Suicide and salvation

Eight years ago this week, my phone rang Saturday afternoon. It was one of my closest pastor friends. He began, “Greg, my son shot himself to death, today.” He then gave me the privilege of ministering to his family in those difficult days.

Many people are confused about suicide. Many wonder if a person is automatically damned if he takes his own life. I hope the funeral sermon I preached answers vital questions.

All names have been changed.

This sketch reminded me of Mark, who was in his early twenties.

Dear members of the congregation, friends of Mark, and especially to his family: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

You might think you are here for Mark, or for the Schultzes. You might think this is about Mark. Everyone knows that’s what a funeral is for, to speak well of our loved one and remember him. I will certainly do that, but that’s not really what this is about. When I talk about Mark, please hear everything I say under this heading: what the Lord Jesus did for Mark.

As your presence here is a marvelous show of love and support for the Schultzes, you are in this church to lean, with all your weight, upon the gifts and promises of God the Father, purchased and won for you through His Son Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of all of your sins, so that you possess life which defeats the grave, so that you are saved from death, devil, and damnation.

This sermon has three sections. First, a little bit about the man Mark was—about the young man, from what I learned on Monday when visiting with the Schultzes, who was a bright, funny, creative, precocious, talented, caring, loving, and empathetic young man. Second, an important section about sin, about the topic that you don’t want me to talk about today but one on which people always have so many questions: taking one’s life, and about your own battles with the enticing world, the tempting devil, and the weak flesh in which each one of us lives. Finally, the best part: the eternal life to come in the resurrection from the dead.

Part One

As I take up the first section, I must bathe it in the fact that Mark wasn’t simply the multi-gifted guy you knew him to be, but he was, first and best, a child of God. Mark was conceived and born a sinner. As he received every physical attribute from his parents, he received their spiritual attributes, the sin of every generation which stems from Adam’s original sin.

Because Alan and Beth loved Mark, they quickly took Mark to the font of forgiveness; the baptism of Jesus Christ in which Mark became the righteous possessor of his Lord’s promises: faith in Jesus Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of all his sins. God’s Word declares that the baptized one is joined with Christ in His death and raised with Christ in His resurrection, and that the baptized one puts on Christ as a robe of righteousness.

In every way, Mark was a typical, young, American male. I read all of his interests on his Facebook wall, and the many posts of his friends. I’ve heard the family stories.

The Lord equipped Mark with a fine body and a wonderful mind. Dad and Mom want you to know that Mark succeeded in sports because he was persistent. But, they were most pleased with the caring nature of their firstborn son. See, Mark simply could not bear to see anyone get hurt, nor to hurt anyone. You know, Alan and Beth, that sounds to me like living the Golden Rule.

Mark’s siblings want you to know how gifted their big brother was, the things he did to make them laugh—many of which are definitely only for family consumption—how compassionate he could be with them, and that he was such an awesome musician.

To all of you, who knew and loved Mark, he was special because he was a neat and nice guy. But, of eternally greater importance, to God the Father Mark was as holy as Jesus Christ, for God the Father always saw Mark through his Savior. Mark was holy in God the Father’s eyes, righteous and beloved, because Jesus is righteous and beloved of the Father, and Mark belonged to Jesus—Mark belongs to Jesus.

Here is Mark’s confirmation verse, Revelation 7:14: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (all Bible passages NIV). When Mark’s soul arrived in heaven, he joined this crowd which is gathered around the throne of God the Father and the Lamb Jesus Christ. Mark did, indeed, arrive in heaven from the great tribulation of this world and of his personal struggles, and now Mark is declared with all the other saints in heaven to be one whose robe was washed white—pure, holy, freed from the penalty of sin—in the blood of the Lamb.

That’s what the Lord Jesus did for Mark when Mark was baptized and throughout Mark’s life. That’s what Jesus does for you, the baptized who still live in this great tribulation. Lean on that today. Trust in that tomorrow. Rejoice in Christ forever.

Part Two

Moving to section two, we need to address some sticky questions. How can a loving Jesus let such terrible things happen? Doesn’t God promise to never give us more than we can bear? And, I will dare to ask the one that’s so hard to talk about: can a person go to heaven who took his own life?

