love and forgiveness, how to stop suffering, how forgiveness can ease the pain, learning to let go, Ho'oponopono, release, allowing, detachment, attachment, emotions, identity, learning to love, loving myself, loving others

Love and forgiveness: how to stop suffering

The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.

John Greene

As a child, growing up in a Christian environment, I was told to forgive and forget, the same way that God forgave and put our sins on the other side of the ocean. I was told to turn the other cheek and to pray for those who might persecute or mock me.

Be a proud martyr.

Unfortunately, the way I was taught forgiveness did not do me very many favours! It built and perpetrated many misconceptions of what forgiveness was, without in any way stopping the suffering! In fact, we were taught suffering was necessary. It was good.

It was proof of our faith – that your joy may be complete.

Yeah, right.

Some joy.

How I wish Christians would do a better job of teaching forgiveness and everything that it means!

What verses were used?

The following are two of the most common verses I heard as a child regarding forgiveness:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

Matthew 6:14 (NIV)

If you don’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven. So, now, I made him tell you he’s sorry and you have to say “I forgive you”. Of course, if we didn’t say “I’m sorry” we would have received a paddling. And if we didn’t say “I forgive you” we would equally have received a paddling.

I know they did it with the best of intentions. But this is no way to teach forgiveness! We went through the motions to avoid the physical consequences. I was no more forgiving than the other child was sorry.

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

Misconceptions of forgiveness & love

The way that I was taught forgiveness created several erroneous beliefs around the effect of forgiveness. These were reinforced through social norms and adult behaviours.

I know, they had good intentions. But good intentions pave the road to… well, suffering.

For example, as a kid, we were forced to reconcile with another kid – at least on the outside, going through the motions. I can tell you this strips all your power away. You are instructed to kiss and make up, by adults with authority to make you do so. And then you are forced to have a relationship with this person that hurt you, with disregard for how you might have felt about it.

But this doesn’t teach you how to handle and deal with the emotions that go with forgiveness. As you get older, you try to reason away the pain. I can’t count the times I told myself “I shouldn’t feel this way.” You still feel the anger, sadness and hurt, but now you stuff it down, rather than releasing it because it’s not supposed to be there!

So often I felt worse and hypocritical because forgiveness didn’t work.

Myth: Forgive, and everything goes back to how it was

My experience, even now with having learnt how to forgive, is that things never go back to how they were. When trust is broken, it has to be rebuilt. It doesn’t magically reappear.

Forgiveness does not rebuild trust or magically rebuild relationships. The best apology is changed behaviour.

Myth: Forgiveness means there are no consequences

Another way that we were dis-empowered as children were that when we forgave, we were expected to relinquish any hope of seeing justice. Forgiveness meant that the other got off “scot-free“, excusing whatever actions they had done.

So, for example, in the cases of child abuse, we were expected to forgive an abuser and then not request that any further action be taken. Otherwise, we hadn’t truly forgiven.

Myth: Forgiveness means you can’t have boundaries

One of my hardest life lessons as an adult has been developing healthy boundaries in relationships. I never learnt how to say “this treatment is unacceptable”. If someone mistreated us, we were expected to forgive them.

And then turn the other cheek.

How many battered women are told to forgive their husbands, and go back into a situation of domestic violence, only to have the cycle repeated?

Obviously, we weren’t praying hard enough. (Sorry – not sorry, every once in a while my sarcasm slips in).

Learning forgiveness through Ho’oponopono

As unusual as it might seem, I finally learnt forgiveness through the Huna practice of Ho’oponopono. Many people know this as a simple meditative practice of mantras:

I love you.
I’m sorry.
Please forgive me.
Thank you.

Ho’oponopono prayer mantra

For months, this was all I did: repeating this mantra over and over. With time, however, I changed. I began to understand it differently.

The Huna practice says that whatever comes into your awareness you are responsible for. You are 100% accountable for everything that happens in the world around – as you are part of the problem.

100% responsible

So, you hear on the news that someone was murdered last night – that’s on you. You read in the newspaper that a drunk driver hit a car and killed a family, that’s your responsibility too. Your grandfather beat a man within an inch of his life before you were born: that was you as well.

Everything is connected to everything. That flap of a butterflies wings in Africa that starts the hurricane that hits the Caribbean and then the East Coast of Georgia. It is all connected.

