If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. [Matthew 6:14 (NLT)]

Turkey vulture

Yesterday, I included some loving words from a local obituary in my writing. What a contrast they are to another obituary I happened upon, one so contemptuous of the deceased that I was dumbfounded. Noting that the he lived “29 years longer than expected and much longer than he deserved,” it called him a “horse’s ass.” After naming his two “relieved children,” it mentioned that he also left behind ”countless other victims including an ex-wife, relatives, friends, neighbors, doctors, nurses and random strangers.” Apparently, he was “a model example of bad parenting combined with…a complete commitment to drinking, drugs, womanizing and being generally offensive.” The obituary claimed he joined the Navy as part of a plea deal to avoid criminal charges, described him as reckless, wasteful, and having no redeeming qualities and accused him of squandering the family’s money, abusing his family and being cruel to animals. Reportedly, his cremains are being kept in the barn until “the family donkey’s wood shavings run out.” The obituary closed with the words that his passing “proved evil does in fact die” and the hope that his passing “marks a time of healing and safety for all.”

Reading those words saddened me; I can only pray that this man’s passing truly will provide healing for those whose lives he touched. Perhaps they found the spiteful obituary cathartic but I have a feeling it only increased their bitterness. Unfortunately, they’re not the only people who have been wounded by physical or emotional abuse, alcoholism, addiction, malice, cruelty, and violence. When harmed, we want payback—we want the wrongdoer to hurt as much as we do. Yet, Jesus calls on us to meet evil not with more evil but with good. We are told to do all we can to live in peace with everyone. That peace, however, can never come without forgiveness. As for getting revenge—justice and vengeance are God’s department and His alone.

Fortunately, forgiveness does not mean we have to feel good about the people who hurt us nor does it require us to continue a relationship with them. Forgiveness doesn’t ignore the harm done, forget about it, or justify evil actions. Forgiveness certainly doesn’t mean reconciliation. Reconciliation requires apologies and change—forgiveness doesn’t. While forgiveness doesn’t release someone from accountability and consequences, it does free that person from his or her debt to us. God freed us of our debt and forgave our sins when Jesus took our place on the cross and He expects us to offer that same forgiveness to others. By surrendering our right to get even, forgiveness is mercy in action!

It’s obvious from this man’s obituary that his family wanted revenge. The only weapons left to them, however, were angry words—words that would never be read by the man they hate. Cataloguing a dead man’s wrongs accomplished nothing and that sweet taste of revenge is sure to leave a bitter aftertaste. Contrary to that old saying, revenge is not a dish best served cold—the best revenge is forgiveness! It’s the peace that comes from forgiveness that proves we’ve defeated our enemies. The sweet taste of forgiveness—of good overcoming evil—that is the dish we want to serve ourselves!

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” [Romans 12:18-20 (NLT)]

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