My earliest experiences of profound forgiveness came easily, because I saw my fault, but some of my latter experiences have been harder. They haven’t been harder because I was less to blame than other parties were. They’ve been harder because that’s the purpose of life: sanctification increases in difficulty the more we surrender dutifully before God.
Yes, that’s right. The more obedient we are, the more we’re attentive to discerning and doing God’s will, the deeper we’re taken in our unique cross-ward journey. No matter what or how much we suffer, we’ll still fall far short of Jesus’ suffering for us on the cross.
“They who wrestle with us strengthen our nerve, and sharpen our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.”
— Edmund Burke (1729–1797)
Now in swings the purpose; of forgiveness, as a process for learning. It’s operant engagement with humility, because we cannot learn if we’re not humble, and humility must come through subjugated pride — a very hard thing if we make a big thing of it, but an easy thing to do one decision of the will at a time.
The person we must forgive (get this: biblically, there is no option), or the situation we must reconcile (because it will drive our peace and joy away otherwise) is there to strengthen our nerve. For, without it we’ll go soft, and learn nothing. That’s not the Christian journey.
Those very things that are against us are the things God has allowed to be there. Only the difficult thing — like forgiveness — is sufficiently worthy of the purpose of life, because purpose must take us deep or it feels meaningless.
Here is my favourite quote on the topic; a truth that early church Father, John Chrysostom (347–407) propounded when exegeting Romans 8:37:
“Yet those that be against us, so far are they from thwarting us at all, that even without their will they become to us causes of crowns, and procurers of countless blessings, in that God’s wisdom turns their plots unto our salvation and glory. See how really no one is against us!”
The more someone is against us, the more God is for us through the grace of His Presence when we’re meek. Accepting the harmful overture is something that an enemy cannot reconcile. Victory is in the humble acceptance that what is, is. This humble meekness throws everyone off guard because it vanquishes the evil power they’ve deployed. Having a genuine heart of forgiveness and acceptance makes all the difference.
When life is particularly difficult we have even more access to God’s all-sufficient grace as we accept the hardship. Forgiveness in this context is central to the purpose of life, which is to learn and develop and grow and mature.
Let’s consider it a privilege when we’re exposed to conflict that causes us to need to forgive. The need to forgive causes us to stretch and mature, giving us a grand purpose.
Only as we wrestle with what feels impossible, forgiveness, do we learn something invaluable about life. God gave us the impossible to overcome, by our faith and His power.