Freedom in Forgiveness

Author Max Lucado retells the story of human tragedy. “Rebecca Thompson fell twice from the Fremont Canyon Bridge. She died both times. The first fall broke her heart; the second broke her neck. She was only eighteen years of age when she and her eleven-year-old sister were abducted by a pair of hoodlums near a store in Casper, Wyoming.  They drove the girls forty miles southwest to the Fremont Canyon Bridge, a one-lane, steel-beamed structure rising 112 feet above the North Platte River.

The men brutally beat and raped Rebecca.  She somehow convinced them not to do the same to her sister Amy. Both were thrown over the bridge into the narrow gorge. Amy died when she landed on a rock near the river, but Rebecca slammed into a ledge and was ricocheted into deeper water.     

With a hip fractured in five places, she struggled to the shore. To protect her body from the cold, she wedged herself between two rocks and waited until the dawn.

But the dawn never came for Rebecca. Oh, the sun came up, and she was found. The physicians treated her wounds, and the courts imprisoned her attackers. Life continued, but the dawn never came.

The blackness of her night of horrors lingered. She was never able to climb out of the canyon. So in September 1992, nineteen years later, she returned to the bridge.  

Against her boyfriend’s pleadings, she drove seventy miles per hour to the North Platte River.  With her two-year-old daughter and boyfriend at her side, she sat on the edge of the Fremont Canyon Bridge and wept. Through her tears she retold the story. The boyfriend didn’t want the child to see her mother cry, so he carried the toddler to the car.

That’s when he heard her body hit the water.  And that’s when Rebecca Thompson died her second death. The sun never dawned on Rebecca’s dark night. Why? What eclipsed the light from her world?

Fear? Perhaps…On the day of her death, the two had been up for parole. Was it anger? Anger at her rapists? Anger at the parole board? Anger at herself for the thousand falls in the thousand nightmares that followed. Or anger at God for a canyon that grew ever deeper and a night that grew ever blacker and a dawn that never came?

Was it guilt? Some think so. Despite Rebecca’s attractive smile and appealing personality, friends say that she struggled with the ugly fact that she had survived, and her little sister had not.

Was it shame? Everyone she knew and thousands she didn’t had heard the humiliating details of her tragedy…She had been violated….

So nineteen years later she went back to the bridge.

Canyons of shame run deep…. Try as you might to outrun yesterday’s tragedies-their tentacles are longer than your hope. They draw you back to the bridge of sorrows to be shamed again and again.

If it was your fault, it would be different. If you were to blame, you could apologize. If the tumble into the canyon was your mistake, you could respond. But you weren’t a volunteer. You were a victim.

Sometimes your shame is private. Pushed over the edge by an abusive spouse. Molested by a perverted parent. Seduced by a compromising superior. No one else knows. But you know. And that’s enough.

Sometimes it’s public.  Branded by a divorce you didn’t want. Contaminated by a disease you never expected. Marked by a handicap you didn’t create. And whether it’s actually in their eyes or just in your imagination, you have to deal with it….”3  

If God is so great and loving, why is our world filled with victims? In a world where God gives freedom, some choose to victimize others. In the hearts of men, lies a sinful nature, needing to surrender to the transforming power of His grace.

But God understands what it is like to be victimized at the hands of His own creation. Betrayed, mocked, beaten, falsely accused and finally crucified, the ultimate man was victimized by men. Every day He is victimized again as His creation abuses one another. He is there. Some might argue, why doesn’t God stop it. Every day, he spares some victim. Each life that surrenders to his kingdom destroys the potential power of evil in that life. 

I’m not going to focus on why He doesn’t stop all the evil in our world, but I want to zero in on how a person who has been victimized can process the pain and move on with their lives.  We can learn from Jesus himself how victims can be overcomers.  In Luke’s gospel we pick up the story of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.

I asked myself the question, why the soldiers guarding Jesus became so abusive. 

One reason is that they were inspired by demonic forces who were venting their hatred for the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice what Luke states about their behavior. 

“The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him.

They blindfolded him and demanded, Prophesy! Who hit you?

And they said many other insulting things to him (Luke 22:63-65).”

What drives people to cruelty?

For the soldiers, it was a hardened lifestyle. For the religious and political leaders it was a threatened lifestyle. They were losing control. 

People who victimize others, are really trying to control others. They are trying to rise above their own sense of inadequacy and worthlessness. Victimizers abuse others thinking that the victim’s unwillingness or inability to stop them makes the victim less valuable. Some people feel empowered by abusing someone they think is weaker.

