Everett Worthington: Just Forgiving


Would you join me in a prayer?

Dear Lord, in life, all of us are dropped and damaged by others. Sometimes, we simply disappoint ourselves and others, make bad decisions, and are not the people that we hope we could be. We would be lost if you were not a loving, merciful, and forgiving God. You forgive and you help us forgive. We cannot do it alone. Be with us as we think about your Word, that we will not just hear it, but that it will change us. Amen.

Our Scripture is 2 Samuel 4:4 and then Chapter 9 verses 1, 4b, 6 and 7, and 11b.

Jonathan, son of Saul, had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became crippled. His name was Mephibosheth.


Now, 2 Samuel 9.

David asked, "Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan's sake?" Ziba [Saul's servant] answered, "He is in Lo Debar." (referring to Mephibosheth) When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, "Mephibosheth!" "Your servant," he replied. "Don't be afraid," David said to him, "for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table." So Mephibosheth ate at David's table like one of the king's sons.


Hurtful events occur in all our lives, if we live long enough. And as with Miphibosheth, who was dropped and injured, they can cripple us forever. These include people who abuse, divorce, reject, betray, leave, or drop us. I'm sure you can identify some of those people in your own life. People may even try to help us, instead but cripple us. This story of David the King and Mephibosheth really happened in history, but it also is a great illustration of our life with God, the King.

In 2 Samuel 9:1-4, we see that the king searches for us, desiring to bless us. We may be ashamed, afraid, angry. We may hide from the searching King in our private Lo Debar, behind our money, achievements, accomplishments, or even our limitations and injuries and inabilities.

But the King calls us, and like Mephibosheth, we don't feel worthy. But like David, God doesn't hunt us down to exact justice, punishment, and evil on us. Instead, God offers us adoption. If we go to the good King, he treats us as his own child, sits us at his table, and covers our imperfections.

This is a story about justice, forgiveness, and humility. David was pursued by Saul, who had attempted multiple times to kill David. Mephibosheth was still a threat to David's throne as long as he lived. But David forgave Mephibosheth, not because of Mephibosheth's goodness, but for someone else's sake. David got nothing but costs from forgiving Mephibosheth, but he absorbed those costs to bless Mephibosheth.

Two things happened.

  • David made a decision to forgive Mephibosheth, and...
  • At a separate time, on a different timetable, David's emotions slowly changed from bitterness, resentment, and anxiety to less coldness and eventually to warmth for Mephibosheth. David emotionally forgave.
  • Finally, reconciliation was realized. The power of love -- the power of forgiveness -- transformed Mephibosheth and David's relationship.

Now, in the brief time that we have remaining together, I want to discuss two questions:

  • What is forgiveness? and
  • How can we forgive?

First, let me just observe that there are many reasons to forgive. We forgive (1) because without forgiveness we are stuck with a huge injustice gap, (2) because Jesus tells us to make decisions to forgive, (3) because God forgave us, (4) because offenders don't really understand the hurt that they've done to us, (5) because it's good for our health, our relationships, our spirit when we forgive, and (6) because, well, it's simply the humanly right thing to do.

So, what is forgiveness? Col 3:13 tells us, "Forgive as the Lord forgave you." How did God forgive us? God forgave us unilaterally. We didn't deserve forgiveness, God simply forgave.

Decisional forgiveness is a decision about how we intend to act -- not to seek revenge and to value the person and not devalue the person who hurt us. We decide to forgive as God forgave us -- quickly, unilaterally, without conditions. This is our Christian duty. In Matthew 6:13 and 14, Jesus tells believers to make a decision to forgive. Jesus requires of us decisional forgiveness.

Of course, God desires emotional forgiveness even though sometimes emotional forgiveness just isn't humanly possible. Emotional forgiveness happens as we replace negative emotions with positive, other-oriented emotions like love for the person. Emotional forgiveness is difficult, but Chris Carrier did it. As a boy, Chris Carrier was abducted, stabbed repeatedly, shot through the head taking his eye, and dumped in a Florida swamp to be alligator food. But Chris lived, and when he was an adult, he had the chance to confront his tormentor on his tormentor's deathbed. But Chris simply realized that the old man who had tried to kill him was dying, but no one was there to care for him. So, Chris cared for this man until the man finally died. Love replaced any negative feelings that Chris had. If Chris Carrier can emotionally forgive that horrible attempted murder, then you can forgive whatever is bothering you.

Now, forgiving isn't the same thing as reconciling. We can forgive a person who's died, but we can never reconcile with that person. We can forgive an abuser, but it might not ever be safe to restore the relationship with that person. Paul says, "As much as it is up to you, live at peace with all people." (Rom 12:18) But it isn't always up to us.

So, point 1, what is forgiveness? Well, forgiveness is two things actually. It's a decision to treat the person as a valuable person -- one created in God's image, regardless of how fallen that person acts. It also might involve an emotional transformation in which unforgiving bitterness, resentment, and hostility are replaced with understanding and love.

Now, our second point is, how can we forgive?

We can forgive because God, through Jesus, forgave us when Jesus stepped into history to give his life for us. We can forgive if we walk humbly with God. It begins with God, not with us.

But, we do have a part. If we wanted to build a concrete pillar in this room, we would not simply pour concrete on the floor and hope it will form itself into a pillar. We would use wooden forms to give shape. Then we would pour concrete into the forms. When the concrete set, we could remove the forms and use them on another pillar. At my university, at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), we have developed a 5-step method to forgive even the hardest hurts. It is called REACH Forgiveness. Each letter in REACH stands for a step on the journey to forgive. Free workbooks and leader and participant group manuals can be found on my website -- www.EvWorthington-forgiveness.com.

This method helps people forgive. Over 25 tests of these groups and workbooks have been studied worldwide. I also applied this when forgiving the murderer of my mother and in forgiving myself for failure to prevent my brother's subsequent suicide.

So, point 2, how do we forgive? We trust God to work forgiveness in us. King David had been hurt often by Saul. He decided to forgive for Jonathan's sake and invited Mephibosheth into his own house. David covered Mephibosheth's injuries. He let the emotional forgiveness build.

Chris Carrier forgave someone who tried to kill him.

I was, by God's grace and mercy, able to forgive a person who murdered my mother.

You, too, can forgive. You are surrounded by an unseen cloud of witnesses who are cheering you on to forgive wounds from your past, present, and future. With God's work in you, you can do it.

Will you pray with me?

Lord God,

You are a just God, and we deserve nothing but justice from you. And yet, you act in love to give us love and forgiveness and a new life. We are like Mephibosheth, crippled but sitting at your table with our weaknesses covered with the tablecloth of your precious blood. Lord, we don't know what we are doing when we condemn others for offending us. Give us your eyes to see, the will to make a decision, and the grace to let love warm us. And when we try to forgive, Lord please pour permanent forgiveness into our feeble forms. We want to act as you would have us act in order to draw all people unto you. We depend on you. In Jesus' name, amen.



http://www.nytimes.com/1996/10/06/us/forgiven-and-befriended-by-victim-attacker-dies.html (Chris Carrier's story)


This special Day1 program is produced in association with the Episcopal Preaching Foundation as part of their grant project funded by the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.