Published by DonDavidson on

I want to tell you two stories about forgiveness.

1.      Rachelle Friedman, a bride-to-be, attended her bachelorette party a few days before the wedding. Around midnight she and some of her friends went swimming. A friend playfully pushed her into the pool, but the water was too shallow—she struck her head on the bottom of the pool, breaking her neck and leaving her paralyzed. Rachelle could have held a grudge against the friend who changed her life, but she didn’t. She forgave her.

2       Steven McDonald, a New York City police officer, was shot by a young teenager while on patrol in Central Park, leaving him paralyzed. Rather than being angry or bitter, Steven forgave his attacker, and even corresponded with him while the young man served his prison sentence. Steven explained: “I forgave him because I believe the only thing worse than receiving a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart.”

The first story illustrates forgiveness based on affection. Rachelle Friedman loved her friend before the accident and continued to love her afterward. That is certainly admirable. But the second story illustrates forgiveness based on charity. Steven McDonald didn’t know the young man who shot him. There was no affection there. But Steven forgave the young man anyway.

The kind of forgiveness Steven McDonald showed is what Jesus had in mind when he said in Matthew 5:43-45:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may prove yourselves to be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Similarly, in Luke 6:32-33, Jesus says:

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.

Many people, including many non-Christians, would be willing to forgive a friend in Rachelle Friedman’s situation—it was unintentional, and there was a bond of friendship there. But Steven McDonald was deliberately shot by someone he didn’t know. Even many Christians—including myself—would find it difficult to forgive if that happened to them.  Yet that is what we are called to do. As Paul says in Romans chapter 12:

Romans 12:14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

Romans 12:17: “Never repay evil for evil to anyone.”

Indeed, we must go even further, for Paul says that we must not merely refrain from seeking revenge against those who hurt us—we are actually supposed to be kind to them:

Romans 12:20-21:  “ ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In Romans 12:20, Paul is quoting from the Old Testament—Proverbs 25:21-22. Showing kindness to enemies is not merely a New Testament concept. We see it in the Old Testament, too—and not just in Proverbs. Exodus 23:4-5 says:

If you encounter your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you must return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall not leave it helpless for its owner; you must arrange the load with him.

The point of these verses is not that we are to be kind to animals, for then why would it matter who the animal belonged to? The point is that we are to show kindness to an “enemy,” and even to “one who hates you.”

This is also Jesus’ point in his parable about the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. The Samaritans were descendants of peoples relocated by the Assyrians when they conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and deported the Israelites who were living there. The Samaritans were pagans, and a strong mutual hatred existed between them and the Jews, based on both religious and racial grounds. But Jesus used a Samaritan as the example of how to behave toward an enemy.

God wants us to be kind to enemies for two reasons. First, it might change the other person. It can soften his heart and change his behavior. But of course, that doesn’t always work. The far more important reason is that being kind to an enemy changes us. It frees us from ugly emotions. It frees us from dwelling on the hurt and reopening the wound. It frees us to love instead of hate.

The next time someone hurts you, remember Rachelle Friedman and Steven McDonald. Remember Paul and Proverbs. Remember the Good Samaritan. Then go and do the same.


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