One of the benefits of serving a church in the city
was that many wonderful, different kinds of people visited. One older lady began to visit worship. She was very taken with the joy of the congregation. She was unusual, to say the least, and shy, very reticent to speak. She seemed lonely. An elder and I paid her a pastoral visit, and I am guessing here, but I suspect we were the first people invited into her apartment in a long time (maybe ever). There was an ancient computer (ancient even in those days), and many posters of a current movie on the walls. It was pretty weird.
Over months she began to warm up, and eventually, she professed faith in Christ. She began to share her life with us. She had suffered a lot over many years, and was estranged from her natural family. That, of course, left deep scars. I always felt as though I needed to walk on eggshells, being careful not to offend her, and scare her off. After a year or so, she offered an article for the church newsletter.
She told a story of forgiveness. Her brother had hurt her badly, and she had not had any contact with him for many years. But, she said, “If Jesus can suffer so much and still forgive, so can I.” At first glance, this was attractive. She wanted to follow Christ. But it began to bother me. Did she believe her sufferings were the basis for forgiving her brother? Did she understand God’s love for her? I decided to go over Paul’s word to the church in Ephesians 4:32f., with her: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you…and walk in love…”
God’s kindness and tenderheartedness have brought us forgiveness. The apostle’s charge is that we forgive as we have been forgiven, not as we have suffered. Forgiveness is free. It comes without payment from us, none, because it was so costly to Christ, “who loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph 5:2). She bristled a little when I went over this text with her, but I think she understood. I hoped that God would teach her, perhaps over time.
We have been away in Washington for almost 7 years. I can’t remember if we had seen her on past visits. But Jackie and I visited the church last fall, and our friend was there. That itself was a relief. I am so pleased that she is still there, hearing the Word week by week. I know that loving church. I know they love her as a true family. I hope that her experience of the love of Christ, shown by many people, is helping her to understand God’s great love for her. This is one way we learn of the forgiveness of sins, a way the wounds are healed, and we learn to forgive.
The seminary community is a fellowship of believers in Christ. Our relationships are precious. Let’s continue to show each other the tender, forgiving grace that both reflects, and helps us grasp, the forgiveness we have received in God’s great love.
Dr. Howard Griffith
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Academic Dean