We are all connected.

The anger I feel in my heart and life is merely a connection to the anger that any other person in the world is feeling. The hatred and discrimination that I feel towards any set of people on earth feed hatred in the world. The carelessness that I show when driving feeds the negligence of that young driver that ploughs into the back of another car.

  • If I want less anger in the world: I have to stop contributing to the energy of anger.
  • If I want less bigotry and hatred towards me and “my people”, I must release and relinquish all prejudice and disgust I feel towards any others, so that there is less of it in the world!
  • If I want less carelessness on the streets, I must become present and aware at all times.
  • If I want more understanding in the world and compassion, I must be understanding and compassionate.

In any situation where there is anger, violence or hurt, there is a role that I have played. And I am 100% responsible for my part in perpetuating the violence – whether it is mental, physical, emotional or spiritual abuse!

Learning to break the cycle through forgiveness & compassion

This has not been a comfortable journey, much less one without relapses. I always find myself doing the inner work, recognising what I have overlooked.

Whatever I notice and see in the world around me is simply a call to look within and see how that is reflected in who I am and how I have expressed myself in the world.

An example of forgiveness in action:

Let’s say that a distracted driver caused an accident.

  • How do I forgive them for the hurt and pain that they have caused?
  • How do I recognise my role in participating in this?

I start simply by acknowledging that sometimes I am a distracted driver. I have looked at my phone while driving, eaten in my car, had a sip of my coffee, handed a toy that fell on the floor to my crying toddler, and many other moments of distraction. Maybe my distraction hasn’t lead to an accident, but I also am a distracted driver.

Then, I go through the emotions, thoughts and senses in my body and mind of what is happening within me when I am distracted driving. Am I frustrated? Impatient? Anxious?

Forgiveness is not just about “being distracted while driving” – it’s about allowing yourself to be present with WHY you allowed yourself to become distracted. What was really happening at the time?

This awareness allows me to really do the work of forgiveness and release! Then I forgive myself for the frustration, the impatience, the anxiety. I take the time to release those emotions from my body and bring myself back to love and compassion.

When I turn my attention to the distracted driver, it’s easy to forgive. I can feel empathy and compassion. I can experience the pain and suffering without allowing it to overwhelm me.

Because while I cannot change the world or any other person, I can change how I interact with the world. As I become aware of a situation and how I have participated in this in the world, I can practice forgiveness and release.

Forgiveness starts and ends with forgiving myself

Ho’oponopono practice has taught me that forgiveness is never actually about the other person! When I fail to forgive, my burden is pain and blame.

As I walk around carrying blame towards another, saying that I am the victim, I dis-empower myself. I continue, long after the event is finished, to give that person and the hurt that they caused me, power over my life. You might even say I give them greater importance than I have. They rule my life, my thoughts and my memories.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and realise that prisoner was you.

Lewis B. Smedes

Forgiveness allows me to reclaim my power – to accept that I gave it away and forgive myself for having done so. Many times, forgiveness means to forgive me for having carried the burden for so long, rather than leaving on the roadside years ago.

Only as I begin to love myself do I begin to see that forgiveness is the only way to end my own suffering.

  • I don’t have to “kiss-and-make-up”.
  • There is no need to accept that others mistreat me or abuse me.
  • Living as a martyr is not standing in the power of love and compassion.
  • I will probably feel pain and anger and rage and those are all valid emotions. Acknowledging them is the first step towards letting them go, rather than stuffing them down within me and trying to “hold it all together”.
  • I can ask that justice be served and that someone receive their just deserts and the consequences of their actions.

Forgiveness is leaving the burden and suffering that I carried with me by the side of the road and continuing my life journey full of compassion. It’s a choice that I have to make each day: who do I want to give the power to?

I hope that each day I can choose to give the power to Divine Love within me.

 

Generational trauma, generational curses, how to heal the past with love, using forgiveness to break the cycle, breaking the cycles, epigenetics, how trauma is passed through your genes, reap what you sow, nature or nurture, learned behaviour, mental illness, depression, stress, anxiety, low cortisol levels, insecurity, neurobiology, the sins of the fathers, acknowledgement, awareness, acceptance, forgiveness and release, learning a new way, break the cycle, it didn't start with you, ptsd, chronic pain syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression and anxiety, neuroscience, physiological change, evolution

Generational Trauma: How to heal the past with love

I recently read and posted this comment, reflecting on how 2019 has been the best worst year of my life… or possibly the worst best year of my life. I haven’t quite made up my mind which it is!

