Truth 3: Whatever we have to forgive others for and love them in spite of, we are forgiven of much more and God’s love is much greater.
In Dr. King’s last Christmas sermon delivered in 1967 at his Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta he said,
“I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many sheriffs, too many white citizens’ councilors, and too many Klansmen of the South to want to hate, myself; and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say:
‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you….and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’”
These are very powerful words coming from someone who had been imprisoned, threatened, physically assaulted and had his house bombed by people who hated him simply for the color of his skin. These words cary great weight coming from a man who delivered the eulogy at the funeral in Birmingham, Alabama for three out of four young African American girls murdered when a bomb went off during a church service at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. These words mean much coming from a man who lived out over a decade of his life just waiting for one of the thousands of death threats he received to become a reality.
And this may put some perspective on some of the people you or I find it difficult to love and be kind to. And it should make us reconsider some of the grudges we hold and forgiveness we refuse to give. How many relationships are ruined over seemingly trivial matters? And even those whom we despise for good reason, those whom have wronged us deeply, what good does this bitterness do?
As Dr. King pointed out, hate is a great burden. Our hate and lack of forgiveness causes far more harm to ourself than it possibly could to the one whom we are angry with. I have heard it said that refusing to forgive is like drinking poison yourself and then hoping it will kill the one you hate.
And of course Dr. King’s belief in loving and forgiving others, no matter how they’ve wronged you is deeply rooted in Christ’s teachings. During Jesus’ sermon on the mount he instructs us to not only to love our friends, but to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Christ gave us the ultimate example of this teaching in his most agonizing moment. As he hung bloody, beaten and dying on the cross, Jesus asked the Lord to forgive the very ones who had driven the spikes through his hands and feet.
When we hold a grudge or withhold love from another, we must not forget to consider how great a debt we have been forgiven through Jesus’ atoning death on the cross. No matter how badly or how deeply someone has wronged us, the forgiveness the Lord has shown to us is exponentially greater than that which we must show another.
Jesus drives this point home when he tells the parable of a man who is forgiven by a ruler of a $1,000,000 debt only to go out and find another man who owes him $100 and have him thrown in prison until he pays back the debt. When the ruler finds out about this, he takes the man whom he had forgiven of the enormous debt and has him thrown into prison to be tortured until he has paid his entire debt. And if there is any doubt of how serious Jesus is about this, he closes the parable by saying. “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
Loving those who love us is easy. Forgiving those who apologize and show genuine remorse is natural. But both MLK Jr. and Jesus remind us that a Christ follower is called to love all, even those who treat him disgracefully; and to forgive all, even those whom do not seek nor deserve their forgiveness.