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Cultivating A Heart for Forgiveness

January 20, 2013

Forgiveness doesn’t seem to come naturally for humans.  In fact, we are more prone to holding a grudge or taking revenge when we are offended.  For “most” of us, we suffer through a great deal of dysfunction, disease and destruction simply because of un-forgiveness in our lives.  We just “can’t get past the past.”  

Even though God is merciful, loving and forgiving, and we are created in His Image, and perhaps on the surface we “start out” as trusting, forgiving souls … somewhere along the way, “shtuff” happens and that “gene” of forgiveness seemingly fades away.

Maybe it’s like becoming “lactose intolerant.”  I once read that because we need the nutrients in dairy products more as a baby and our developmental years, our bodies are more tolerant of the lactose.  But as we get older, it’s just a natural evolution of the human body to become more intolerant of it.  We may still need the calcium so science has found other ways to get it into our system without the sugary acid.

Maybe, because we were all raised by “supposed” adults who had grown intolerant to offense, God gave us as children more resilience and ability to forgive in the moment?  But without the continuous proper nurture (or preparation for life), alas our hearts grow intolerant and we have to find other ways to work forgiveness into our lives.  A friend of mine once told me of some wise words that had been shared after a very painful divorce.  Sometimes the offense is soooo painful and forgiveness does not come easy.  God knows this (of course), and while we might not be willing and able to forgive right away, it is important that are “willing to be willing” so that He can start and finish the healing process.

If we are NOT WILLING to be willing, then our hearts easily become hardened, our minds become cynical and our spirits become sick through all sorts of emotional dishevel.  Willing to be willing, preps a heart for forgiveness when “life is just not fair.”

With that in mind, let’s consider our friend, Job.

From The Message … Job 1:1-5:

Job was a man who lived in Uz. He was honest inside and out, a man of his word, who was totally devoted to God and hated evil with a passion. He had seven sons and three daughters. He was also very wealthy—seven thousand head of sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred teams of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and a huge staff of servants—the most influential man in all the East!

 His sons used to take turns hosting parties in their homes, always inviting their three sisters to join them in their merrymaking. When the parties were over, Job would get up early in the morning and sacrifice a burnt offering for each of his children, thinking, “Maybe one of them sinned by defying God inwardly.” Job made a habit of this sacrificial atonement, just in case they’d sinned.

Well, it’s quite obvious that “forgiveness” was an important element in Job’s life.  We don’t know (right off the bat) if his family had that same appreciation or value, but we can see that he lived his life with a certain fear (respect) for the Lord. 

God had a lot of confidence in Job.  This is proven in what happens next, and while I would want God to have the same confidence in me, I sure would not want to go through what Job did to prove it.

Evidently, the Devil gets to show up at staff meetings of the Lord and His Angels, because in verses 6-12, after Satan gives his monthly report, Job is allowed to become a research project for endurance, patience, and commitment under great duress and hard times.

So … next thing we read … Job was going about his good and blessed life when all of the sudden the world fell apart for him.  Within a day’s time, he lost everything. (Read the passage from The Message for a clearly illustrative picture of this horrific day for him)

After Job received word about his wealth being attacked and destroyed by various enemies, and a tornado hitting the house where his kids were partying, thus killing all of them, he fell to his knees in grief, but said,

Job 1: 21 Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
    naked I’ll return to the womb of the earth.
God gives, God takes.
    God’s name be ever blessed.

22 Not once through all this did Job sin; not once did he blame God.

But Job’s misery does not end there.  After taking all his wealth, Satan then destroys his health.

Job had ulcers and scabs from head to foot. They itched and oozed so badly that he took a piece of broken pottery to scrape his body, then went and sat on a trash heap, among the ashes.   His wife and friends saw how miserable Job was and suggested (even ridiculed him) that he “curse God” for this plight of suffering.  But Job said “No … we take the good from God, why not also take the bad?” (paraphrased)

His friends are worried about him. For a while, they sit with him in his misery, trying to console him.  Then one friend suggests all this came about because of his sin, and suggest he go and “throw himself on God’s mercy” and repent.  He gives him this long “schpiel” about how God can turn things around for him, if he will just do that.

And Job admits that he’s at the end of his rope.  He says that he wishes God would just take him out, rather than to keep on with all this suffering.  He is miserable … truly beyond misery.  In addition to his physical, emotional and spiritual suffering, his so-called friends are berating him with all kinds of “logic and wisdom” as to why he is suffering. They go on and on and on with all kinds of ideas about what’s “really happening” with Job.  And, while we always hear about the “patience of Job,” it’s clear that here at the end of his rope, he’s falling apart and presenting his case to God.  He is enduring all these catastrophic life issues, but he is not hiding his misery by any means.  he’s crying out … asking for relief.

He just doesn’t understand why all this is taking place, and I must admit I would not be any better under the same load.  In fact, as I read it now (up through Chapter 37), I feel like saying, “Come on now, God … give the poor man a break. This is not fun anymore.”   I want to get to the “hero part” where God comes in to save the day showing us all the reason and we all “praise and glorify His Name.”

