The Folly of Forgiveness

I was shaking the last kernels from a feed bag in the barn when I heard a meow from the haymow, the voice was different from our old farm cat’s.  Looking up, I saw a creamy yellow tomcat face looking down at me. Climbing the ladder to the hayloft, I sat down on a bale of hay, and waited.  It wasn’t long and he was purring in my lap while I stroked his fur.   I had just been thinking we needed an additional barn cat to keep the rodent population at bay since our only other cat was now geriatric.  I didn’t want this young fellow to get away so I hopped in my vehicle, promptly drove to the store and bought a bag of cat food. He never left.

We decided to name him Eric Liddell because he runs everywhere and Maggie said we must therefore name him after a famous runner, so we did.  He earns his keep hunting as I had hoped. Now that he and Rascal, our other cat figured out who was top cat of the farm, he is chatty and friendly to everyone, even the thousand-pound horse he bunks with.  That is, almost everyone.  

Bandit the dog is king of the house yard. No cats or other small creatures are allowed within the radius of his wireless remote fence.  Early on he spotted Eric Liddell near the barn and barked at him endlessly since he was where Bandit could not go. Until one day. One day when Eric Liddell decided to join us near the house, us being several humans and Mr. Bandit.  As you can only imagine, this resulted in a dramatic chase all over the farm concluding with Eric on top of a hay-rack with a plumed-out tail and Bandit barking fanatically from the ground below.  

Fortunately, all’s well that ends well.  Bandit came home and Eric Liddell never again came near dog or house.  I was puzzled by the fact the cat would intentionally provoke his mortal enemy by walking boldly into his territory; and then it dawned on me, Eric Liddell wasn’t taunting Bandit, he simply didn’t know any better, he thought he had no enemies, that everyone was his friend. 

On April 9, 1865, thirty-four years to the day before my Grandmother was born, General Robert E. Lee, head of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant of the Union Army of the Potomac at the Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. Upon surrender, Lee fully expected to be arrested but was amazed when he was treated with kindness, dignity and respect and was told he and the men and boys in his troops were to simply lay down their arms and go home.  History reports from that day forward Robert E. Lee never allowed an unkind word to be spoken about General Grant in his presence.

 The interesting part of the story is that what General Grant so graciously did that day, didn’t originate with him, but with his commander in chief, President Abraham Lincoln. It was Lincoln who insisted this was how the war between the states must end. Lincoln once said, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”  He is also famously quoted for saying, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  He knew that when it was over, in order for the country to be reunited, forgiveness had to win the day. The past had to be left in the past. He understood forgiveness was the only path to reconciliation and reconstruction. Many on the winning side (and the losing side for that matter) thought that very idea of forgiveness  folly, believing there was much damage done and there must be consequences and restitution. But Lincoln knew better; he knew that forgiveness was no gift, it was the only possible means to break the chains of bitterness and hatred on both sides. He believed the whole country needed emancipation from the resentment that had for too long plagued the United States of America.

Even though Lincoln gets the credit for saying and modeling forgiveness of the enemy, it was, in fact, his commander in chief, Jesus Christ, who first said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.”  Jesus is the original culture shocker because he commands his followers to love their enemies and to pray for them. Who does this?  No other worldview, I can assure you, only the Judeo/Christian worldview demands its followers  treat others the way they would want to be treated and to forgive if you expect to be forgiven.   Honest Abe believed in this truth he read each and every morning from the Word of God.  Lincoln also knew that faith without works is meaningless and the folly of forgiveness must be accepted first or the works will be empty, they would simply be self-serving.  This truth has to be put into practice in the battlefield of life, not simply waxed eloquent from our lips.  President Lincoln knew forgiving the enemy wasn’t folly, it was the only way the people of this precious country could reconcile. He knew the truth of what the Bible taught, that God’s ways are foolishness to those who are perishing, but life to those who believe and live it out.  

 The south had rebelled against the Union and the war had taken a tremendous toll on the entire country. Forgiveness was the only way the two sides could come together without the blame game tearing the nation to shreds.   Yes, there were unfathomable atrocities committed on both sides both before and after the surrender in Appomattox County, the assassination of President Lincoln being one.   But the strong thread that bound this fragile beginning of once again becoming The United States was woven out of forgiveness.

Time and time again I see the ravages of unforgiveness all around me and it is important here to clarify forgiveness from condoning wrongs done. But you see, holding on tightly to wrongs done by others ruins you and me.  It keeps us chained to persons and events from days gone by that hurt us and turn us into prisoners in our minds and hearts. It keeps them in power over us.  The best amends is always changed behavior, but sometimes the offending party never changes or admits their part of the offense.  As long as he draws breath, Bandit the dog will not stop running other animals out of his territory.  I can’t change that.  Eric Liddell understands this, accepts the situation and now has clear boundaries.   Did he stop living and loving life? Not one bit.  Did leave his new home as a result?  No sir. And that goes for us too. Neither do we have to let unforgiveness turn our hearts to stone and chain us to the hurtful past, or rob us of our life and joy. We can’t change the past anyhow. 

If we have surrendered our lives to Christ, he has forgiven the black spots on our record of life.   He doesn’t remember them or hold them against us and we must imitate him.  As Lord of our life he commands that we do the same. He knows the damage resentment and self-pity does to our hearts our souls, our relationships and that it robs us of the joy of living fully.  And not only that, he tells us in plain words that if we don’t forgive others, we won’t  be forgiven. If we expect to be forgiven, we must forgive.

And so, my friends, in the shadow of the cross of Christ, I urge you not to be a house divided but united,  to forgive, love and pray for your enemies. Lay down your arms, and go home to Jesus. Join with me in receiving and paying forward the folly of forgiveness and I promise, you shall be:

Joy filled always,

Christine Davis