Ripping Up Carpet, Living Out Unbelief

This past week, my husband and I – along with two close friends – closed out The Crossing’s ninth session of DivorceCare, a 12-week class designed to help people heal from the pain of divorce. During that final session, we discussed at some length the most difficult aspect of going through divorce – that of forgiving someone who has deeply wronged you.

At the risk of being over-obvious, this is a topic that is difficult to discuss with a roomful of people who have been deeply wounded by someone who once promised to love and cherish them.

There are many things Christians can say about forgiveness; in fact, Warren and I have written about the topic many other times in the last several years. We’ve discussed the idea that offering forgiveness is not a feeling, but a choice we make (Choosing Raw Obedience Over Endless Theologizing); we’ve written about the fact that sometimes our sins against someone feel like so much less by comparison (Forgive Me, Lord, for Being Unforgiving), it can be a hurdle to forgiveness. Just earlier today, I read a blog by a highly respected RZIM blogger on how it’s easier to understand forgiveness if you’re the “prodigal” in the story, but far harder to accept God’s lavish forgiveness when you’re walking in the shoes of the older, “more obedient” brother (My Brother’s Shoes).

I don’t think that the command to forgive each other is a topic we can read and think about too much, so I would encourage you to read those other posts…and more.

Certainly we continue to write about it because, particularly in the context of divorce and the deep wrongs being done to us as a marriage is ripped apart, forgiveness continues to be one of the more personally difficult steps of faith one can take. John MacArthur once said that we are never more like Christ when we forgive another person for wronging us, and never less like him when we hold on to our angry desire to mete out justice ourselves.

Today, I wanted to share one other perspective that has personally helped me in the last few years to change how I view a lot of things – and choosing to let go of anger and forgiving others is one of those things that has become – at least a little – easier in light of this new perspective.

A few years ago, Keith Simon preached a sermon wherein he used a word picture that has stuck with me ever since, and served to create a paradigm shift in my thinking in all kinds of things. Keith’s word picture went something like this:

Imagine someone who has made reservations to stay at a hotel for the weekend and, upon arriving and being shown to his room, is deeply dissatisfied with the overall look of the room. “The drapes in this room are horrific, and they don’t even go with the bedspread. And the carpet! When was the last time it was deep cleaned?!” So, this weekend guest decides to have the carpet ripped up, the room freshly painted, and new drapes and bedding brought in. For his two-day hotel stay.

That sounds completely insane, doesn’t it? Focusing so much time and energy on those details for such a short period of time is something none of us would do for a weekend respite. And yet, that’s actually what we do every day when we focus primarily on the things that are in the here and now and ignore the eternity that awaits us.

All of us tend to focus attention on the things that impact our lives this side of heaven – our bank accounts, our careers, our love lives (or lack thereof), our weight – and ignore the obvious impact that spending all our time and energy on these things will have on our eternity.

And we tend to do the exact same with our anger and our hurt. We focus entirely on how it feels today to live with the pain someone has, wittingly or unwittingly, inflicted upon us, and we want retribution now…justice now…vengeance now. Even if vengeance is meted out in cold looks, a drawing back of relationship, and taking advantage of every opportunity to tear down the one who has hurt us in conversations with other people.

Whenever we exact vengeance (small or large) in this life, we completely ignore the fact that God calls us to forgive and trust Him to make things right one day – in eternity. One day, every knee will bow and every mouth will confess that Jesus is Lord (Romans 14:10-12). One day, all wrongs will be righted. But trusting in that “someday” takes an eternal perspective.

Let me bring it home just a bit.

God, through Christ, has forgiven me of so much. Start with decades of mocking God by attending church every week and then living out the rest of my life as if He were of no consequence at all. Pursuing all the gods of this world – money, security, sex, etc. – and yet calling myself a Christian because I spent my Sunday mornings within a house of worship.

Even after decades of rebellion, however, He lavishly forgave me. In fact, before I made a move toward him, He forgave me! And in forgiving me, He has given me the promise of new life with Him for eternity. A life without end, where there will be no tears, no sorrow, no pain, no hunger, no lack.

Can I really accept that this is what my forever looks like as someone forgiven of so much, and still insist that it’s too hard for me to forgive someone for the pain they have caused me here? Even if I have 40 more years of living here on earth, 40 more years to remember that pain and live with the consequences of someone else’s sin against me…is that really too much to ask me to lay aside and trust that God will make right, especially when compared to the everlasting joyful life that awaits us one day?

I don’t want to minimize the difficulty of this thing that God commands us to do. Forgiveness is a process, and the more deeply you’ve been hurt, the longer it will likely take for you to recover and to forgive the person who inflicted those wounds. But keeping an eternal perspective on all things – including the wounds others have inflicted upon us – can help us let go of our own desire to see justice now, and trust that God is Who He says He is.

I recoil at the idea of wasting my time on pointless pursuits. I have to think all of us would scorn the idea of pouring time, talent and treasure into new drapes, lamps and carpeting for our theoretical “weekend hotel room,” and yet most of us are often not able to see that exacting “payment” from others in this life, on our timetables, will look equally foolish and condemning when we find ourselves at home with the Lord. Better, perhaps, to abandon payment and repayment to Him that judges justly.

1 Peter 2:20-24 (ESV)
For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

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