The Prayer of Revenge: Helping People Forgive the Unforgivable

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Published: 07th July 2010
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his damaging behavior? Once this question is answered to the injured-partys satisfaction, forgiveness can flow like a waterfall. This concept really came home for me during a large Christian concert that I was attending with my eightyear- old son Nate. During one of the musicians breaks, Steve Saint, the son of martyred missionary Nate Saint, came on the stage to tell his familys story of grief, courage, and reconciliation with the murdering tribesmen. In fact, they were able to identify the very man who thrust his spear into Steves dad, and left him floating face down in the river. Steve went on to say how his Dads killer came to acknowledge his violent sin, and eventually trusted Christ for salvation. In fact, this man eventually ┼"adopted Nates children and grandchildren as his own. Steves kids even called him ┼"Grandpa.

In the years that followed the tragic event, this Auca Indian has been instrumental in bringing many neighboring tribesmen to Christ. Then, in the most dramatic moment of the evening. Steve Saint actually brought ┼"Grandpa┬Łthe tribesman who had killed his fatherup on the stage. Suddenly, five thousand Christians stood to their feet to applaud and affirm this fellow believer. But my Nate wouldnt budgehe stayed in his seat with his arms crossed. There was no way he was going to stand up and cheer for a man who had killed somebodys daddy. So I explained to my son that this Auca Indian had admitted that what he had done was wrong, had trusted Jesus to save him, and had asked forand received mercy from his victims family. ┼"Oh┬Žokay then said Nate. And then he stood up and started cheering with the others.

ONCE THE QUESTION OF justice was settled in his mind, Nate had no problem ┼"forgiving this man and welcoming him into the body of Christ. In this instance, the killers genuine remorse was a form of justiceat least a vehicle through which the atoning work of Christ could flow. Like most human beings, my Nate has an ┼"innate sense of justice that becomes rattled when people do evil things. In some cases, the resulting emotional dis-equilibrium is so disturbing that it needs to be resolved before the victim can even start thinking about forgiveness. The theological idea behind this psychological truth is given to us by the writer of Hebrews, where he tells us that ┼"there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood (9:22).

Now theres a verse that can be easily abused. Im reminded of the Spanish General who was asked on his deathbed if he had forgiven his enemies. ┼"I have no need to forgive my enemies,the general replied, ┼"I have had them all shot. In contrast, Hebrews 9:22 points us to the Old Testament sacrificial system that served as a shadow of Christs atoning sacrifice. Any sin, even forgiven sin, needs to be countered on the universal scales of justice. The immutable biblical truth here is that justice is foundational to forgiveness. So, when Christians become emotionally convinced that God will take care of the justice question after theyve been harmed, thenand only then are they able to fully forgive.

BUT HOW, YOU MAY ASK, DO we help others forgive when there is no justice, when offender remorse is entirely absent? Few counselors question that facilitating forgiveness is one of the best things you can do for a client in these cases┬Žbut how N interpretation and applicability have been open to debate. But there are other such fiery prayers in the Bible, most notably from Jeremiah and Habakkuk, where God does respond. And He doesnt rebuke these men, but tells them that He will do even more than theyve asked. Consider the glorified saints of Revelation 6. Why are they petitioning God for revenge instead of mercy for those who have injured them? ┼"They called out in a loud voice, ┼"How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?┬Ł [That two-worded question (┼"how long) appears quite frequently in these types of prayers.]

Keep in mind that these are believers who have been saved, not just the penalty of sin, but even the presence of sin in their hearts. So in this context, there can be nothing immoral about their strongly-worded request. And again, they are not rebuked, but instead comforted and encouraged to wait on the Lordbecause He would accomplish for them what they could not do for themselves. And lastly, we have the Lords conclusion to his parable of the widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18┬Ž┼"Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice┬Žand quickly.┬Ł

SO, HOW DO WE MAKE THIS practical for someone who is struggling to forgive an offender who appears to have no conscience? First of all, Scripture makes it clear that if someone sins against us, there is a process we go through thats marked by accountability and restraint. Whatever the offense, the process begins with safe and responsible confrontation. Depending on context and the offenders response, there may be a need to involve other friends or family, qualified professionals, the police, and help people move forward when the pain of the injustice against them has generated so much emotional turmoil that they cannot even think straight┬Ž much less even consider the possibility of forgiveness? Are we going to tell them that their struggle comes from a failure to truly understand why the offender did what he did, or because they do not clearly see themselves as sinners who need to be forgiven too?

NO, I WOULD SUGGEST THAT the best way to facilitate genuine forgiveness is to strengthen their emotional confidence in Gods willingness to accomplish perfect justice on their behalf. There were certainly emotionally- injured people in the Bible who lacked this confidence┬Žand in order to gain it, they offered prayers for justice and even retribution that sometimes expressed some rather raw feelings. For instance, consider the psalms of rage, where David makes it quite clear what he wants to see happen to those who are bent on destroying him. Did you know that over 25% of the Psalter contains some sort of appeal for retribution and vindication? We have no response from God to these volatile prayers of David, so their do you do it when the offender is indifferent, callused, and perhaps even blames your client for his damaging behavior? Forgiving these bottom-dwellers is a lot more difficult, and unfortunately, theres substantial pressure in the church to do this very thingusually too soon. Consider the unyielding words of C.S. Lewis on this topic: ┼"To forgive the incessant provocations of the daily lifeto keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night, ╦ťForgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse Gods mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions, and God means what He says. Online counselor is always available to help you out.

If, by chance his readers missed the point, Lewis put it in even starker terms: ┼"We must forgive all our enemies or be damned.┬Ł High stakes, to say the least. Of course that is true, but how do you do itreally do it? How do you B perhaps even the legal system. Within the church, Matthew 18 outlines a process of church discipline that involves an increasing number of people, again, depending on the offenders response. But many times, these processes prove to be disappointing. Sometimes there is corruption in the system (even in the church) that prevents justice from being carried out. Even when the system flawlessly runs its full course, the results can seem anti-climactic. Its times like these when people are tempted to jump the track of accountability and take things into their own hands. Thats when legitimate justice becomes revengeand they are clearly forbidden by God to move in this direction. Its at this point where we must help believers gain the confidence that God will accomplish for them that which they cannot achieve on their own. And to remind them that He grants them permission to passionately plead with Him to keep this promise.

BELOW ARE A SERIES OF questions that you can ask clients to help them through this process. The person youre helping may be able to settle this issue in a few minutes or it may be a process that gets spread out over several years. How long it takes does not matter. What matters is that the person is actively engaged in the process and heading in the right direction. Before you start, you might want to encourage the struggling believer to have a specific person or event in mind. While youre going through this exercise, tell them that youll frequently bring up the same question┬Ž ┼"If I were to ask you to forgive this person, what would you say?┬Ł There are three possible responses┬Ž If the client is clearly not ready to forgive this person, then encourage her to just say, ┼"Im not ready.┬Ł If shes not ready, but making progress, then encourage her to say something like, ┼"Im not ready yet, but Im getting closer.┬Ł Or, the person may be able to say┬Ž┼"Yes, I am now confident that God will accomplish perfect justice on my behalf, and so I am ready to forgive.┬Ł

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