Some of you are breaking generational curses and you don’t even know it. That’s why your attack has been so hard.

Unknown

And how it has felt like a struggle this year, but in a great way. I know I have done some deep healing work and growth, but it has also felt dark and dirty. Like weeding the garden – you get sweaty, dirty and now there’s gunk under my nails that doesn’t want to simply wash off!

Part of me, the part that grew up as a missionary kid, automatically hears in my head those verses from Exodus, Numbers & Deuteronomy:

Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me

Deuteronomy 5:9

Of course, with modern psychology and even neuroscience, we begin to understand a new application of what happens. There is nature and there is nurture – what we inherit through our genes and biologically, as well as what we learn from our parents, grandparents and community as we grow up.

Earlier this year, I was working with a few girlfriends, addressing some of those generational issues that were coming up and keeping us stuck – visiting the experiences of our parents and grandparents and forgiving them or those that had harmed them. It felt dark and intense. But very liberating as well.

Consider these 2 examples:

Case 1: 1874

In 1874, the New York State Prison Board discovered that they have 6 members of the same family locked up at the same time. Mere coincidence? Looking back, all the way to 1720, they found a town trouble-maker and his less-than-lovely wife, who had 6 daughters and two sons. From those, by 1874, they had 1200 descendants.

  • 310 were homeless
  • 180 had drug or alcohol abuse problems
  • 160 were involved in prostitution
  • 150 had spent time in prison, 7 for murder

Case #2: 1874

Nonetheless, another couple, going back to 1703 had 11 children. His name was Jonathan Edwards, and as a family man and caring for his education, he went on to be the President of Princeton University. By 1874, they had 1400 descendants.

  • 13 college presidents
  • 65 university professors
  • 100 lawyers and 32 state judges
  • 85 authors
  • 80 politicians, including 3 state governors, 3 senators, and 1 President
  • 66 doctors

Is this nature?
Is it nurture?
Or perhaps a mix of both?

generational curses, generational trauma, epigenetics

Generational trauma & the study of epigenetics

Some of the most interesting work that is being done at the moment is in epigenetics, cellular biology, and neurobiology. In mice, the effects of trauma on the DNA and gene sequencing can be seen for up to 14 generations. But, on a more tangible level, we have scientists like Dr. Rachel Yehuda, from Mt. Sinai Medical in New York, studying the effects of trauma and PTSD on the children and grandchildren of those who suffered in the holocaust. The effects of the stress and trauma can be transmitted biologically up to three generations.

Similarly, we see the effects on the human body of those who have suffered through famine or war and political unrest. Have you dug deeper into your family tree and had a good look at the biological and environmental factors that affected your childhood, your parents and your grandparents? What stories did you hear? Or perhaps, more importantly, what stories would they refuse to speak of?

We read in the Bible that we reap what we sow… but sometimes we reap what others have sowed… and worse yet, sometimes we reap what others have been the victim of! Sometimes the changes in genetic traits works in our favours, and sometimes it might be considered a flaw. We might inherit genes for strength or we might be prone to certain syndromes or diseases.

Just remember this: when your grandmother was pregnant with your mum, you were there as an embryo experiencing the world. Of course, biology allows us to know that at the moment of inception, a “cleaning” takes place, which for the most part should take care of most of those “anomalies”. But that’s not always the case.

The vestiges of the US Civil War

Furthermore, as studies of the sons of men from the Civil War exhibited, there are also experiences that were specifically transferred down through the Y chromosome (only to the sons and not to the daughters). Whether it was the stress or the malnutrition that the father’s suffered is not yet known, but without a doubt, the sons of those who had been in prison camps died younger than those who were not prisoners.

Without a doubt, trauma in previous generations can alter genes and their expression in future generations. The reason (the story) for the trauma gets lots, but the behaviours and the symptoms are passed down. Our bodies, in order to manage stress, make a physiological change. Unfortunately, when the conditions for the next generation are not the same, these changes may not be for their benefit. But the evolution has occurred.

Nurture – the cycles of behaviour we learn

The same way that part of the trauma is stored and handled genetically, there are also many coping mechanisms that are behaviour and habits. Dysfunctional families breed dysfunctional adults. We are the product of our childhood upbringing and our socialisation.

