How to Show Forgiveness Towards Those Who Have Wounded Us
Offenses are a funny thing, don't you think? They can a mature person to sink to levels of immaturity. They can cause a young person to rise up in maturity. They can be aired out on social media (which is always a terrible idea). They can even be covered up in love. The one consistent thing about offenses is that we all get to choose how to respond to them.
David is one guy who really baffles me in his response. He literally had someone hunting him down with the intention of killing him, yet when David gets the chance, he doesn't respond rashly. He doesn't respond with equally evil intentions. He chooses to be an instrument that allows for King Saul to come to repentance.
Read 1 Samuel 24
Here we come to a place where King Saul heads into a cave to relieve himself. What he doesn't know is that David is even further into the cave with his men. You'd think that finally, he is in the perfect position to kill Saul and FINALLY end Saul's pursuit to destroy David's life. It would be easy to think that Saul's cave choice was simply God delivering Saul into David's hand. It was a sign, right? David could finally stop running and start his kingly duties. Yet, this isn't how David interprets this moment.
You see, unlike King Saul, David constantly sought God. He's regarded as a man after God's own heart. He's God's friend. As a result, he puts a high premium on God's sovereignty. He values the people that God has chosen to be put into leadership. In fact, He values God so much that he refuses to kill Saul because Saul is God's anointed.
By human standards, we'd say that Saul deserved to die. We'd talk about how Saul deserved what he got. But David's relationship with God raised the standards. It wasn't about what David deserved or what Saul deserved, it was about God's will. If God put Saul in charge, it was up to God to remove Saul from leadership. Talk about submitting to God's will! Until God removed Saul and unless Saul was moved to no longer pursue David with the intent to kill him, Saul would continue to hunt David down. Knowing this was likely going to be the case, David still chooses to submit to God's authority.
So there's Saul and David in this cave. David reaches out and cuts off a corner of Saul's robe. He immediately feels so convicted by his actions (remember those raised standards?) because of God's instructions that no harm should come to Saul. He's so convicted that his words convince the men with him to not attack Saul either.
Soon David confronts Saul. David shows him how close he was to Saul and how he did have the opportunity and ability to have attacked, yet he didn't.
What's so interesting is Saul's response. You'd think that Saul would have had a heart change and this pursuit of David's life would come to an end. You'd think their relationship would be restored and maybe even that Saul would peacefully step down from his position as king. But none of this happens. It doesn't take much more reading to realize that King Saul goes right back to his old ways of trying to kill David. In fact, in this exchange in 1 Samuel 24, it isn't even the first time that Saul had tried to kill David.
Here David gives Saul the opportunity to change, and Saul seems to take it for a small moment. He seems to repent. He even blesses David. Everything points to a change, but that change doesn't come.
Sometimes that's how forgiveness goes. We think that forgiveness relies on the offending party being repentant and completely turning away from their hurtful ways. But it doesn't. It doesn't even rely on the offending party deserving our forgiveness. Whether or not the other person receives our forgiveness and changes, we need to simply release the bitterness that may be growing in our own hearts.
Unexpected Second Chances: What We Learn
We might have every right to lash back at the one who has hurt us, but God calls us to a higher standard. Jesus challenges us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. That challenge calls us to lay down our rights for revenge. It calls us to lay down our anger and hurt. It calls us to seek Him for healing and direction. And you know what? Sometimes that direction won't make any sense, just like Saul entering that cave and appearing to be handed over to David for this whole saga to end. It would have made sense for David to kill Saul, but God was asking David to do something that wouldn't make much sense (sparing his life and continuing being pursued).
Sometimes our role is simply to give the offending person a chance at repentance. That person can take it or leave it, yet the chance is given. Regardless of whether or not they choose repentance, forgiveness should be offered.
Forgiving someone doesn't depend on the other person's choices to be deserving of our forgiveness. We aren't deserving of the forgiveness that Jesus offers us. We deserved the punishment of dying on His cross. MY cross. Instead, Jesus took that punishment and offers us forgiveness. We aren't deserving of that. He didn't wait for us to become deserving of forgiveness. This is called grace. Forgiveness isn't because of what you and I do, but who He is. Forgiveness isn't about another person's choices to be deserving of our forgiveness, it's about who Jesus is and that we value Him above everything (and everyone).
David valued his relationship with God more than Saul's repentance. Do you? Do you value your relationship with God above revenge or another person's desire change?