Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Cost of Christianity: Forgiveness

In church you hear one message: Turn to Jesus as your savior because He makes everything better. Sure, life still has it's ups and downs. But wouldn't you rather have God on your side through that?

Faith in Jesus saves. No more need for thought. You want saving, don't you?

If you answer, "Not yet," then we adjourn until next week. If you answer, "Yes," then we say the prayer. You can come back next week where you'll again hear the wonders of walking with Christ.

At the moment, I'm sick of it. I'm done. Count me out of such pathetic religious babble. I've had enough.

Becoming Christ-like is nothing like that.

So what is the cost of following Christ? I've heard of things like giving up porn, abandoning alcohol, reducing your rage, and surrendering your ambitions. And I'm sure there is a part of this that includes all of that. But that's not where I am at the moment. No, tonight I'm a lot more basic than that. I'm near square one: Forgiveness.

"Will you forgive me?" she asks, not daring to come closer.

"I don't know," I spit. "That's asking a lot of me."

"I know," she breathes.

I stew. The pain, the anger, the frustration. It's all there, very real. I want to hate her. I want to be furious. I want to feel this way forever because... because I have the right to. It may be petty, but it's real. Very real. "I have to eat this if I forgive you."

"It sounds very bitter."

"It is."

"I don't want it to choke you. Is there a way that it doesn't have to choke you or be bitter?" She really wants to know. It would hurt her too much if it choked me. And she can't bear more bitterness.

Bible truths start nudging my brain. These aren't lessons you learn in Sunday School. These aren't messages you hear from the pulpit. You've heard about your need for forgiveness. You've been told over and over again that you forgive because of how much you have been forgiven. You can even remember a time when someone told you that your ability to forgive rests on God's ability to take care of you and take that burden from you.

But I want to hold this burden. I want to choke on the bitterness of forgiveness. I want to be crushed under the weight of the wrong done to me. I don't want it to go away. I certainly don't want it replaced with something like intimacy and fondness. Even the thought of those words makes me want to spit.

And this, I realize as I stew silently, is why there is no transforming power of Christ in my life. This--and other things like it--are what make Christianity so impotent in my life. This is why I see no power, no heart change, no awesomeness in following Christ. This is why Christianity is simply so hard for me to share: Because it costs so stinkin' much! And if I'm not willing to make the payments, I'm certainly not going to ask someone else to do the same.

"I forgive you," I grumble. I'm a man of my word, and if I'm going to follow, I'm going to follow... even if it's terrible. Even if it costs too much. Even if it isn't worth it.

I cling to the burden a moment more, feeling Christ gently prying it from my hands. I scream, 'I don't want to let You have this!' I curse at my Savior. I swear at the One who forgave me. I scream profanity in the face of Him who promises to repay whatever I'm going to lose in this exchange of forgiving.

I'm feeling the cost.

It hurts. This is faith in action, and it hurts.

I let go.

The world, sadly, doesn't crumble. My wife slides closer and puts her arms around me. Life can go on. I've exchanged my pain, anger and frustration for forgiveness. Christ's blood has covered the difference. I paid the price of following Christ and He paid me back with more. Much more.

But it wasn't fun. It wasn't nice. It was worse than paying a needless bank fine. It was awful. Horrible. Terrible.

But here I am, a couple hours later, writing about it. And not in a vehement, vengeful, violent way. I'm okay. I'm okay in way that I wouldn't have been years ago before God started working this forgiveness thing with me.


A few months ago I almost wrote a piece about the ineffective nature of Christianity. I was going to argue, and argue well, that if we could just grasp one simple concept, we would be perfect. It was this easy:

Realize that, no matter what, you'll be okay. Even if you're not okay, you'll be dead and, therefore, okay. So just let everything roll off you.

If we could do that, I'm convinced, we'd be fine. Wars would end. Hatred and rage would cease. Generosity would flow. The world would experience harmony and love the likes of which has not been seen since the Fall.

...but I realized something tonight: That can't happen. When we let things "roll off" we forgive. We take that burden. We eat that cost. And it is heavy. It is bitter. And if we have no place to put it, nothing to pay us back, then we just carry it ourselves and become overwhelmed.

This is why Christianity is so powerful: We have a God who offers to carry those burdens, to replace the bitter drink with a cup full of good things... like intimacy and fondness.

The cost of following Christ is great. But the payoff is worth so much more.

And I think I may just be beginning to understand these things...

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father