Cruelty can grow when we are involved in a hardened lifestyle. These executioners were hardened men. They were insensitive to the people in their charge. Can this happen to us today?  People who are in law enforcement have to guard their hearts from being overly suspicious and abusive toward people. When working with the criminal element, a person can grow insensitive to humanity.

Falsely accused and attacked.

Before the religious leaders, Jesus was falsely accused and attacked.  Matthew records, Pilate recognized that they were motivated to rid themselves of Jesus because of their envy.

‘For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him (Matthew 27:18).”

What was tragic was their unwillingness to dialogue with Jesus. They had their minds already made up. This element of life is so convicting. We believe what we want to believe. These leaders maintained their unbelief in the face of great evidence to the contrary. 

Why did these religious people work so diligently at destroying Jesus? One reason the religious leaders were trying to destroy Jesus is that they were losing control. Jesus was disturbing the system that these leaders were benefiting under. He challenged their lifestyles. It wasn’t enough just to write Jesus off. They wanted him dead.

One of the reasons why relationships are jeopardized is that we try to control others, thereby destroying intimacy. When I speak of intimacy, I’m talking about the ability to openly share our feelings with others. It’s evident to me, that these religious leaders traded the opportunity of intimacy with God, for control over a religious system. 

How many today make the same mistake? It can happen in homes, where people are trying to control the behavior of others, thereby building a wall of rejection and alienation.

Finally Jesus was brought before the people.

The people put the pressure on Pilate to crucify Jesus. The mob mentality pressured Pilate to go against the grain of justice.  We live in a world where justice is many times not served. How do we respond to it? How did Jesus respond to it?

The people choose Barabbas a convicted murderer and insurrectionist over Jesus.  They gave up on Jesus being the answer to their captivity to the Romans and looked once again to a failed patriot. How many times do we trust what hasn’t worked in the past, rather than turn to Christ for the answer?

How do we deal with being victimized?

What is the general response of those who have been victimized? Anger? Resentment? Unforgiveness? Bitterness?

How did Jesus handle being victimized?

What was meant to destroy was actually a vehicle that God used to reveal love and forgiveness. Where the leaders were trying desperately to maintain control, we find that Jesus was in control of his own attitudes and actions.  Even in the middle of evil, God has a way of revealing his grace.

Jesus chooses to forgive. Forgiveness is what transforms our lives and delivers us from sins hold on our lives. “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34a).”

In a Time magazine article years ago, the author relates that ‘forgiveness does not look much like a tool for survival in a bad world.  But that is what it is . . . Those who do not forgive are those who are least capable of changing the circumstances of their lives.’1

Struggling with Forgiveness.

But what happens when we struggle with forgiveness? Something which we all do at some point when we have been deeply hurt. I like what Corrie Ten Boom, that wonderful old woman who survived the Nazi death camps. “She tells of not being able to forget a wrong that had been done to her. She had forgiven the person, but she kept rehashing the incident and so, couldn’t sleep.

Finally Corrie cried out to God for help in putting the problem to rest. This help came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor, Corrie wrote, ‘to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks.’  ‘Up in that church tower’, he said, nodding out the window, ‘is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding, then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final dong and it stops. I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive, we take our hand off the rope. But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while.  They’re just the dingdongs of the old bell slowing down.’

And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversations. But the force-which was my willingness in the matter-had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at last stopped altogether. And so I discovered another secret of forgiveness: we can trust God not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts.”2

Look at the results or power of a victim who is a forgiver. It impacts the lives of people around them. “The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.’ When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away (Luke 23:47-48).”

The sneers and jeers are turned to reflection.  One writer pointed out that the effectiveness of Peter’s sermon fifty days later was a result of the attitudes and actions of Christ on the cross. People left in solemn thought.

Freedom through Forgiveness.       

We can’t be responsible for other people’s actions, but we can be for our own. We may not always be able to protect ourselves from others, but we can choose how we are going to respond to them. We can let their actions control us, or we can choose to forgive them, freeing ourselves from the real poison behind every evil. The evil that we do to ourselves, when we remain in the bondage of unforgiveness actually destroys us.

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1. Time Magazine, January 9/84. 28.

2. Corrie Ten Boom, from Leadership Magazine, (Summer Quarter 1987). 48.

3. Max Lucado, He Still Moves Stones, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 23-25.

1 Comment

  1. Jocelyn Hanna says:

    Loved your Good Friday message.

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