How can a loving Jesus let such terrible things happen? A few years ago, when I was in a similar, tragic situation in Port Hope, it came to me to answer this question thus: do you want God to step into your life every time you are about to sin? Can you imagine if, every time you might misuse God’s name or tell a lie, He would zap you just enough to stop your mouth; or every time you were about to covet or lust or hate, He would turn your thoughts into fields of daisies and butterflies; or every time you are about to open the fridge for that evening snack that you don’t need, He would slam the fridge door on your fingers?

Do you want a God who controls your life? Is that what love does—build fences around us so that we can never do wrong, so that we can never get hurt?

As all parents do, Alan and Beth let Mark grow and let him go into the world. Jesus did the same for Mark. As Alan and Beth always had their hearts watching over Mark, and were always there to take his calls, answer his questions, and provide for his needs, so much more did the Lord Jesus always take Mark’s calls, answer his prayers, and provide for his needs. Alan and Beth let Mark make mistakes—that’s what love does, it gives freedom to do right and freedom to fail. From heaven, Jesus gave Mark freedom to live his life, to pass the tests of life or to fail them, but He always loved Mark, and in the ways that matter for Mark’s eternal life, He always kept Mark safe. Never did Jesus leave Mark; never did He forsake Mark.

The Lord doesn’t control our lives and, to ease into the second question, He does not give us more than we can handle—well, hold on; let’s look at what the Word of God says in full: “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Here’s what happens: every person has his own set of struggles, trials, and temptations—tests of weakness, illness, and maladies of every type. For you, the Christian, when there is no other answer—when you can’t fix a problem, or cure an illness, or avoid a temptation, or pass a test—there is always God’s answer to your trouble: Jesus Christ and His strength, His compassion, His forgiveness, and the wisdom of His Holy Spirit.

So, here’s what happens: we don’t always pay attention to the last part of this passage: “But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” We follow our own thinking. We listen to the ways of the world. And that wily devil, who has been learning our weaknesses, having been observing us all of our lives, knows exactly where to strike with his evil intentions. And we don’t stand up under it. We fall.

We ask: how can a Christian take his own life? Fair enough. As long as we are asking, let’s also ask:

  • How can a Christian cheat on his wife?
  • How can a Christian, who knows that God forgives his every sin for Christ’s sake, still hold onto grudges and not forgive others?
  • How can a Christian steal?
  • How can a Christian gossip?
  • How can a Christian sass his dad or mom?
  • How can a Christian delight in getting drunk?
  • How can a Christian misuse Jesus’ holy name?

The fact of our sinful nature is that we Christians commit every sin under the sun. To recognize this is not to excuse this. And please hear this clearly: nothing I say, today, gives anyone permission to do harm to himself. Listen to Beth Schultz on this: first, if Mark were healthy, this would never have happened and, second, Mark never meant to hurt anyone.

What I am working to achieve in this sermon is understanding: understanding of our frail minds and bodies; understanding of our brother, Mark; and, best of all, understanding God’s grace, Jesus Christ’s love, and the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence . . . especially when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Thus, we land on the question: how can a person go to heaven who took his own life? Actually, we can shorten it, for the question is the same for all: how can a person go to heaven? For this, I need only proclaim the promises and gifts of Jesus Christ:

  • 1 Timothy 1:15: “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.”
  • John 3:17: “For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
  • And, two verses later: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”
  • Romans 14:7-8: “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
  • Romans 8:39: “Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  • Finally, in John 6:40 hear the Lord Jesus: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Part Three

This takes us to the third and best section of the sermon—Jesus’ promise: “I will raise him up at the last day.” This is what Job was talking about: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the end he will stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I, and not another!”

Mark knows that His Redeemer lives, and in the end Mark will stand upon the earth, and after his skin has been destroyed, yet in his resurrected flesh he will see Jesus.

First Corinthians fifteen tells us four ways our bodies go into the earth because of death, and four ways in which death will be conquered in the resurrection given to us by Jesus Christ.

First, the body that is sown into the earth is perishable—that is, we live in bodies that can and do die, and we can’t stop it. But, the body Jesus will raise from the dead will be imperishable—never to be touched by death again.