So, even when there were experiences we had as a child – behaviour and responses that we swore we would never repeat when we had children of our own – unless we have done the healing work, we will run down the easiest neural pathway to the very same response. Whether we like it or not, how we were raised shapes our reactions, responses and attitudes.

  • Children raised in abusive homes learn that violence is an effective way to resolve conflict.
  • Boys who witness domestic violence are three times more likely to become batterers.
  • Children of alcoholics have a fourfold risk of becoming an alcoholic than someone who comes from a family of non-alcoholics.

You learned so much by simply watching others – even unconsciously:

  • how to eat
  • how to cope with stress
  • how to do marriage or relationships
  • what to do with your anger.

Have you taken the time to give serious thought to your life generationally?

The trauma embedded in your family line

Take a moment to look at yourself, your parents and your grandparents. Look wider at your cousins, aunties and uncles. What do you see of:

  • mental illness
  • drug addiction or substance abuse
  • codependency or enabling
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • stress
  • anger

When you see it all – as a single, big picture – can you get an idea of the importance of breaking the cycle?

If you were to shake the family tree – what skeletons fall out? What is hiding in the closets?

If you don’t deal with

  • the weight and obesity issue;
  • the debt and overspending;
  • anxiety and stress;
  • anger;
  • depression;
  • insecurity; or
  • drug addiction and substance abuse,

Those very same issues will be for your children to handle. They will face the same patterns and choices.

The traumas that are not healed in your generation will be for the next generation to heal and work through.

The path of healing

So, how do we get there? If you want for the buck to stop here – how do you make sure that you are the generation that changes the situation for the future?

Acknowledgement and awareness

It all starts with awareness. You cannot teach what you don’t know – so first, you have to become aware. This comes from evaluating your thoughts and feelings. It also comes from educating yourself – through personal development and self-improvement.

Through looking at what you want to be and then measuring yourself up to that model. For me, I would like to be able to say I am compassionate, creative and courageous. How do I measure up to this standard? I recently wrote about being an angry woman, and the healing that has to happen as I work my way through that!

what I know, I know that I know, what I don't know, learning and growth

Acceptance & ownership

Unfortunately, what you resist, persists. When you fail to acknowledge those thoughts and feelings – “I shouldn’t feel this way” and “I shouldn’t be thinking that”, you cannot change the pattern.

After the awareness, you have to own it – as yours. “This is what I feel”. You don’t have to agree with it or like it. Once you’ve swallowed it down and allowed yourself to digest it, then you can do something with it.

Just take ownership – “These are my thoughts, feelings and actions – and because they are mine, they are mine to change!”

Be the one in your family that was brave enough to do the dirty work of cleansing and healing!

Using forgiveness and release

When we go back to the root of the issue, we go back to that event in the past, and have a new experience of it with forgiveness and releasing the past. You will need a powerful experience to release the trauma, to override the trauma response in you.

When I was doing some of this work earlier this year, I came face-to-face with one of my survival mechanisms. When I feel attacked, I want to shoot someone. Now, to my rational mind, that makes absolutely no sense. I obviously don’t want to shoot someone. How could I possibly want to do that?

But my first thoughts always turn to “just shoot them down”. Sometimes I would literally do it verbally – destroy them with my tongue. But in my mind, the image I had included guns.

When I went into the forgiveness work with Sarah and Sharon, I realised my granddad was a rear gunner (or tail gunner) in WWII. If you know anything about that, it was the least likely position to survive.

This is what the tail of a Lancaster bomber could look like upon arriving home:

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/2d/a0/36/2da0369c0180b821c83f3449ee194614–bombers-air-force.jpg

But my granddad did survive and came home. He never – that I ever remember – spoke about his days in the war. He would remember his pilot and members of his crew fondly, but never told a single war story that I will ever recall. And as I did the work with Sharon & Sarah, I realised how good he must have been as a gunner to have survived so many battles. How many planes did he shoot down, so that he and his crew could make it back alive? He must have been a really good shot to have made it out alive.

Wellington Bomber, rear gunner
This is the kind of plane he flew in (photo of a print I have on my wall)

I sat with that deep sadness and guilt. And I realised why my survival instinct was “let’s just shoot them down”, but I’m not in that position.