Well, finally in chapters 38-39, God responds to Job in his misery with all his questions of “WHY is this happening?  What is going on?  What did I do?” 

But it doesn’t start out as one of those “nice, cushioned, politically-correct, responses that any of us would want to hear so we’d feel all warm and fuzzy.”   No, basically God lays out His resume with complete authority after He asks Job,

“Who do you think you are questioning Me?  Are you going to haul Me, the Almighty God, into court and press charges?”   (paraphrased from The Message)

Job 40:

3-5 Job answered:

“I’m speechless, in awe—words fail me.
    I should never have opened my mouth!
I’ve talked too much, way too much.
    I’m ready to shut up and listen.”

God continues to lay out “WHO” He is … and who Job i not!. 

On the surface, as we read through this exchange between the Almighty and His faithful servant, it is not difficult to feel the shame/embarrassment or humility that was probably surging through Job’s veins. It’s a “pretty rough talking to”, (as my son describes it when I’m coming down on him particularly hard).

Our obstinate, defiant and prideful human nature would cause most of us to outright reject WHO God is … in this exchange … in this moment.  But Job doesn’t. Because remember, he had a heart that was “fertile” to forgiveness.

(I feel like this is a point to “exhale”)

AND, Job responds to God …

42 1-6 Job answered God:

“I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything.
    Nothing and no one can upset your plans.
You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water,
    ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’
I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me,
    made small talk about wonders way over my head.
You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking.
    Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’
I admit I once lived by rumors of you;
    now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears!
I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise!
    I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.”

Basically, I interpret Job’s response as, “before this, I never really knew You, Lord.  I only knew “of You.”  I’ve talked a good talk and walked a good walk … but now I see that was just “surface” stuff.  This is REAL and INTIMATE now … and I don’t want anything less.”

Then God … our WONDERFUL, AWESOME, POWERFUL, MAGNIFICENT, MERCIFUL AND FORGIVING, LOVING, ALMIGHTY GOD turned to Job’s friends and said, “I’ve had it with you three fellas.  You have not been honest WITH Me or ABOUT Me … not like Job has.”  They had been so pompous and self-righteous toward Job and more or less, making assumptions about God’s wrath upon Job, they were basically ignorant.

God directed them to make some sacrifices of their own, and told them that when they did this, Job would intercede (pray) for them so that God would not give them what they deserve for “talking nonsense” about Him.   (This ought to put a healthy fear of God (wisdom) in all of our hearts.)

In conclusion, from Job 42:

:10-11 After Job had interceded for his friends, God restored his fortune—and then doubled it! All his brothers and sisters and friends came to his house and celebrated. They told him how sorry they were, and consoled him for all the trouble God had brought him. Each of them brought generous housewarming gifts.

12-15 God blessed Job’s later life even more than his earlier life. He ended up with fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand teams of oxen, and one thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first daughter Dove, the second, Cinnamon, and the third, Darkeyes. There was not a woman in that country as beautiful as Job’s daughters. Their father treated them as equals with their brothers, providing the same inheritance.

16-17 Job lived on another 140 years, living to see his children and grandchildren—four generations of them! Then he died—an old man, a full life.

Job suffered A LOT of personal blows in his life.  As I mentioned, it is difficult to read this account without “wondering” why God even entered into this game with His enemy.  But as I sit here pondering, a critical thought comes to mind, “What if God had just dismissed Satan’s taunting challenge in the beginning?”  What if He had said, “go away … I’m not going to entertain your evil notions”???? 

(Now in Job 1:6, from The Message, Satan is referred to as the “designated accuser” and in other versions, it is explained that Satan means “adversary.”  One of the dynamics of all group/group meetings or functions, is that there will always be one to take on the role of “devil’s advocate” — “challenger” “antagonist” or “disagreeable one.”)

Without the “challenge” illustrated in this story, would we have had such a prime example of how much offense, pain and suffering, the human spirit can endure?   

Would we have such a prime example of our own reflection in Job and in his friends?  I mean, we must admit, many of the frail concerns/ideas expressed by Job’s friends, and many of the questions that Job expressed in his honesty, were going through our heads too, right?

And every day, bad things happen to good people, and we just don’t understand why.  Whether it’s the result of a natural disaster, a catastrophic disease, or an act of violence that leads to loss and death of loved ones (all of which Job suffered), the ever pending question is “where is God?”   AND for many of us, (too many), rather than lay those authentic, soul and heart-wrenching questions before God, instead we develop a hardness toward Him and others, (only to perpetuate our suffering).

This all goes back to my friend’s admonition about “being willing to be willing.”  Without the portrayal of this “adversity” or challenge in a faithful one’s life, we might not be able to “see that there is hope and light” at the end of the tunnel.  We might not be able to see the value of being “willing to be willing” when we don’t feel like forgiving.

We must consistently seek to cultivate a fertile ground for forgiveness in our hearts … so that we can “receive” God’s work in our lives with reverence and with trust.  It’s not easy but as Job exemplifies for us … it is worth it.

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