It’s amazing to me how rapidly a day can take a turn for the worse. As I was walking across campus today, I noticed a blood drive bus parked in the main quad. I decided to donate. Like any good blood-donor, I filled out the required forms honestly—even the question “As a man, have you ever had any sexual contact with another male?” I would be lying if I said I didn’t momentarily wrestle with simply marking “no,” but having come to terms with the fact that I was sexually abused when I was ten years old, I did the right thing and selected “yes.”
Long story short, I was denied. That didn’t come as a total surprise. What did were the emotions that arose afterward, all of the emotions that I was convinced I had found peace with: the shame of being a victim of sexual abuse, the humiliation of feeling emasculated, and, most surprisingly, the anger toward the man who had robbed me of countless things, the least of which was the simple right to donate blood.
I’ll condense my series of questions to this: How can you be convinced you’ve truly forgiven someone? I’m not looking to release my anger entirely (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel entitled to it; the key, as I feel I have successfully mastered, is not letting it dominate my life). But I’m looking to find some sort of evidence to convince me that I have truly and honestly forgiven the man who so abruptly disrupted my life. I thought I had done so. I said all of the right words and meant them in my heart of hearts. But have I really truly released this?
If you could shed some light on this for me, it would be greatly appreciated. What, if anything, do you believe God has to say regarding the authenticity of forgiveness? And how can we know if it is authentic or not?
I think the key to finding the answer you’re after lies in your statement that you feel justified in your anger—that, as you put it, you’re not looking to entirely release your anger. That thin space between “I’ve forgiven” and “I’m still angry” is the one your experience at the blood drive pushed you through.
“I forgive you” cannot exist in the same place as “I hate you, you life-destroying sack of vomit.” You can feel one of those things; you can feel the other. But you can’t feel them both at once.
Your problem is that you feel—or at least felt—the latter, which you take as an indication that you have failed at the former—which by extension would mean that you have failed as a Christian. “If I’d really forgiven—if [as you put it] my forgiveness is authentic—then how can I be so unexpectedly ambushed by the very anger that I thought my forgiveness had eradicated?” That’s what you’re asking.
It’s true that Jesus said we should forgive those who transgress against us. Jesus was huge on turning the other cheek, forgiving others as God forgives us, forgiving not just seven but seventy-seven times. Jesus was so into forgiveness that in order to prove that he had come specifically to forgive all people all their sins he had himself mercilessly slaughtered and nailed to a cross.
Boy. Talk about making a point.
And make that point he did. And as proof we have you, two thousand years later, concerned that you haven’t learned it deeply enough.
Listen: You have. You’ve forgiven enough. You’ve forgiven all that anyone could. Your forgiveness is one hundred percent, thoroughly authentic. It’s not like you have a relationship with the man who hurt you. The kind of forgiveness that actually does result in the complete dissipation of anger can only happen within the context of an ongoing, real-time relationship. If a friend hurts me I can bring to him my complaint; he can explain himself; we can talk it out; if he’s wrong he can offer me a sincere and pointed apology, after which I will forgive him because he is my friend. And not only will my anger with him be genuinely gone, our relationship will be stronger because of that shared experience.
Well, that’s hardly the kind of relationship you’re dealing with, is it? The guy who hurt you is now to you just a phantom. He’s not in your life. In that sense he doesn’t even exist. You can’t talk to him. You can’t scream at him. You can’t make sure he fathoms the depth of his transgression against you. You can’t do any of that.
You’re simply left, by yourself, to process all the wrong that he did to you.
And look how well you’ve done that. It’s clear what a sensitive, intelligent, and loving person you’ve become.
Yes, you will at times feel outrage at what was done to you. And when that fury hits you, you know what you can do with it? You can use it for its actual power. You can turn something that is truly awful into something that is not just good, but the finest thing in existence.
The next time you feel the unleashed power of the injustice of what was done to you, do not shun it. Do not reject it. Do not deny it.
Claim it. Claim all of it. Hold it. Focus on it. Get alone with it. Allow it to unfold into all the darkness that it is.
And then, with your eyes closed—with all that outrageous, undeserved agony tearing you up inside—hold your arms out wide. Stand in the position of Jesus Christ on the cross.
And there you will be.
And there He will be, sharing with you the very essence of his consciousness.
And at that moment you will know your suffering as a blessing.