I don’t actually need to shoot anyone down in order to survive:
Not with my mouth.
Not in my thoughts.

In my world, I can choose to be kind and compassionate.

So, I worked through forgiving the powers that were that started the war and put my granddad in a position where he had to shoot others down in order to survive. I forgave my granddad for all those people whose lives he’d taken in order to get home to my grandmother and mum alive. And I forgave myself for those crazy, irrational thoughts that I had carried around in my head for as long as I could remember, recognising them for what they were.

I then finally able to forgive myself for all the times I had shot others down with my tongue, tearing them apart with my words.

Yesterday, I discovered that a guy called Mark Wolynn has written a book called “It didn’t start with you: how inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle“. I’m definitely adding that to my reading list for January! Maybe I’m already doing the work – but perhaps there’s so much more that I could be doing.

Learning a new way

Breaking the cycle of generational trauma starts with acknowledging that you have a choice. That in that space that exists between stimulus and response, you can breathe. That space is yours.

It takes practice. You will need patience and understanding. Show yourself some compassion and mercy, because there will be mistakes along the way.

But you can – single-handedly – break this cycle, one decision at a time. You can choose what tools and support you need. Perhaps you need faith and a spiritual understanding, to reach out to a friend, a coach or a mentor, and in some cases, you might even need therapy.

But each day is a choice that allows the generational curses to be broken.

Because the buck stops here – in the worst best year of my life!

forgiveness, lessons in forgiveness, what if Christ had hopped down from the cross, what do we learn from jesus, Father forgive them, forgiving

What if Christ had indeed hopped down from the cross?

Opening prayer:

Almighty and Everlasting God, with Paul we pray that you would fill us with the knowledge of Your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding – that we may live a life worthy of you and in every way pleasing to you – a life in which we bear fruit in every good work, and acquire strength, endurance,  patience and a joyful heart – a heart that gives thanks to you in every situation.  We thank you for what you reveal to us through the study of Your Word as we continue in our search for the truth. That our peace may be made full. Amen.

What if Christ had indeed hopped down from the cross?

It is said that “one of the great, unique features of Christianity is that it is a religion of God coming down to us, totally unlike other religions where we have to raise ourselves up to a godly plane. Christianity is light shining in the darkness. It is not the darkness trying to become light…”

Many of us struggle with the Christian life, the whole “nailing the old self to the cross with Christ” – it is a constant battle to “Be holy, as I am holy”.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the Bible asked us to “Be self-righteous…”?  But no… we are called to be holy, to be vessels of His light, and all the while the spiritual man within us battles against “the dark side”.

Did I say I nailed my old self on the cross with Christ? Face it, while Biblically my old self is reckoned dead at Calvary, this morning, as I woke up, it reared it’s ugly head, it was still alive and kicking and in need of being nailed back on that cross again and told to “stay there”…  so that I can be a loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, and faithful Christian, filled with gentleness, humility and above all with control over myself, my mind, my emotions, my reactions, and my desires.

So, what can we learn from today’s readings?

Let’s consider Luke 23:

We all know the reading well,  Jesus at Calvary (the Skull), how He was mocked and challenged to get down off the Cross, and of those eternal words that are engraved on our hearts:  “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

This morning I want to consider the implications of “What if…”.

What if…  Christ had not said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”?

What if Christ, having said in Gethsemane “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”, had then reached the Cross and come down from it as challenged to do by the Pharisees and religious leaders, by the Roman soldiers, by the thief nailed with him?  Judgement day arrived early…

How would our Bible read today if these events were not as recorded in Luke 23?  What would it mean to be a follower of Christ, if Christ hadn’t died on that cross?  There would be no books of Acts, the Epistles… would the book of Revelations have been written?  What would have become of Peter, who denied Christ 3 times?  What would have become of doubting Thomas? Would he then have believed?

I want to start by looking at our concept of forgiveness, and the influence that Christ’s forgiveness, right at that crucial moment has on us:  How would you interpret Isaiah 38:17 “…in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.”, if Jesus hadn’t died on the cross?  How far behind God’s back would you say He had cast your sins?  Would you really believe that God was a forgiving God; that He forgives and forgets?

If Christ had been silent at that moment, I could say, “I’m not making amends, It’s her fault, she has to say sorry first”, or  “I’m the one that’s hurt and offended, I’m the victim here, Why do I always have to be the one to say Sorry and I forgive you?”.

