Getting down to the heart of the matter…forgiveness?

The Old Testament readings from the lectionary the past few weeks began in the first chapter of Job and trots the reader through chapter by chapter like a world-class tennis match.  Job on one side, friends on the other in the preliminary rounds.  Then Job in the final match meeting God. Back and forth.

In earlier reflections on today’s passage I have noted how tired I was becoming of Job’s whining. He is just so angry. Fourteen chapters already!  You are forgiven, Job, for heaven’s sake.

And as I re-read my earlier reflections, I saw that the Holy Spirit put on my heart some compassion for Job mid-stream, reminding me he lived and died long before Jesus – long before forgiveness was really conceptualized by mere mortals. There wasn’t language to be had to speak of forgiveness  – to ask for forgiveness – to forgive – for a transgression or sin that a person didn’t know they had committed or deserved.  When a person thinks of him or herself as wholly righteous and not broken.

Forgiveness. The word – the concept – is easily hijacked by the culture on some level, it seems to me.  I sense vacuousness in the word when it is not connected with the One who forgives, but instead, connects forgiveness with memory – the “forgive and forget quip.” The charge from one to another to ‘just get over it, to move on’.  Anything that suggests that forgiveness will erase the memory of the injury.

At the same time, there are some stories floating around that do not fall prey to the “forgive and forget, how-to-move on”(secular) school of thought.  Laura Hillenbrand’s book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption comes to mind. It is in some respects, a sort of modern day Job story. (It will interesting to see how the redemptive aspect of forgiveness is treated in the not-yet released film.)

Forgiveness from the Lord Jesus Christ for our sin against God, our transgressions, our intentional distancing from Him, from His Word, from praising God, from serving self and not others…that kind of forgiveness is so, so complete, so whole and holy and so deep, that if we can find our way to it and rest there, then forgiving others as He forgives us will be transformative.  Healing begins there at that deep, deep, holy God-gene level.

don-henleyI heard just yesterday a beautiful song by Don Henley of The Eagles, entitled ‘Forgiveness’. There is a depth here that is often absent in popular music, film, books or television.  It doesn’t treat forgiveness as this absolute thing – like once you forgive, then you will forget and on you go, happy camper. As if it is time that has agency in forgiveness and not the Lord, God.

True forgiveness is all about grace.  It comes to us from God.  It is ours to give others only by grace.  If we don’t land and rest there – in God’s grace and forgiveness – just as Job wrestles to get a grip with – if we stay attached to pride believing we are only broken because of what someone else did to us, that we are broken through no fault of our own, if we hunker down in a place far away from God, if we believe that all we have done or achieved, acquired, loved is of our doing – that all that is good in our life is deserved, and angered that it has been taken from us – then, the injury, suffering, loss will simply kill us.   Literally eat us alive.

Henley’s song says as much. Here he sings of an ended human relationship, a love that has come to an end.  By God’s grace, he realizes the mixed emotions are to be expected and wonders if such emotions aren’t just about forgiveness.  Time for God to have some agency in his life.  But time, like the “just get over it” kind of time, does come into play.  There is an aspect to get real and on with life when one acknowledges that lives, things, circumstances of the world are broken.  So in God’s time, by God’s grace, forgiveness will transform, will release and allow healing.

Here are the song’s lyrics, preceded by Henley’s recording (please listen to the track, as your read – he puts emphasis where I think I would). I have bolded those words I hear through the gospel, good-news voice of the Holy Spirit.  I hear Job singing this song.  He speaks of his scattered friends, his scattered thoughts, love lost.

Forgiveness by Don Henley: 

I got the call today, I didn’t wanna hear
But I knew that it would come
An old true friend of ours was talkin’ on the phone
She said you found someone
And I thought of all the bad luck,
And the struggles we went through
And how I lost me and you lost you
What are these voices outside love’s open door
Make us throw off our contentment
And beg for something more?

I’m learning to live without you now
But I miss you sometimes
The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I knew, I’m learning again
I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the Heart of the Matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore

These times are so uncertain
There’s a yearning undefined
…People filled with rage
We all need a little tenderness
How can love survive in such a graceless age
The trust and self-assurance that lead to happiness
They’re the very things we kill, I guess
Pride and competition cannot fill these empty arms
And the work I put between us,
Doesn’t keep me warm

I’m learning to live without you now
But I miss you, Baby
The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I figured out, I have to learn again
I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the Heart of the Matter
But everything changes
And my friends seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore

There are people in your life who’ve come and gone
They let you down and hurt your pride
Better put it all behind you; life goes on
You keep carrin’ that anger, it’ll eat you inside

I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the Heart of the Matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me

I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the Heart of the Matter
Because the flesh will get weak
And the ashes will scatter
So I’m thinkin’ about forgiveness
Forgiveness

The opening verses of the Job reading expresses a futility, an anger that the broken mortal can not be healed.

‘A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble,
2   comes up like a flower and withers,
flees like a shadow and does not last.
3 Do you fix your eyes on such a one?
Do you bring me into judgement with you?
4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?
No one can.

I wonder.  The Holy Spirit has me wondering.  In trying to get to the heart of the matter, as Job was trying to do, I wonder if all suffering and loss isn’t just about forgiveness.

Thy will be done, we all pray.  Forgive others as our Lord, God has forgiven us.

Praise Him.

 

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