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Forgiveness in the Time of COVID-19

Throughout this blog post, I have chosen to use The Passion Translation and have included links for easy reference.

What does forgiveness look like in the midst of a pandemic? How are we as Christians called to address the numerous grievances we may be experiencing in a time where many people are feeling persecuted, forgotten, abandoned, or betrayed by life circumstances?

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have probably experienced times of having to put our hope in people, institutions, and even ourselves, only to be disappointed, hurt, and abused. How much more now, when things are exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis?

Typically, when something catastrophic occurs, those of us that feel overwhelmed tend to look for quick fixes and novel solutions to ease the feelings of anger and anxiety. The last thing on our minds during these moments is forgiveness.

Over the last few months, social media has reported record numbers of unemployment and numerous closures of small businesses due to quarantine measures by governments. Added to these reports have been complaints concerning the limited supply of Personal Protective Equipment to protect first responders and those working on the frontlines in hospitals. We’ve also heard the overwhelming numbers of deaths related to the virus causing many to live in fear.

The COVID-19 crisis has presented both non-Christians and Christians alike with opportunities to point the finger at governments, foreign countries, and even those within our own communities whose behavior we disagree with. The nationwide “Stay-At-Home” orders across our country, while attempting to save numerous lives, have produced massive protests by angry citizens desperate for work in order to feed their families.

Only Jesus can remove deep hurts and disappointments from within us…

Responding to Offense

As Christians, what is our response to these complicated and tumultuous times? How should we respond to wrongs, intentionally or unintentionally experienced in times of crisis?

Jesus gives us profound directives in these instances. His responses can be seen in something many of us may already be familiar with already—the Lord’s Prayer. In Matthew 6:9-12, Jesus lays out a roadmap on how to pray as well as forgive. Verse 12 in this text centers directly on forgiveness, where Jesus states: “Forgive us the wrongs we have done as we ourselves release forgiveness to those who have wronged us.”

The COVID crisis has left many people feeling “wronged” by the government, their employers, and even the healthcare system. And yet, Jesus calls us to “release forgiveness to those who have wronged us.”

He even goes on to say “love your enemy, bless the one who curses you, and do something wonderful for the one who hates you.” Why? Because forgiveness frees us from the offense and allows healing to flow into our hearts. Forgiveness releases us from the wounds of our past and liberates us from our present suffering.  As Christians, it is one of our foundational disciplines as we seek to follow in the steps of Jesus Christ.

Forgiveness is not easy; it doesn’t always feel good. In fact, it goes against our gut reaction for vengeance and retribution. We often want our “debtors” to pay for their sins, which ultimately takes us down the path of a kind of violent Christianity—even if that violence is only ideological. A non-violent Christianity is rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ. It imitates His responses to offense and His love towards our persecutors.

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Choosing to Be Free

If we want to be emotionally free from the ill effects of anger, fear, and anxiety, we must imitate Jesus. We imitate Jesus first by remembering His love and forgiveness towards us. God’s love for His son was the soil in which Jesus fully rooted His identity and sense of belonging.

He calls us to move in that same identity towards those who have wronged us. His words in Matthew 5:44 state that we should “love your enemy” and “respond to the very ones who persecute you by praying for them. For this will reveal your identity as children of your heavenly Father.” As Christians, we march to a different beat than then the world does. We march to the sound of the Father’s voice telling us that “the battle belongs to the Lord,” that “vengeance is mine,”  and that He “already knows what you need before you ask him.”

Healing Before Forgiveness: First Steps

Some of us tend to forgive too soon before true healing has taken place in our hearts. Inner healing is required before we can receive Jesus’ forgiveness through us towards our enemy.

The first step in the process of healing involves receiving Jesus’ love for you and accepting His love no matter your situation or condition. God’s love is unconditional and has already been given to you through His son Jesus.

The second step is healing. Our hearts need to be healed from present or past wounds and memories that still afflict us. It is hard to forgive when our hearts still remember the sting of the assault. Only Jesus can remove deep hurts and disappointments from within us to the point that we no longer respond to triggers. Memories may remain, trust in relationships may still need to be rebuilt, but forgiveness can still flow through the power of Christ within us.

The Process of Forgiveness

So what does this kind of heart healing feel like? It feels like stillness, appreciation, and the warmth of Jesus’ love. In short, it looks like prayer.

Hearts that need healing begin with prayer to God for His power to heal, sooth, and remove traumatic memories. Forgiveness flows from deep intimacy with the Father in moments where we first enter into positive memories of appreciation and thankfulness—even if the only memory you can muster is the taste of your favorite dessert. From inside this moment of appreciation, we invite Jesus to share in this memory with us, asking Him to show us where His presence was around us at the time of the offense. It is here that we then ask Jesus into our memories of sorrow, anger, and pain, with requests for His love, light, and healing to enter the places of our suffering.

Then we listen. We listen for His voice, His words, and His presence around us, knowing that even in the ordinary spaces where we cry out to Him, He is there imparting peace to us.

It is in this prayerful process of appreciation, invitation, and petition with Jesus that capacity is built within us to forgive, and yes, even love our enemies. Without connecting to Jesus’ love for us and directly asking Him to heal our hearts, we will never be fully healed enough to forgive those who have wronged us. Every attempt at forgiveness will give way to old wounds, unhealed memories, and past triggers.

God With Us

The process I have just laid out is known as the Immanuel Approach and was created by neuroscientist E. James Wilder, and expanded upon by another neuroscientist named Karl Lehman. I encourage those who are interested in learning more about this approach to explore Dr. Wilder’s Life Model Works webpage and the work of D. Lehman’s most noted publication, The Immanuel Approach for Emotional Healing & For Life.

Jesus offers us Himself and His loving power through us to accomplish the dictates of forgiveness. He does not leave the act of forgiving up to us alone. He partners with us to effect change and freedom from the blows of life, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Every time we become still and turn our thoughts to His love for us and His presence within us, we are empowered to “bless the one who curses you, and do something wonderful for the one who hates you”, and pray for those who persecute us.