In honor of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and in memory of my friend and author, the Rev. Croft Pentz.
As the old saying goes, "To err is human, and to forgive is divine." Other memorable cliches are: "To err is human, but to forgive is not our policy"; "If we break, 'we' cry, if you break, 'you' buy"; "If you do the crime, you do the time"; or "In God we trust, all others must pay cash." People often remark, "I will forgive, but I can't forget." In Mark 14:36, our Lord says in Gethsemane, "Abba Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt." Upon his death at Calvary's Cross, Jesus said, "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do." "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
Presently, the earth is in an ungodly, unloving, selfish, "gimmie, gimmie," "take, take" condition. My wife, Sallie, and I can remember when our small children would fight over a toy or some other trivial thing. As father and mother of now three adult offspring, we've discovered over those growing years that it doesn't take long for sibling rivalries to forgive and 'make up.' "When I became a man, I put away childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11). In Matthew's gospel, chapter 18, Simon Peter asked the Lord, "How many times should we forgive someone in a day; seven?" Jesus replied, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but Until seventy times seven." That's a total of 490 times. During the 1970s, I recall reading a newspaper ad for a movie which read: "What happens after someone commits their 491st sin?" Obviously, the movie producer was misguided into limiting God's love and mercy. "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7).
How does anyone accomplish this? With the inward filling of the Holy Spirit, we must: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5 and Isaiah 26:3). As we follow his spirit, the scripture informs us about: "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God and bring into captivity 'every' thought to the 'obedience' of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). Our adversary, the devil, tempts us to remember our own or someone else's forgiven, sinful past. As it was with Joshua and Job; Satan is "at our right hand to resist us" (Zechariah 3:1-9 and Job chapters 1 and 2).
Once, while visiting someone in a certain hospital, I learned that this individual was suffering from an emotional disorder because of several years of abuse from a family member. After 20 minutes of flowing dialogue and meditation, the Holy Spirit led me to ask the patient if they had forgiven the abuser. The next moment, a doctor standing at the door interrupted and said, "Yes. That's right. They must forgive." A few days later, after the second visit, the patient unexpectedly telephoned me to offer a sincere thank you for helping them. I thank God for his grace, mercy and wisdom.
"As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12). In Genesis, chapters 27-33, Jacob had stolen his brother, Esau's birthright and blessing. Before he would meet his brother again, Jacob wrestled with the Lord, who was in the form of a man, an epiphany or theophany of the pre-incarnate Christ. This encounter resulted with "the hollow of Jacob's thigh moving out of joint"; and his name changing to "Israel." Without this prevailing act of wrestling with God in prayer, the reunion with Esau would have likely been "fatal." Upon meeting the next day, "Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept" (Genesis 33:4). To see a victory, it takes a righteous man to effectually, and fervently pray" (James 5:14-18).
In 1981, we heard a powerful message by the late 'Bishop' Billy Murray (COGOP) titled "Behold What Manner of Love" (1 John 3:1). He told of a counseling session involving a disputing father and son. The son had repeatedly caused the parent great difficulty, and the dad was resolved on taking legal steps to punish him. The son was seeking forgiveness and Brother Murray, their pastor, suggested that they should pray. Those three men, in earnest, sought the help of God. After a short span, Pastor Murray asked the dad, "How do you feel now?" He replied, "I still can't forgive him." They prayed a second time, and the pastor again inquired of the father's feelings, but the same attitude was present. Upon the third time of praying, the spirit and power of God came down and prevailed. Now, both father and son hugged each other and wept in the spirit of love and forgiveness. Prayer changes things. He has given us the "word and ministry of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:17-20).
In Luke, chapter 15, the story of the prodigal son is one of the most beautiful parables told by Jesus. Upon his return, the father lovingly forgave the wayward son and took him back. The divorce rate would drop significantly if we would learn to love as Christ loved: forgive, forget, forbear and fight spiritual warfare while praying a "hedge" around our spouses and children. The prophet Hosea advises this in chapter 2, verses 6 and 7: "Therefore, behold, I will 'hedge' up thy way with 'thorns' and make a 'wall,' that she shall not find her 'paths.' And she shall 'follow after' her lovers, but she shall not 'overtake' them; and she shall 'seek' them, but shall not 'find' them; then shall she say, It will return to my 'first' husband: (or first wife) for then, was it 'better' with me then now." The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, chapters 6 and 7, that "the unbelieving husband or wife is sanctified by the believing spouse," or "else were your children unclean; but now are they holy;" and, if we are joined to a 'harlot,' we're 'still' one body and flesh.
Jeremiah, who prophesied under the Old Law, tells us in chapter 3, verse 1, of God's love and mercy to a "wayward" spouse, "They say (unforgiving, hard hearted persons), If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man's, shall he return unto her again? Shall not that land be greatly polluted? But, thou has played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the Lord." Jesus said, "For, if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly father will also forgive you; But, if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15).
The worldly chaos of unforgiveness has led to the complete demise of traditional families and the destruction of national morals. The devil seems to shake his fist at God and say, "See there?" We sometimes sing, "I went to the enemy's camp, and I took back what he stole from me." "For the weapons of our warfare are not 'carnal,' but mightly through God to the pulling down of strong hold" (2 Corinthians 10:4). With God's help, many marriages and family relationships can be preserved. To obtain this level of result, it takes fervent love, fasting and "building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost" (Jude 20; Matthew 17:21; and Mark 9:29).
A certain evangelist, many years ago, related such a miracle at a revival in west Texas. After being married for more than 50 years, a "white haired," devoted, loving, prayerful and "saintly" wife had been standing "in the gap" for her unsaved husband. This husband would beat her repeatedly and lock her out of their home on many church nights causing this wife to stay at a friend's house. He lived wickedly always cursing God. For the first time in his 75 years of life, he attended most of the three week revival. On Sunday, the "final" night, he surrendered his heart and life to Jesus. This would be the last revival service, on earth, he would ever see. After preaching another revival in Houston, the evangelist returned home and read a letter of "grief" and "victory" from west Texas. The same elderly lady wrote that her husband suffered a severe stroke on Monday, the next day. Within two weeks, the husband died while giving God the praise and singing these words, "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind but now I see."
"Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man (or woman) have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye" (Colossians 3:13). "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6).
(The opinions of this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Inter-Mountain, the Randolph County Ministerial Association or the author's church affiliation.)