Second, the body that is sown into the earth is laid to rest in dishonor—that is, it is a shame that our bodies should be captured in a casket. But the body Jesus will raise from the dead will be raised in glory—the resurrected body will never again be held captive.

Third, the body that is sown into the earth is sown in weakness—these present bodies succumb to disease, to old age, to accidents, to every manner of harm which silence them. But the body Jesus will raise from the dead will be raised in power—no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain will ever visit our resurrected bodies.

Finally, the body that is sown into the earth is a natural body—we are shackled to the laws of this corrupted world, in this sinful nature. But the body Jesus will raise from the dead will be raised a spiritual body—and of this I can barely speak, because you and I cannot begin to imagine what it will be like to transcend the only world we know.

All of this, dear friends, Jesus Christ prepared for Mark and for you. So, for now, Mark’s soul delights in heaven, at the foot of the Lord Jesus’ throne, praising Jesus for his salvation. So, for now, you delight in the house of Jesus, at His altar-throne, from which He is proclaimed in the Gospel, in which you are baptized into His gifts, and from where you are fed upon His living body and blood.

I close with this verse from Romans, which is really hard to digest: “We rejoice in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And, hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time . . . While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Dear Alan and Beth, and all who loved Mark: God’s Holy Spirit is at work today so that in your suffering your faith will be strengthened that you might persevere, building your Christian character by which you live in hope for the rest of your days in this great tribulation—the sure and certain hope which is Jesus Christ, the Victor over death.

Your Victor. Mark’s Victor. Jesus Christ. Amen.

Advertisements

Martin Luther, the Gospel, and I

After becoming Lutheran, I easily identified with Martin Luther. As he did, I grew up Roman Catholic. As his life went, I spent my life trying to figure out how to live well enough so as to please God and not be eternally damned to hell. As with him, I was finally set free by learning the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

After nailing to my Facebook wall my theses regarding what it means to be a Christian who is transgender, and experiencing the fallout from that on several Lutheran websites—from fun being made of me (“He’s nothing more than a man in a dress”), to accusations that I wanted to change the church by introducing new ideas (that is, the entire LGBTQ agenda), to being told that I am going to hell—my identifying with Martin Luther increased five hundred fold.

Luther-nailing-theses-560x538

While pondering Luther has been my regular companion these past three years, I am sharing my thoughts now because this October 31, 2017, is the five hundredth anniversary of Luther’s coming out on his Facebook-equivalent wall—the front door of his church—with his arguments against the Church, the ninety-five theses which found him in the spot I would find myself: everything from a joke, to a heretic, to damned.

Martin Luther had many arguments with the Church, with teachings that did not align with Scripture, and with various abuses, notably the selling of indulgences with the promise that these notes moved souls from Purgatory to heaven.

Ultimately, Luther’s fight was for the Gospel, for the purity of the Good News about Jesus Christ. Non-biblical teachings—such as Purgatory, praying to saints, the merits of Mary, making satisfaction for sins—had obscured the finished work of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and the granting of eternal life to the believer, and the assurance of salvation because of Christ’s work.

The Church was outraged by Luther. He was viewed as nothing but trouble. Discussion after argument after defending his teachings left Luther with a bounty on his head and excommunicated from the Church.

Luther never wanted to leave the Church. He did not want to start a new one. He loved the Church and, because he loved it, he longed for it to correct its errors. Luther longed to be heard, not to be misunderstood, for his opponents to be able to see and admit to the errors he had rightly recognized. He used Scripture as the basis of his doctrine, and any Church teaching or doctrine which did not align with Scripture was rejected.

The Church, with the pope as head, said that it had authority along with Scripture; when the pope spoke, it was as good as what Paul and Peter had written. Indeed, the pope, they have long taught and still do, sits in Peter’s seat. You don’t tell the pope that he’s wrong.

That’s exactly what Luther did.

A lot.

And he was really good at it.

The pope wanted his head.

Before it got to that point, Luther got to make a defense of his teachings. The image one conjures is of him standing before a council, behind a table, his books stacked high. The council put him on the spot: recant your errors and you can go home and all will be well. Luther finally replied, “I cannot go against Scripture and conscience.”

mic-drop-696x394.png

His response was perfect. It has been my wisdom ever since I learned it, and especially these past three years.

