The NFC North has been nicknamed the Black and Blue division, because whenever the Bears, Vikings, or Packers face off against each other (sadly the Lions really don’t compete), both teams leave bloody and bruised. If forgiveness played football, it’d play in the Black and Blue division.
The idea of forgiveness is prevalent in most religions. A Buddhist proverb demonstrates it well. Two men are finally released from prison after being wrongly convicted. The first prisoner says he has forgiven his captors and plans to go back to his life. The second scoffs at that idea, vowing to hate them until the day he dies. The first man looks on in confusion, and finally realizes the second man is still being held captive by their wardens.
And there’s a lot of truth there. When we hold on to hate and bitterness for those who have wronged us in the past, we’re still giving them power over our lives. It’s like everyday their shadow lingers over us, controlling our emotions and dictating our actions. When we let go of our hate, light spreads and burns away the shadow.
And I can get down with that, there’s no real need for me to waste emotional energy holding a grudge against the kid who picked on me in fourth grade.
However, the type of forgiveness Christ advocated goes far beyond merely letting go of past insults and then moving on with our lives, separate from the offender. No, his type of forgiveness is active. It’s mission is to not only let go of the hate, but to restore the relationship between offender and offended, and it’s willing to go to any length to get there. It’s why when Jesus’ disciples asked him how many times they must forgive their brother, he said “I tell you not seven times, but seventy-seven times seven.’ God’s end goal is restored relationships.
Now this doesn’t mean we’re supposed to be a doormat or let people run roughshod over us. If someone doesn’t want a relationship with us, we’re allowed to walk away. However, the door to reconciliation is supposed to remain open. So if one day there is a desire to repair the relationship, we’re called to pursue it, even though we’ll probably endure more pain in the process.
This is a whole new level of forgiveness, and quite frankly, one that has left me bloody and bruised in the past. Yet it also has the power to break down the divisions that plague our culture and our world. This type of relentless, compassionate, and long suffering forgiveness can break down political, racial, and economic walls. It brings wounded communities and broken families back together.
And ultimately, though it’s hard as hell, Christ lived this out for us. We just passed Good Friday, where we saw images of Jesus beaten down, mocked, and executed: Black and Blue division indeed. Yet that was always the plan, because through that active forgiveness, “God was reconciling the world to himself,” essentially saying, this is how far I’ll go to have a relationship with you.
So yeah, there are a bunch people I’d rather just write off, take my ball, and go home. Instead of walking off the field though, we put on our helmets and get back on the scrimmage line. Ready. Set. Forgive.