Dawn Smith Jordan speaks in churches sharing her tragic story. Over 30 years ago now in South Carolina, Dawn’s youngest sister, then 17, was abducted as she stopped at the mail box one day after school. The kidnapper killed Shari. To further torment the family, for about a month, the killer routinely telephoned the family until his apprehension by the authorities. The killer, Larry Gene Bell, was sentenced to death for his brutal crime. As Dawn shares her testimony, she says that she remembers thinking upon his sentencing, “Now the story is finally finished. I can attempt to rebuild my shattered life.”
A few years later, though, Dawn discovered that the story was far from finished. The point of impact came when she received a letter from her sister’s killer. Larry wrote, “Will you and your family ever forgive me for what I have done?”
How would you respond? Dawn says, “As a Christian, I knew that when somebody wrongs you, you forgive them. That’ basic knowledge. Yet, suddenly, forgiveness was a lot harder to do.”
I am gripped by Dawn’s words. Haven’t we all felt that way? It’s one thing to talk about forgiveness. We readily admit intellectually as Christians that Christians forgive. But, when we are the ones called on to forgive we suddenly learn that “Forgiveness is one of the hardest things that we will ever do.”
What makes forgiveness so hard? There are probably dozens of reasons, but I always start with these five.
1. Some do not understand God’s grace.
We cannot fathom how much we have been pardoned by God, so we struggle with forgiving others.
2. Some do not understand forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting.
Forgiveness does not eliminate consequences.
Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation.
Forgiveness is not dependent upon repentance.
3. Some do not want to release the guilty.
4. For some, the offense is too serious.
C.S. Lewis said, “Forgiveness is a beautiful word until you have something to forgive.”
5. For some, the offense has recurred.
Regardless of how hard we might find forgiveness, forgive we must. Forgiveness is Biblical. Not only are we commanded to forgive, but forgiveness is another area of our sanctification. In forgiveness, we are brought into conformity to Christ.
Forgiveness is also practical. For some, forgiveness is the only way forward. We are stuck until we forgive.
One of the Bible’s great words on forgiveness is found in Ephesians 4:32. “And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.”
I pray that God gives you the strength today to truly forgive.
(This post is based on the message “A Hard Parable” which you can watch at fbclaf.org/video)