Luther never wanted to be a trouble maker, and neither did I. I am confident that Luther spent many hours trying to figure out another way than to take his ninety-five arguments and post them for the attention of all and the consternation of many. Surely, Luther had many friends and peers who urged him to back off, to chill out, to come to his senses.

But nothing he argued was against God’s Word, and because he was convinced about the seriousness of these matters he could not go against his conscience. If he had backed down, he would not have been able to live with himself. He would have felt like he was a chicken, nothing more than a punk monk. His conscience would have pricked at him, poked and prodded him. He would have no peace.

As I have more intimately identified with Martin Luther, I have homed in on the purity of the Gospel. I find a correct understanding of the Good News of Jesus Christ to be foundational to my fellow Lutherans (and all Christians) in grasping everything I am trying to teach about intersex conditions, gender dysphoria, living as a transgender Christian, and how the Christian Church should treat us.

Sadly, I too often feel as Luther surely did, that many will never hear, that my claims are too outrageous, that people have turf to protect, that fear—especially in the realm of all things sex and gender—easily wins the day for a multitude. As I have continued in God’s Word, constantly applying it to what I have learned about my confounding malady, I have worked to do everything in a God-pleasing manner, with a Christian conscience.

As with Luther, I am convinced by both Scripture and conscience that my cause is right, and that if I did not speak I would not be able to live with myself, that my conscience would only prick and poke and prod me into submission.

I never wanted to be an outrage to my Missouri Synod Lutherans, or to any Christians. I do not enjoy troubling people. It’s no fun being sneered at as a kook, a freak, a terrible sinner.

The Lord Jesus regularly ate with kooks and freaks and terrible sinners. He had compassion upon them. Ultimately, He laid down His life for them. No charge. No questions asked. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Ahhh, there’s that pure Gospel.  Here’s some more:

“God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (John 3:17).”

“God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19).”

“God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).”

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).”

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).”

2016-03-23 11.22.22
My favorite picture of Christ’s cross, painted by my daughter, Erin.

Am I a sinner? Yes. Do I continue to sin? I sure do. Might I have sinned, and continue to sin, in my transitioning? You betcha.

In the end, what will save me from my impending death? Will it be my personal purity? That I’ve done enough good works to stave off God’s wrath? That I finally get my head screwed on straight and repent that I caved in to my gender dysphoria and transitioned? Nope, nope, and nope.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith (Romans 3:23-25).”

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst (1 Timothy 1:15).”

I am placing my eternal life on the Lord’s telling me the truth. I am counting on Christ’s proclamation from the cross: “It is finished.” I am trusting in the pure Good News about Jesus Christ.

That’s what Christians do, setting everything else aside and “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

That’s what Martin Luther fought for: Christ alone, given by grace alone, received through faith alone, taken from Scripture alone.

I cannot go against Scripture or my conscience. Every night, after I recite the Apostles’ Creed and Martin Luther’s evening prayer*, I close my eyes with a clear conscience and go to sleep in peace, thankful that Jesus loves us sinners.

romans-8-1.jpg

*I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Is God punishing LGBTs?

earth globe facing asia with sun halo

I began work on this piece on Monday, then let it sit. At that time I had written these two paragraphs:

I am amazed that I have heard no conservative Christian leader declaring that the massacre at Pulse in Orlando was God’s punishment upon LGBT people. Indeed, so expectant was it that I even did an Internet search in a hunt for it.

The reason I expected it is because of the number of times it has happened. The one that always stands out is hurricane Katrina. That it hit New Orleans, some Christian leaders said, was God’s judgment on the city because it had become a den of iniquity.

I stopped there, deciding I did not want to write about something that, hopefully, would be a non-issue. Sadly, it became an issue.

After the magnanimous minister, Mark Wingfield, with his “Seven Things I am Learning about Transgender People” gave a good name to Baptists, a prig of a pastor, Roger Jimenez, has done his best to besmirch the same name. In a sermon, which has now been removed from YouTube because of, well, you’ll see, he said, “Are you sad that fifty pedophiles were killed today? Um, no. I think that’s great. I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida, is a little safer tonight. The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is I’m kind of upset he didn’t finish the job, because these people are predators. They are abusers.”

