Forgiven but not forgotten
The hand gripped my shoulder and I felt my blood freeze. I had been caught red-handed, stealing from a supermarket with two friends. Even though this incident was nearly 40 years ago, it still makes me shudder to recall it. The police were called and so were my parents. It was a frightening, humiliating, embarrassing experience. How could we have been so stupid? How would my family and other friends react? What would happen now?
The police released me and we drove home in painful, stony silence. I didn’t feel guilty, I just felt trapped, helpless to escape. I had made a big mistake and felt utterly powerless to change it, or to influence the consequences. The weeks passed and eventually I received a letter to appear before the local police superintendent. By now I did feel worried. Would I be sent down, sent to a youth detention centre? The thought filled me with horror.
The police chief sat behind his desk and looked at me thoughtfully, kindly. He explained in a calm, compassionate and warm voice that although I had done wrong, to take strong action would destroy my life and future. In light of this, he explained, no further action would be taken. I was being given a second chance. I couldn’t believe it. I felt surprised, confused, grateful, immensely relieved. A huge and terrifying weight had been lifted.
As we drove home, I began to feel remorse. A total stranger, the wronged party, had chosen to let me off the hook, to set me free. I deserved blame, punishment, and yet they had chosen to forgive me. I couldn’t understand it. They didn’t forgive me because I was good, but because they were good. They saw the potential in my life, the offender, and chose to release it. They gave me a new life. It was undeserved grace, an incredible gift.
This experience impacted me deeply. Years later, I encountered that same attitude in God when I was introduced to Jesus Christ. I had believed in God, at least at some level, all of my life but this was something completely different. It was a profound existential experience, a explosive encounter that changed the focus and course of the rest of my life. God had used that police encounter, the power of forgiveness, to reach into my psyche and touch me.
And so I pray that God will make me more like that. How easily I can get annoyed by the little things. A person cuts me up in traffic, drives using a mobile phone, stays in the middle lane of a motorway. A neighbour leaves a dog out barking at night or plays their TV too loud. A colleague does something that frustrates my plans or fails to meet my standards. How easy it is to get critical and judgemental. ‘Forgive us, Lord, as we forgive others too.’
19/11/2011 06:00:03 am
Funny that you should write about forgiveness. I had been thinking about it myself and we discussed it at Housegroup on Thursday.
21/4/2012 10:39:24 am
Thanks for your comments, Bridget. Pleased to hear you're inspired to follow Jesus. :) Nick
19/11/2011 08:05:32 am
"I have always found that mercy bear reacher fruits than strict justice" Abraham Lincoln. Experiencing mercy is something but applying mercy is where wisdom lays. Be blessed and be wise. Thanks for sharing this experience and topic with us...keeps us stay tuned in self-reflection :).
21/4/2012 10:47:21 am
Thanks Sim. Your Lincoln quotation reminds me of the opening verses of John's gospel where Jesus is decribed as 'full of grace and truth.' Jesus encourages us to demonstrate the same mercy and forgiveness we have experienced from him. Curious that it can feel so difficult to do that in practice!
6/5/2012 02:26:06 am
Hello Nick, touching upon pain is never easy. Self-inflicted or by others. The end result is a trip into existential dread while we seek anything and anybody to cling on to including the Divine.
6/5/2012 03:33:50 am
Hi Leila. Thank you for such a thoughtful and moving response. I love your evocative use of language that expresses the ups and downs of human experience in this area so well, e.g. 'existential dread', 'emptying the barrel', 'saved through one word of kindness'. You may be interested to glance at another short piece I wrote along similar lines: http://www.nick-wright.com/1/post/2012/01/why-is-grace-so-hard.html. Peace to you. Nick
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