But no, Jesus had to go and ruin it all for us, and put the bar very, very high… No arrogance. No pride. No bitterness.  Just forgiveness.  An outpouring of love.

When you look at the gospels, Jesus was always preaching forgiveness:  to the paralytic Jesus said “Friend, your sins are forgiven you”; to the woman caught in adultery: “woman, your sins are forgiven”; in prayer: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

Daniel 9:9 tells us “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him”.  What kind of merciful and forgiving God would you believe in, if not for the example of Christ?  Psalms 103:12 “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

In Matthew 18:22 Christ responds to Peter when asked about forgiveness: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”  So, when another person offends us, we are to forgive that person for that one offence 490 times (in a single day), and if today he repeats the office, I have to forgive him once more 490 times.  It’s a state of being, not an action. Not something I say.

My perception of what forgiveness is has been shaped by Christ’s forgiveness on the cross. His compassion.  His empathy.  His understanding.

Christ could see that the soldiers were following orders; they didn’t know who he was or what he was; trained to survive wherever they were stationed.

Christ saw Pharisees and Scribes that had spent years studying “the Law”, but that never allowed the law to change them on the inside.  They had head knowledge, but no heart knowledge.  And even though they had orchestrated his death, he still felt compassion for them.  He was able to look further than what they were doing to him right at that moment in time… He was clear about God’s will and his role in fulfilling it.

Christ saw a thief and murderer who was scared, who was hardened by the life he had chosen, … and who would use bravado to cover his fear. That like a dog that is backed into a corner, will lash out and attack another, rather than show how vulnerable he really is.

And Christ forgave.

Without this moment, without this event, we would never have had Acts 7:60 (Stephen, being stoned): “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  Where would Stephen have learnt this kind of forgiveness, if not from Christ?  And the apostle Paul, that day a young Pharisee looking on and approving the stoning, holding the coats of those killing Stephen, what would have become of him?  There would have been no apostle Paul if there was not Christ dying on the cross.

Would we (gentiles) have the news of the gospel of Christ if Stephen had not been stoned to death and been able to forgive those that were doing so?  Would salvation have only been, then, for the Jews?  Without the Apostle Paul, what New Testament Epistles would we have?  What would replace: Ephesians 4: 31-32: 31 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  What would become of Colossians 3:13 “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Matthew 6:14-15 tells us: “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.”  Mark 11:25 “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Where would we be without Hebrews 12: 14 and 15? “14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, … 15 Looking diligently … lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you…” If I fail to forgive, bitterness will take root in my heart…

When we withhold forgiveness, we imprison ourselves.  Jesus understood the power of forgiveness: it frees me and the person that I have forgiven.  Forgiveness: in Greek, the power to loose, to free, to cast off chains.

Philip Yancy tells of an immigrant rabbi: “Before coming to America, I had to forgive Adolf Hitler”.  “Why?”  you might ask. The rabbi went on: “I did not want to bring Hitler inside me to my new country.”

When I fail to forgive, I carry that person (and the bitterness) inside me.  I build the walls of my own prison.  And so today, I am thankful to Christ for His forgiveness.

But what if…  Christ had hopped down from the Cross that day, if he had given the Roman soldiers and the Pharisees “what for…”, what religion would we have today?  What of… bowing to God’s will and counting the cost?

Mark 8:34 and Matthew 16:24 tell us “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”  What would that mean to you today, if Christ had hopped down from the cross on that day and demonstrated his power?

What would have happened to the veil in the temple, hiding the holy of holies from the human eye?  Would it have been ripped in two that day?  Would we believe in direct access to God, or burnt sacrifices, incense and offering atonement for sins?  Or would that just be for the children of Israel, with all of us living with our pagan beliefs?  Would we believe in a loving and forgiving God, that is holy and found the way to reconcile us to Himself?

Without Luke 23: 33-43 there would be no book of Philippians, chapter 2, verses 5 to 8:  Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:  Who, … made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, … he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

What if, instead of that, we had Christ on the cross saying: “ok, cut the crap! I am here to enforce God’s will and deliverance!  You think you’re big strong soldiers? You think your swords and spears scare me?  You have no authority over me.  You don’t REALLY think you can kill me do you?  Let me show you who’s really Boss…” Would lightning have sprung from the sky?  Would the angels have slain all present?  Would Christ have judged all those that deserved judgment? Think of the implications:  No more Pharisees, no more Roman invasion of Israel… no more freedom from sin through that blood sacrifice.