Wow, nice job there, Pastor, of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ and perfectly describing the people who were killed.

Um, no. You were a miserably mistaken oh for two, and when we look at your theology you will drop to oh for three.

It will come as no surprise that Jimenez would next say the thing that I had been waiting for some religious bigot to promulgate: “You don’t mourn the death of them. They deserve what they got. You reap what you sow.”

There it is: “They deserve what they got.” It’s another way of saying, “God was punishing them.”

Did these forty-nine people deserve to be gunned down? According to the Word of God, every person who dies “deserves what he gets.”

• “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die (Genesis 2:17).”
• “The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).”
• “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).”

Were those forty-nine people sinners, whose lives were unjustly taken from them? Yes. They were sinners because they were humans.

Here is correct theology: We all are in the same boat. No one conceived from sperm and egg is able to cast the first stone, because no one is without sin. If God were in the business of punishing sinners, none of us would be here. He would have smite us at the first chance.

The only One who could have cast the first stone, because He was without sin, chose not to throw stones but to freely lay down His life so that we might possess the forgiveness of all of our sins, the gift of eternal life, and salvation from death, devil, and damnation.

How do I know—how can I be bold to insist—that I am positive that God was not punishing those who were killed at Pulse, or those who died in Katrina, or any other situation that might arise? The Bible tells me so. (Emphases are mine.)
• “God was reconciling THE WORLD to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19).”
• “[Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of THE WHOLE WORLD (1 John 2:2).”
• “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. ALL we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—EVERY ONE—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us ALL (Isaiah 53:4-6).”

These facts inform me that when God says that He “wants all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4),” He is telling the truth. The only crazy thing about the Lord is that “He has committed to us His message of reconciliation (the sentence which follows what I previously quoted from 2 Corinthians 5:19).”

None of this conversation is to ignore any behavior which the Lord condemns.  Rather, it is to acknowledge that every one of us has behaviors which the Lord condemns.  ALL humans sin in thought, word, and deed. We all have ways of justifying our behavior, creating a ten commandments which suits us. None of us can deny it.  Thus, if our manner of proclaiming God’s Word is going to be one of condemning sinners, the place to begin is at home.

With the black-and-white-ness of all of this—that all are sinners who deserve God’s wrath, and that Christ took all of God’s wrath on behalf of us sinners—how shall we live?

Instead of using our mouths to condemn, let us employ them to encourage.

Instead of pointing fingers, let us use our hands to embrace our fellow man.

Instead of declaring things that God Himself does not declare, let us proclaim the thing that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself declared: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him (John 3:16-17).”

Too hard to forgive?

The weekend’s terrible events gave us two new people whom it would be so easy to hate. But they’re dead, so why waste the energy? Concentrating on the living, let’s go back to last week and the now infamous, privileged Stanford University swimmer-cum-rapist.

We heard about Brock Turner’s receiving of a paltry six months in prison for brutally raping Emily Doe (her assumed name, to protect her anonymity).

As this case made the news, twin reports came with it. First was Turner’s father’s appeal to the judge for a light sentence, that his son not be penalized for twenty minutes of bad behavior. Second was Emily’s twelve page letter in which she eloquently wrote of the devastating effects of this sexual assault, in which she says, “I learned that my ass and vagina were completely exposed outside, my breasts had been groped, fingers had been jabbed inside me along with pine needles and debris,” resulting in her reaction, “I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”

I cannot even begin to imagine.

And many cannot even begin to imagine what she said next to this criminal. “The world is huge . . . and you will make a space for yourself in it where you can be useful and happy. . . . I fully support your journey to healing, to rebuilding your life, because that is the only way you’ll begin to help others.”

And our jaws dropped at her crazy-huge ability to both possess and display a forgiving heart toward the man who devastated her.

You can cite as many cases as I in which people have forgiven a la Emily, who returned forgiveness for deep offense, for brutality, for lives unjustly taken, so I will let you reflect on those as I turn in the other direction.

As a pastor, I dealt with many people who were not able to forgive. I learned quickly that being a Christian did not mean you necessarily understood, were able, or even interested in forgiving.

