I Facebook, which means I lurk.  Lurking is when you view and scan other people’s information but never really have much to say yourself.  In real life, this is called stalking and has some pretty fierce ramifications, legally.  Online, this is expected and exploited to make money.  Go figure.

Today I noticed that there was an alumni group for my high school.  Out of morbid curiosity, I lurked.  High school was by and large not an enjoyable time for me, so my feelings of nostalgia are quite limited and specific.  But it so happened yesterday that the first post was from a guy in my grade who was a jerk.

This particular jerk was part of a duo that tormented me through the latter part of grade school and with decreasing regularity into high school.  Bullying me was not particularly difficult as I had pretty much zero self-confidence and plenty of social quirks of my own to be exploited.  I lived in fear of these two for probably close to a decade.  They were far more bark than bite, but I was always terrified that there would be an eventual bite.  I can’t remember anything more than verbal intimidation and scare tactics, which are more than enough in most cases.

He posted a link to an Internet video that he was part of, and he talked about his childhood a little bit.  I never knew anything about this guy other than that he was a jerk.  Learning that he grew up on hard rock and metal music didn’t necessarily surprise me, but I never really had taken the time to consider him as a person with interests and hobbies and likes and dislikes.  He was just someone to be avoided.

Realizing that my thoughts about him relegated him to the category of jerk, I realized that perhaps forgiveness was an issue to be explored here.  Had I forgiven this jerk?  For contributing to a childhood of fear and inferiority, had I forgiven him?

Of course I have, I chuckled good-naturedly.  That was a long time ago.  Who knows what he was going through.  He probably wasn’t really a jerk, at all.  Or perhaps he was really going through some difficult stuff.  He looks like a decent enough guy now.  How silly it would be of me to harbor a grudge!  I’ve certainly forgiven you, jerk-face.

I was feeling pretty good for a few minutes, and then it struck me.  I hadn’t necessarily forgiven jerk-face, I had excused him.  I had rationalized his behavior decades ago, the few scant cumulative seconds or minutes that I could actually remember, or the emotional angst that still resonated dustily after so many years.  I had let him off the hook, offered reasons why he really wasn’t a jerk, why I might have mischaracterized him, crafted possibilities where I had misunderstood everything.  I had gone through a psychological process, but had I really forgiven him?

Forgiveness is easy to fake.  Particularly with the passage of time and the absence of presence, we mistake the natural process of emotional relaxation with forgiveness.  We mistake forgetfulness for forgiveness.  We mistake rationalization for forgiveness.

I scanned his Facebook page again.  Look at that dopey chopper moustache.  Look at his smokin’-hot bimbo of a wife.  What if he’s actually a jerk?  What if he really was a jerk way back when?  What if he enjoyed humiliating me?  Enjoyed the look of terror in my eyes?  Enjoyed feeling strong and superior?  

What if he thinks back on the past and has a good laugh about it all still?

Then my duty and privilege as a Christian is still to forgive him.

Forgiveness is not rationalization.  Forgiveness is the deliberate, willfull, Holy Spirit-powered intentional releasing of our pain and anger and loss and all the other negativity built up in us around someone else’s words or actions or beings.  It is the insistence that we will not wish ill on that other person, regardless of whether they deserve it or not.  It is the refusal to allow hate to fester and infect us in other ways.  It is the commitment to only praying the best for that other person, to genuinely desire that person’s best in all ways, and most especially in respect to faith in Jesus Christ and eternal salvation.

It is not natural.  It is not easy.  It is not automatic.  It does not whitewash.  It does not gloss over.  It stares at real people and real events that were not right or hurtful or traumatic and does not flinch, does not look away.  It is more real than most of what we do on auto-pilot each day.  And it is commanded of us as followers of Christ.

Don’t assume forgiveness.  Practice it.


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