The Painful Cut of Forgiveness Scissors
2012’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was the biggest in US history. Scarlett Lewis lost her son Jessie, but she was determined not to be swallowed by her grief. Not only did she forgive her son’s killer, but her forgiveness motivated her to make a change. Since her son’s funeral, Scarlett has urged people to change their angry thoughts into loving ones. It all started with an amputation. Here is how she described it,
“Forgiveness felt like I was given a big pair of scissors to cut the tie and regain my personal power. It started with a choice and then became a process.”
For Scarlett, forgiveness was the start of a life of service.
Another mother’s act of forgiveness and service left a judge stunned. Mother Ady Guzman-DeJesus toured with her daughter’s killer for over a year to serve others by speaking about how, without proper training, guns can be dangerous. In 2014 during the trial, she asked the judge for a shorter sentence for Jordyn Howe, the young teen who accidentally shot her daughter while showing off a gun on the bus. As she hugged the young man, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ellen Sue Venzer was moved to tears. She said,
“In 20 years, I’ve watched human tragedy unfold in this courtroom. I could have never imagined a victim’s mother embracing her child’s killer.”
Heart-wrenching forgiveness didn’t get things back to what they were before. Instead, they propelled individuals into service they would never have been able to do.
AA’s famous Twelve Step Program follows this same order. After admitting in the first step that you are powerless over the addiction and acknowledging that you hurt others in the 5th step, the 7th step is all about accepting that forgiveness. But forgiveness gets you only halfway. In steps 8,9 and 10, there is a progressive journey of turning your own forgiveness into service. When true forgiveness happens, it creates space for incredible acts of service.
The Space Forgiveness Leaves
When happily married Christy got an email from a woman claiming she will no longer be dating Christy’s husband, Christy was stunned, shocked, and broken. “Forgiving him was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said. “But his honesty made it easier.” The two later went on to renew their wedding vows. “Our marriage is stronger for it. I have no regrets,” she said. Forgiveness gave Christy and her husband space to build something even better than before.
Salakh: The Ultimate Forgiveness
When God issues forgiveness, something happens that is larger than human capabilities. His forgiveness creates space for service that is far greater than any human.
Read Psalm 130:3-4 NIV. Notice the order of forgiveness and service:
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, (translated for Hebrew word salakh)
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
When the Bible was translated into English, all forms of forgiveness were lumped into one word that we use today. But the specific Hebrew term for forgiveness in this verse is salakh. It is used in the Bible only of God – never does this word refer to people forgiving each other. When God issues forgiveness, radical opportunities for service beyond our capability are created.
Biblical Examples of Forgiveness Leading to Serving
We see the same pattern of forgiveness followed by a radical act of service all over Scripture.
God forgave Job for assuming he had to fully understand God’s actions and responses during suffering. This led to his story being one of the best books on understanding suffering.
Being a prostitute didn’t disqualify Rahab from being used to conquer Jericho. She had great faith as a result of God’s forgiveness of her sin. She was able to help two Israeli spies and as a result, saved her family.
Moses killed an Egyptian and ran away. He was called by God in an astonishing act of forgiveness when God called him to return to Egypt and let his people go. Before Moses was able to perform that great act of service, he had to be greatly
After realizing he couldn’t keep the vow to be faithful to Jesus for even 24 hours, Peter had given up on himself and returned to fishing. Jesus came to him, called him out of the boat (again), and reinstated him as a fisher of men. Without being given forgiveness first, Peter’s life of service, and leading the early church, would have never happened.
Paul’s forgiveness journey was an amputation, as Scarlett Lewis described it. He had to be blinded by Jesus and left to sit alone and come to the realization of what he was doing. God’s forgiveness leads this self-righteous murderer to a life of humble service to the world. He was our first missionary and went on to write at least 13 of the books of the Bible.
What This Means for Me
If you haven’t gone through our 40-day Forgiving Challenge, we strongly encourage you to do so. The salakh, the God’s-only forgiveness that is offered to you is LIFE-CHANGING. If you have gone through it, then you are primed and ready for the next season of service that God has made space for in your life. The fields are ripe!
In John 4 Jesus says, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” John 4:35
What was different about that point in history as opposed to every other? What made it the opportune time for people to begin serving?
Because forgiveness had been supplied.
Jesus had the authority to say the fields are ripe because He was the forgiveness offering that was given to the world. Forgiveness has to come first, and it did in Jesus. That’s why He could say your service is waiting. Forgiveness propels you toward service. You can take some next steps toward serving by checking our Serving Challenge.
Even now the harvest workers are receiving their reward by gathering a harvest that brings eternal life. Then everyone who planted the seed and everyone who harvests the crop will celebrate together. John 4:36
Challenge: Since forgiveness propels serving, take the freedom that God has given to you through His forgiveness, and now, out of that freedom, serve someone else.