“Pastor, Dad had a heart attack. He’s doing okay, but I need you to know something that I hope you can talk to him about.” Thus began a revelation which was one of the more dramatic cases of grudge-holding with which I would deal.

The interesting thing about the man, whom I’ll call John, was his age. He was 92. When the daughter told me, “I think it’s time Dad dealt with the grudge he’s been holding since the 1940s, when he felt he was not given a fair share of the family farm,” I marveled at the fact that NOW it was time—when he was in his NINETIES?

I entered John’s hospital room. Sitting on the edge of his bed as he ate lunch, John greeted me with a big smile. We covered the necessary ground, discussing his heart attack and prognosis, then I wasted no time. “When your daughter called, she told me about the deal with the farm and the hard feelings you’ve always carried.” John was unable to keep tears from welling in his eyes.

He detailed what had happened. If John were being accurate, it certainly was possible that he had been unfairly treated. I didn’t care. I proceeded to ask John all of the “so what” questions I could conjure: “So what resulted for you? Did it ruin your life? Did you have a lousy life? Did those who got the land have a better life, prosper more, or enjoy more blessings?” John didn’t have a single good answer, so I asked, “What have you gained by holding onto this grudge?” Now, he really cried. I never thought I would see THIS man cry, and certainly not like this.

I now led John to the Lord’s gift of forgiveness for him, hoping it would lead him to forgive those whom he believed had trespassed against him. His repentance rang with sincerity, so I gladly spoke in the stead of Christ, pronouncing him forgiven, then fed Him Christ’s body and blood to nourish this blessed gift of faith.

I left John, wondering. He was a lifelong Lutheran and faithful worshiper, active in our congregation. He had heard the Gospel of forgiveness hundreds of times. He had prayed in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Yet, he held this grudge, and the bitter taste of it lived in his mouth for decades.

I don’t know what allows some to forgive and some to find it impossible. I have learned that it does not matter whether or not one practices a religion, whether or not one specifically knows and believes in the free forgiveness won by Christ and has spoken scads of times, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” or whatever station in life a person holds. There is no rhyme, which allows me to find no reason.

As a Christian, I know the Holy Spirit works with our spirit to lead us to a Christlike attitude, who prayed from the cross for the forgiveness of those who were crucifying Him, but I also know the Holy Spirit forces nothing on anyone. The Spirit gives Christ, who is the Good Shepherd, and as a Shepherd Christ speaks and leads and guides, but never screams, pushes, or coerces. He wants no one to walk off the edge of a cliff, but He will pressure no one into the fold of His forgiveness.

Because of what I have witnessed, what I have here described, it seems to me that the ability to forgive is a full-bodied part of our being: one part nature, one part nurture, and the final part personal decision.

I also know this: I know that hearts can change; I’ve seen it too many times to give up on hoping for it.

When I read about the Emily Does of the world, I both rejoice in their ability and hope that grudge-holders will be smacked upside the head with the reality of what they are doing. When we live as a nation in the wake of horrific crimes such as the Pulse massacre, I pray that we can react peacefully—even as we express appropriate pain, horror, and anger—so that we might find ways to heal, to improve our citizenry, to forge a better and safer future.

I have observed grudge-holders. I have seen families in turmoil because no one would budge. I have watched how grudges are only one aspect of many negative behaviors in people. And I certainly would call none of it good. None of it beneficial. Not for families and communities. Not for the person who bears the grudge.

Forgiveness is way less about the one who hurt us than it is about us. Forgiveness brings healing, and healing begins at home. It begins in MY heart.

It works the same way it works in Christ, who provided for our forgiveness by dying for us “while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8),” not first calling for us to be sorry for our sins. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19).”

Thank you, Emily Doe, for your magnanimity toward Brock Turner. You have played the role of healer to the one who harmed you. What an exquisite gift you have given!

May all who bear grudges see that those grudges lead nowhere good, never bring healing.

Far more, may they be enlightened to the ability which they hold in their own hands, the ability to heal from within through the possessing of a forgiving heart.

Forgiveness reconciles people who had been at odds. Reconciliation is the foundation for peace.

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.