I recently read an article in The New York Times titled, “Let Go of Your Grudges. They’re Doing You No Good.” As I read the article, I had a flashback to similar childhood advice we probably all received from our mothers and Sunday school teachers—don’t hold grudges.
The author also referenced the Stanford University Forgiveness Project. Decades ago, a foundation donated money for the university to study forgiveness and its psycho-social and physiological benefits. In short, the conclusion: we should forgive others because it’s good for us.
That first Stanford University Forgiveness Project led to more projects, books, events and the inevitable website that lists nine steps in forgiving someone. One of the steps states, “Forgiveness is about personal power.”
It's true that bearing a grudge can hold the bearer in debilitating bonds, but if one of my Kindergarteners in Bible school said that, I would probably give my handy teacher answer of, “Well, I never really thought of that before.” Instead of saying, “What are you thinking? Personal power?”
Grace, my mother, had her own forgiveness project. My sisters and I were frequent subjects. The project involved either the subjects asking forgiveness for a wrong done or receiving the apology and forgiving the other subject involved. In short, my mother's conclusion: we forgave because Christ forgave us.
One sample from Grace's project revolved around the fact that she didn't drive. In my home state of Michigan's legislative wisdom, at age 18, my middle sister qualified as the adult licensed driver when I got my learner's permit.
She took her role seriously and would sit in the passenger's seat and scribble in a notebook everything I did wrong behind the wheel. It seemed like a personal power play by her. One day, I couldn't stand it anymore. I stopped the car in the middle of Fourth Street and screamed, "Why don't you tell me what I am doing wrong, instead of writing it all down?"
"For starters," she yelled back, "you're stopped in the middle of the street."
Even though we didn't live downhill from Fourth Street, that's where things went as I drove the last two blocks home.
Both fuming, we stormed into the house and soon became subjects in my mother's forgiveness project, both on the asking and receiving end of it.
My sister still takes credit for my good driving habits.
Grace's forgiveness project was on the right track. "Guilty, vile, helpless" we have no personal power to change ourselves, let alone forgive anyone, apart from the spotless Lamb of God and his grace.
All this brings Psalm 103 to mind, and God’s conclusion about forgiveness. It's from him, and "as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us" (verse 12).
Before my mother's forgiveness project, before Stanford University's forgiveness projects and before the foundation of the world, God's once-for-all, all-sufficient forgiveness project was in place.