So… Why doesn’t Jesus save himself? He can raise the dead, walk on water, heal the sick, turn water into wine… Why not jump down? Jesus wasn’t a miracle worker. He’s not an entertainer; He wasn’t here to amuse and amaze.

Remember Luke 4:9-13? Then the devil took (Jesus) to Jerusalem, and placed him on a high pinnacle of the temple saying, “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: ‘He will command his angels, concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’  Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’

If … you are who you say you are… If… you are the Son of God… If you have the power…  and yet, Jesus rejects this temptation.

What does it mean to believe in a Saviour who doesn’t save himself?

I would like to have a saviour who would come to the rescue, kill the bad guys, cure the disease, end the injustice, and solve every painful circumstance. But salvation is not an event – it’s not a miracle that rescues us from pain.

Salvation is about re-establishing our relationship with God, about becoming a vessel of light.  It has nothing to do with the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  Am I sitting in fields of green, surrounded by sunshine and happiness? Great! But how’s my faith?  Am I suffering from the death of a loved one, the prolonged illness of a parent or child?  Terrible… but how is my relationship with the Everlasting?

Is there commitment? – founded on the hope, wholeness and well-being that comes from being grounded in my faith. Jesus was here to show us the way to a relationship with God, a relationship that endures, survives and persists through all the ups and downs of my changing circumstances.

It wasn’t about power:  ¿Remember that Peter drew his sword the night before, to protect his Christ and leader?  And Jesus’ response: “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”

We often have the power to do things differently – we’re in a situation where we know we’re right, “I know someone that can make you do it”.  The nice thing about power is that when you have it, you can use it.  Or you convince others that you have it, and then you don’t actually have to use it.  But if someone isn’t convinced that you really have the power, that you really can make them minced meat, then sometimes we feel “forced” to show our hand, just to shut them up.

If Christ had not obeyed God’s will on that day, would my obedience to God be optional?  Is it convenient? Do I feel like it? Is the cost too high?  Can I stay in my comfort zone?

To be followers of Christ means that we deny ourselves, we obey God’s commands, even when it’s to our detriment, when the personal cost to ourselves is high.

We who follow Christ are the difference in the world:  the ones that kneel down and wash another’s feet.  We cannot discriminate.  We are no longer to follow our every whim and addiction, living capriciously or aimlessly.  We are to care for those less fortunate than ourselves, with generosity of spirit for all.

As a follower of Christ, we forgive the drunk driver who killed our son or daughter in a hit and run accident (and we pray for him); we forgive our sister for those bitter and twisted words that she said in a moment of anger and pain, we have empathy and do not hold it against her; we forgive the boss that curses us and take a moment to say a prayer for him and his family.

We read in Jeremiah that God promises to gather together the remnant of His flock, to raise shepherds over them, that we should fear no longer, or be dismayed or have anything missing.  This deliverance: YHWH Tsidkenu – the Lord is our righteousness.  Righteousness, when it refers to God, speaks to His nature, the saving and healing activity of God.  God shows His righteousness by making us whole, by forgiving us, keeping His promises to us.   The true purpose of our liberation and our freedom is to worship and serve God without fear.

Colossians reminds us that we are to be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, prepared to endure everything with patience (even when it’s unjust mocking and abuse), while joyfully giving thanks to our everlasting, ever loving Creator.  We are to share in the inheritance of saints in the light – allowing the light to shine through us, remembering that our God has rescued us from the darkness, that we have redemption and the forgiveness of sin.

Jehovah Tsidkenu, before all things, is our source of healing and empowerment.  We are not expected to do it on our own.

Our joy is not the power of influence and control, but the power of love that flows brings transformation.  Love lies at the heart of the universe and is God’s wisdom and will.  And that is what we see when we visualise Jesus hung on the cross between two thieves, being mocked by the soldiers, by the religious leaders, by the thief at his side.

We see that Jesus, the one that could forgive; He gives us the hope of our salvation and freedom from the chains of bitterness, envy, pride, arguing, hatred and strife.  Freedom from the darkness within us… to be vessels of light… and for this we are thankful.