There’s a new show on T.V. called “Revenge.” I guess we don’t have to wonder what that one’s about. It’s a theme people seem to resonate with. Particularly within the action genre, it comes up again and again. You know the story. Our hero spends his whole life avenging the people who killed his wife, or father, or his best friend in the army. Whatever. It’s all very dramatic and it hooks us because deep down inside we long to see the bad people get what’s coming to them. Of course, the bad people are the ones who do things that hurt us or the people we care about. If someone has hurt us, we hurt them back. From kids on the playground, to those who lead the nations of our world, it seems to be our natural inclination to get even.
As people created in the image of God, we were created for more than that, weren’t we? Certainly if you know anything about Jesus, the one who showed us the very essence of God by the things he taught and the way he lived his life, you know that seeking revenge is not God’s intention for us. He taught about turning the other cheek and loving our enemies. He didn’t fight back even when it cost him his own life. And this way of non-violence was more than a political strategy for Jesus. It was motivated by love expressed through forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the opposite of revenge. It's letting go of the grudge we carry or the need to get even. Despite the fact that we may have every reason to hate the person who wronged us, we choose to love instead. It’s really a way of life more than isolated acts that we perform. We don’t have to decide in any given case whether we will forgive another person or not. Of course, we forgive. It may not always come quickly or easily, but it’s the direction we’re always headed. Because it’s who we are as people of God; it’s what we do.
Now, sometimes I’m afraid we confuse forgiveness with reconciliation. The two are not synonymous. Often forgiveness leads to reconciliation, but not always. Reconciliation is kissing and making up. It’s allowing that person to become a part of your life again. And it’s a mistake to insist that forgiveness isn’t complete without reconciliation. Sometimes it’s impossible to reconcile with another person. For example, if the one who has wronged you is no longer living, reconciliation is impossible. Or if the other person refuses to have anything to do with you, what can you do? Still, you can forgive, for your own sake, to free yourself from the burden of bitterness.
Reconciliation also doesn’t work when you know the person who has hurt you will continue to hurt you if you let them. When a relationship isn’t healthy for you and you have every reason to believe that it never will be, a boundary separating you from that person is necessary. This doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven them. It just means that you will no longer allow them to be a part of your life. You can still love them as a human being and wish them well. Just not in close proximity to you.
Forgiveness is for the forgiver as much as it is for the forgiven. That’s why it’s important to forgive even those who don’t come groveling at our feet. Often, reconciliation follows forgiveness. We make up and we’re friends again and all’s right with the world. But sometimes that’s not healthy for us and we can choose not to reconcile. It doesn’t mean that we’re carrying a grudge or seeking revenge. It doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven. What it does mean is that we’re consistently making life-giving decisions for ourselves. In the end, I have to believe that’s what the God who loves us wants for us: life.