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On Faith: Forgiveness is letting go of bitterness

One of the most difficult things to do in life for many of us is to forgive someone who has wronged us. Forgiveness is not excusing a behavior, nor saying that what a person did wasn't wrong. It is rather letting go of bitterness and giving up one's own "right" to hurt the person who hurt you. Colossians 3:13 says we ought to forgive "as the Lord has forgiven" us.

An interesting example of the need for forgiveness is found in a story about one of my favorite Old Testament characters: King David. David was a godly man, and yet his life reflects the ups and downs we all go through. A number of times he fell into blatant sin. He also had a number of times where others treated him poorly. One such series of episodes involves a man named Shimei. Their story begins in II Samuel 16.

As their paths first cross, David has hit rock bottom. His son Absalom has just risen up against him to usurp the throne, and David is on the run from his own capital city. As he proceeds down a wilderness road, Shimei is up on the hillside shouting curses at him, saying he was getting what he deserved, and throwing rocks down at David and his men. One of David's men offers to put an end to Shimei, for in the ancient world, no one was allowed to call down curses on the king. But David says no, showing great restraint, and so Shimei follows along having his fun at David's expense.

Now we skip ahead a bit to II Samuel 19. Absalom is dead and the uprising is over. David has been restored to his throne. Shimei appears before David to beg his forgiveness, admitting his sin. Again, one of David's men offers to put an end to Shimei's life, but David says that it's a day to rejoice not kill, for his throne has been restored. And David gives an oath: "You shall not die."

Sounds good, doesn't it? David has forgiven Shimei, right? Many writers use this episode as a great example for us of how we need to forgive those who wrong us. But there is one more scene in this drama. It occurs when David is on his deathbed and is handing the kingdom over to another son, Solomon, as we see in I Kings 2:8-9. David's last words to Solomon were to ask him to judge Shimei and kill him.

Even the great King David, the "man after God's own heart" as he's called, still held a grudge and didn't truly forgive. A sad ending to a godly life. David was just a human being like us. He made good choices and bad throughout his life. In many ways he is a good example to us of how to live a godly life. But not in his dealings with Shimei.

The best example of forgiveness is, of course, Jesus. As he hung on the cross, he prayed for the forgiveness of those who put him there, saying, "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). He also chose to accept the penitent thief who recognized Jesus' lordship, saying to that thief, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). The lord loves to forgive.

If you have never found the forgiveness that Jesus offers through faith in his death on your behalf, seek it today. It's there for the asking (Ephesians 2:8-10). If you have been forgiven and are a Christ-follower, you need to forgive those in your life who've hurt you. If you are struggling with it, seek God's help. Remember the words of Colossians 3:13 — "Forgive as the Lord forgave you."

On Faith is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders.

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