“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Mt. 5:44)
I recently read an article about a woman named Shaynna who enterered a funeral home and cut off the breasts, toe, locks of hair and slashed the forehead of a dead lady named Tabitha who died of natural causes at the age of 38. Tabitha allegedly had an affair with Shayna’s husband. To get revenge, Shaynna cut up Tabitha’s dead corpse and took her shoes on the way out.
As a result, Shaynna will serve 16 years in prison on a total of five counts, including seven years in prison for first-degree burglary and five years for unlawfully removing a body part from someone who is deceased.
As I read this story, I laughed at how ridiculous and ludicrous this story was. Who seeks revenge by cutting up a dead person’s body? The person’s dead! She can’t feel anything. At the same time, I felt sorry for Shaynna. How hurt and angry she must have been to do such an ineffective, heinous act that only punished herself with 16 years of prison.
It struck me how this story is a perfect illustration of what unforgiveness does to a person. When we harbor anger and bitterness and refuse to forgive, we want to hurt the other person by “cutting them up” with harmful thoughts and actions only to find they are “dead” to them and untouched by them. As a result, we punish ourselves and become “imprisoned” for years.
Jesus’ command is persistent and strong when he calls us to “forgive our enemies” (Rom. 12:17-21; Mt. 5:44; Eph. 4:31-32; Lk. 6:27). Why is this? First, unforgiveness hinders our relationship with Jesus who longs for an intimate relationship with us (Mt. 6:14-15). It hinders our relationship with others as well. An unforgiving heart leads to a hard heart that turns more cold and bitter as the years go on.
As a result, one starts seeing life through the lens of bitterness and betrayal. Relationships are interpreted through this lens. The result is one becomes isolated and alone. Literally, one lives in his or her own prison.
Secondly, unforgiveness is prideful and arrogant. In the story of the woman caught in adultery who was going to be stoned, Jesus said to the mob, “He who is without sin cast the first stone” (Jn. 8:7).
Unforgiveness says your sin is too great to be forgiven by Jesus. Only mine are worthy of forgiveness. I am God and I get to choose which sins are to be forgiven. The truth is, there is not one sin that can be committed against us that is bigger than the cross Jesus bore for all sins. Jesus died for all sinners and if God, who is perfect and holy, can forgive, so must we (Matt. 6:12).
Jesus does not want us to carry the burden of unforgiveness. He is compassionate about our hurts and wants us to lay our burdens at his feet. He is the only One who can carry out perfect justice.
I have been deeply wounded before. Maybe not as deep as some of you. But I know what it feels like when a person you deeply loved becomes your worst enemy over night. There is no greater pain than that. It may feel even more painful than the person dying.
I know how forgiveness can seem impossible. Be honest with the Lord and let Him know how difficult it is. He is compassionate and merciful and knows exactly what you are feeling. Lay yourself at His feet and let Him carry you.
Ask him to help you forgive and he will take the faith of a mustard seed and move mountains for you (Mt. 17:20). In due time, He will exalt you and glorify Himself through your faintest effort to obey Him (I Pet. 5:6). A heart of forgiveness is a beautiful and free heart. Can you take one step to forgive someone in your life today by asking Jesus to help you?