August 31, 2023
As we have journeyed through our current sermon series on forgiveness, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the topic. One of my most faithful conversation partners has been the recently deceased Tim Keller’s book on the topic: Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I?
I highly, highly recommend the book. One of the most interesting observations Keller makes is about the relationship between forgiveness and anger. Keller begins by exploring Hebrews 12:15, which says, See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God, that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble and through it many become defiled. The writer of Hebrews warns us that there are hidden roots at work within our souls and if we ignore those roots, they can spring forth into cruelty. Keller points out that the bitterness we carry can “defile” us or as the Greek more accurately puts it: “consume” us.
If you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings, you know there are characters called ringwraiths (also known as the “Nazgûl” or the “Black Riders” or the…you know what, never mind). The word “wraith” is not a word we hear very often, but a “wraith” is anybody who has been consumed by wrath. Ghosts were traditionally referred to as “wraiths” because they were restless and wandering. As Keller says, “If you don’t deal with your wrath through forgiveness, wrath can make you a wraith, turning you slowly but surely into a restless spirit, into someone who’s controlled by the past, someone who’s haunted” (163). So, the starting place for forgiveness is to recognize the anger and bitterness we carry within us. We have to be willing to move past denial and enter into honesty and confession.
I grew up with a Midwestern sensibility that says any negative emotion ought to be stuffed down until I can no longer feel it. I still struggle with thinking that feelings such as anger, frustration, or anxiety are weaknesses in my character. However, I am learning that if I deny the existence of the anger or hurt or pain or stress that I am holding, I will allow the roots of bitterness to spring up within me.
But if I can listen for the voice of the God of redemption speaking to my soul, I am transformed by the renewing of my mind. And I obtain the very grace of God. For my neighbor and for myself.