From Hatred To Honor

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
Matthew 6.14-15

We had met for coffee early one Sunday morning, and somewhere in our conversation, my friend told me about his growing up. His last childhood memory of his father was at age five, as he watched him beat his mother in the front yard. Shortly thereafter, his mother took him and his sister and left, never to return. She never remarried, but dedicated herself to being her children’s provider and protector. In the process, she became their hero. As you’d expect, my friend grew up full of anger, promising himself that one day he would have his revenge on the man who destroyed their family circle.

In his mid-twenties, my friend married, had four daughters, and became a Christian. Now as a follower of Christ, he knew he must confront the hatred he had for his father; but his good intentions were easily put on the back burner, and the years passed.

Then came a day when, having been asked to preach, he prepared a lesson on honoring God and one another. Late on a Saturday night, he read again the command to honor mother and father, and like a ton of bricks it hit him: he was to honor his mother and his father. But how could he honor the man who beat his mother and was never there for them? And why should he be required to honor an abusive, womanizing alcoholic. “My father doesn’t deserve honor,” he cried to God, but as soon as he said it, an echo came back: “And you didn't deserve to have my Son die for you, but he did.” Shaken to his soul, my friend knew that somehow, in some way, he must reach out to his dad.

The only thing he knew to do was to write a letter. “Father, as I was growing up I could not wait for the day when you and I would meet so that in some way I could either physically or verbally hurt you. But I am now a Christian, and I need to honor you. You are my father, and I want to tell you four things: 1.) I forgive you; 2.) I honor you; 3.) If you need me, I will be there for you; and 4.) I love you.” Later that morning, on the way to church to preach on honor, he mailed the letter.

A week later, the phone rang and my friend answered. The person on the other end was sobbing, but these words came through: “Son, this is your dad. I read your letter and I’m sorry. I’d like to see your family and meet my granddaughters.” Arrangements were made. When my friend and his family went to the airport to pick up his dad, he was especially touched when one of his daughters grabbed her grandfather’s hand and walked with him through the terminal and to the car. Over the next few years, the ties that bind deepened. My friend and his sister were there for their father during an illness, they were there to help him move into a new home, and they were with him at the end. They honored their father. Even more, they honored their God.

Don’t tell me that some sins are so beyond the pale that we are exempt from acting redemptively toward the sinner. Don’t tell me that any hurt we’ve experienced from another is so deep that we can dismiss the person as worthless and deny their uniqueness as one created in the image of God. And please don’t tell me that while you can forgive, you can’t forget and be reconciled to the miscreant who ruined your life. To hold such attitudes is to burn the very bridges Christ crossed in order to be reconciled to us (2 Corinthians 5.19). My friend puts the lie to all the pious tripe that postures as virtue. Count him among the 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to hatred or self-pity.

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4.32). Ask my friend about his experience with his dad and all he’ll say is, “To God be the glory!” And so say we all.

Kenny Chumbley preaches for the Gibson City Church of Christ in Gibson  City, Illinois.