and silently think.
“With all the benefits of forgiving someone, why don’t we forgive?”
After some time a man from the back spoke up and said, “It’s a defense mechanism. If I don’t forgive them then I’ll stay away from them and I won’t get hurt again.”
We then read our scripture:
Matthew 6:9-15 (NIV)
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
I asked if verse 15 seemed awfully harsh. They said it actually made sense. We can’t understand and appreciate what it means to be forgiven if we haven’t been willing to forgive when we have been hurt.
Truly Evil People
One of the men said that sometimes you encounter truly evil people. This is particularly true in prison, but truly evil people are also out on the streets. How are we to deal with them?
Should there be forgiveness for the sociopath?
Abusers will frequently twist the concept of forgiveness saying, “If you’ve really forgiven me then our relationship can go back to the way it was.” In this way they manipulate people into being controlled and hurt yet again.
While in many cases forgiveness may lead to a restoration of the relationship, in some cases that is not possible.
- The person you are forgiving may still be destructive and dangerous
- The person you are forgiving may be dead
Forgiving means allowing yourself to be healed of the wound. Forgiveness does not mean again handing your abuser the baseball bat they used to beat you.
Forgiveness don’t not change the other person, nor what happened in the past.
Forgiveness changes us.
Forgiveness does not change the past
Paul Boese wrote, “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”
Forgiveness means recognizing the wound is there. It takes far more courage to face our brokenness that to put on a stoic face and claim we have no wounds.
Forgiveness allows the wound, perhaps long denied, to be healed and the burden lifted.
Matthew 11:28 (NIV)
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.