*This post contains graphic content that is not appropriate for younger audiences.
I dropped the girls off curbside, reminding them that I’d be picking them up after school and taking them to the mall to look for Easter dresses. They both responded with a resounding “Yay!” and I smiled broad, feeling a sense of joy at the sweetness of the tradition that marked the coming of Easter. I’d made an appointment for professional pictures to be taken of them the next day and matching dresses were the last addition to their ensembles of shiny patent leather shoes and pretty pink ribbons to adorn their hair. I had even arranged for a friend to deliver a couple of her young bunnies for each of them to hold as the crowning touch to their portraits.
As I pulled away from the school and headed towards the counseling office, my thoughts turned from bunnies to burdens as I tried to mentally prepare for yet another session, laser focused on forgiveness.
Many months earlier, I had had a breakthrough that propelled me into a level of freedom unlike I’d ever known. I was given a blessing of understanding when God revealed a missing link to a fragmented memory that helped me to forgive myself.
At the same time, the revealing also left no doubt as to what had happened and that, at some point, I would need to forgive the most vilest of sins…and the sinner.
I had come so far, yet could not bring myself to forgive. It all seemed so unfair, this idea that forgiveness was no longer wanting to punish the person for what they’d done to me, as my counselor had suggested. Of course I wanted him to be punished.
My thoughts seamlessly turned verbal as they so often did while I was driving. “I just want justice! You know God…an eye for an eye. Didn’t You establish that law? That’s all I want. An eye for an eye.”
“That’s not true,” came the swift reply. “You don’t want equality of punishment, you want vindication through vengeance. You want that man to suffer more than you’ve suffered. You believe the quantity of his suffering will soothe your loss and bring you closer to healing.”
The oppressive ache that I’d worked so tenaciously to imprison within my chest, abruptly broke free in the form of torrential tears, causing me to grip the steering wheel harder.
The questions came, rapid-fire style, hitting my heart with acute accuracy. “If he’s punished, is his suffering ever to come to an end? If so, who says when ‘It is finished,’ or calls out ‘Enough!’? You? What form of punishment would you impose on him that would restore you, Caryn?”
God didn’t seem to mind that my vision had become so blurred that I could no longer see the road in front of me, or that I was having to use my sweatshirt sleeve for Kleenex, or that my car was careening across several lanes of traffic in my desperate attempt to reach the shoulder so that I could “safely” come undone.
Because, He just. kept. talking.
“The Father’s purpose for punishment isn’t to destroy, but to correct. If punishment is ongoing, there is no hope or opportunity for change.”
When my tires finally crossed over the solid white line that divided the freeway and the shoulder, I slammed on the brakes, bringing my car to a thudding halt and threw the gear into Park. I let my head fall back against the seat, allowing my body to convulse uncontrollable sobs mixed with sweat and snot and spit.
“Caryn, if you can’t forgive him, then forgive Me.”
My head shot forward and I sat bolt upright, still clutching the steering wheel. “What did You say?”
My answer came in the form of a vision. I stared out the front windshield of my car, and saw Jesus, hanging on the cross.
But he didn’t appear to me as I’d always seen him portrayed on the cross ~ Divine, Son of God, fully God, and innocent of all sin.
His eyes met mine, as I gasped in horror at the realization that I was seeing Jesus as fully human, and guilty of sin!
He hung there, bleeding, tortured and suffering for the crimes committed against me, as if he was the perpetrator. He was being punished for stealing from me, of stripping me clean to the core of all things child-like, all things innocent. My beautiful, precious, Savior had become the ugly, messy, wretchedness of sin.
I could see with blunt clarity, His sides heaving in and out as he struggled for breath, his tongue parched of all moisture, his face, swollen beyond recognition from the trauma the crown of thorns had caused when it was plunged upon his temple with brute force.
I stretched out my hands across the car dashboard, as if I could physically touch the terrifying scenario playing out in front of me and began to cry out with vehement fervor, “Oh no! No! Please, no! You didn’t do anything wrong Jesus!”
Every human sense within me felt accosted. This Jesus, this cross felt like an abomination of all that is holy and was challenging every perception I’d ever had about what took place at Calvary.
It all seemed so utterly backwards. So upside-down. So un-holy. Just at the point where I thought I could take no more, God’s voice broke through the agony of the vision.
“I made my Son, who knew no sin, to become sin.”
In a split-second, I was abased and awestruck at the same time.
God was showing me what really happened on the cross. Who was I to reject how God chose to save humanity? Jesus’ own disciple Peter had declared God’s plan for redemption unthinkable and Jesus himself rebuked Peter, referring to him as Satan.
An awe of understanding penetrated my weary bones like a bolt of electricity.
Still crying, I heard my own, barely audible, hoarse voice saying, “I forgive you Jesus, I forgive you! I forgive him!” My declarations turned to pleas as I begged, “Please forgive him! Please Lord, please forgive him. I forgive all those who have wronged me, hurt me, or devastated me in some way. I will trust You to be the judge over them, not me.”
It was as if the Holy Spirit took over my mouth, as I began to repeat over and over, with a strong and steady cadence, the message of what Jesus did on the cross.
“I forgive. I forgive. I forgive. I forgive.”
Then, as suddenly as the vision had appeared, it passed. I sat back in my seat and continued to weep, although they were now tears of relief. I finally understood the power of forgiveness and felt a burden and weight physically lift from my body.
Somehow, over the years, my perception of what took place at Calvary had been reduced to something of a gussied-up gospel, a watered down work, a spectacular spectacle that may have held true for yesteryear, but had no real power to change my today, my hear and now.
God showed me in a very palpable, heart-rending way that the blood of Jesus is an ongoing work that never loses its power, and no matter how great the sin, God’s grace is greater.
What does the sacrifice that Jesus made on the Cross mean to you?
Does knowing that Jesus became sin, help you to forgive?
Prayer for forgiveness of others:
Heavenly Father, I choose to forgive those who have wronged me, giving up the desire to see them punished. You are patient in your judgement, desiring that none should perish and wanting all to come to repentence. I also want to be forgiven of my sins, therefore I choose to forgive those who have sinned against me. I ask you to forgive those who have hurt me out of their own pain and brokenness. They didn’t know what they were doing, in passing along the pain they inherited. Please show your mercy to them and have compassion on their souls. I trust you to bring me comfort in my waste places, restoring to me all that the enemy has stolen in your perfect timing. I thank you for taking what the enemy intended for evil to destroy me, you are making it for good, bringing glory to your name by redeeming my life. I thank you for your faithfulness to me and for loving me with an everlasting love. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.
A prayer of personal repentence:
Heavenly Father, I recognize my need for a Savior, who is Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. I have sinned and fallen short of your glory, but I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, providing redemption through his blood and paving the way for a restored relationship with you as well as bringing me eternal life. I ask you to forgive me of my sins and make me the kind of person you want me to be by becoming Lord of my life. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.
*Scripture references about forgiveness ~
2 Corinthians 5:21, 2 Peter 3:9, Isaiah 43:25-26, Isaiah 1:18, Isaiah 51:3, Joel 2:25, Matthew 6:15, Micah 7:18-19, Genesis 50:20, Romans 3:23-24, Ephesians 1:7, 1 John 1:9, Acts 3:19