FLASHBACK FRIDAYS: WEEK 37 (Forgiveness by Matthew West)- Can we really, truly forgive the ‘unforgiveable’?

Over the past few weeks, there has been a major shake-up in the world today that has affected the world we live in, everything we hold dear, everything we believe, and just basically everything we’ve come to know as true, from birth until now. Maybe you may know what I’m alluding to, but maybe you do not. But when I tell you about George Pell (is he still the archbishop, or cardinal?), and mention that the major event concerns him, perhaps the penny will drop. Of course this one event has the power to reshape everything we all know- especially everything we as Christians know and believe. But in the end, does it, and should it?

For those who have been out of the loop- I’m not going to give you a description of George Pell’s life, nor a history of his time in the church, or even a ‘justification’ as to why he did what he did all those years ago. Instead I’ll link his bio page on Wikipedia, and just remind you all, in case you weren’t aware, that currently right now, Pell has been convicted (previously accused) of child molestation/sexual abuse/rape (whatever you want to call it- the official name for it is different depending on which source you read!) for something that happened many, many years ago; and the people involved have only spoken out now because they were afraid before. Now should this, shake our unshakeable faith as Christians? Does this turn our world upside down? The quick answer is no it shouldn’t- as our faith is rooted in Jesus Christ, not in the faith of someone else, but I guess a deeper look reveals a more complicated matter.

For I reckon Pell is on the same level, or maybe even greater level of influence than Harvey Weinstein in terms of this ‘Me Too’ movement, and this accusation and maybe sentencing will even have a greater impact on the world than what eventuated with Weinstein- that’s how big I reckon this thing will go. But hang on, I hear you thinking. ‘Some of the people accusing Weinstein of sexual assault were just hopping onto a bandwagon and some weren’t even genuine- and it’s all a case of throw one guy under the bus to set an example… is that what you are saying is happening here? Is Pell actually innocent? Do you think that these guys are making up stories just to discredit Christianity?’. Well whether Pell did the unspeakable and atrocious acts or not, I guess we’ll never fully know- except for him and God and the victims- but regardless, Christianity is going to take a hit in the near future, and no doubt some long-time believers will start to have doubts, and some may leave the faith. What? You reckon it’s that drastic? Yes I believe it is, but I believe that through all of this, God’s name will be glorified and good will come out of this messy situation.

For me I have never placed any importance on the Pope nor any bishops or archbishops or priests. All throughout my life, I have gone to church, worshipped Jesus, eagerly connected with some sermons (while others were a tad dry and less engaging!), and from Monday through to Saturday when I wasn’t at church I fed my soul with Christian music and inspirational speakers; while also sometimes meeting up with Christian friends for Bible study, and almost every morning listening to the local Christian radio station Hope 103.2. I’m not knocking what Catholics do- go to mass every day and maybe to confession at a more irregular interval- because it’s what these believers have grown up with, it’s what they know, what they believe; but in the end it doesn’t really matter. We all believe in the same God, we all believe that He died and rose again, and we all believe that He’s coming back again to bring us all into His eternal kingdom. And that’s all that matters.

But putting myself in their shoes, I’d imagine that the wrestling they’ve had to do, and some of their decisions to walk away from Christianity all together, stems not from the fact that Pell was a high-ranking clergyman and advocated against sexual assault at one point in the past, hence him now being a Christian who has ‘destroyed the faith’; but because he was expected to be perfect and this beacon of hope and light to the world, and then it turned out that he wasn’t. That he was seemingly living a double life that no one knew about (which still remains to be seen!) while he still preached about love and light and goodness and Jesus during the day time. The wrestling that most of us have had to undertake has also stemmed from the fact that if Pell could do that and seemingly ‘get away with it’ for so long, what does that say for all of our ‘heroes’ that we look up to? Are all of them living double lives? Are all of them genuine, or is no one genuine? If we’ve been hurt or betrayed by the church, which no doubt many Catholics may believe, is that a reflection on our faith, or Jesus? Or is it just a wake-up call for us, to not treat humans like saviours and gods, when there already is One whom we can lean on and call to in times of trouble and uncertainty like this one?

Believe it or not, George Pell is a human. He was born one day 77 years ago, and one day in a few years or maybe many years, he will die. That’s an inescapable fact. He was made in God’s image, but like you and me, he is not perfect. He makes mistakes, some of them bigger than others. No, that does not give him a hall pass to go and do whatever, nor does this revelation mean that he’s let off and experiences no consequences whatsoever for his actions. Because if he did do those things to those boys, then Pell should do the time for the crime, even if it is life imprisonment. I’m not going to defend him if he turns out to be guilty, just because he and I are of the same faith. I, and I’m sure many others, will defend him if Pell turns out to be innocent (which I reckon we’ll all never really know!), but I reckon that if you’re guilty you should accept that and do the time. You never know he may be a changed person out of this ordeal. Anyway I digress.

The point that I’m trying to make is that all throughout the news this past few weeks it seems like Christianity is on trial, and there’s this witch-hunt, and now more than ever, each one of us proclaiming and saying what we believe isn’t encouraged- you’ll be lumped in as one of ‘Pell’s’ followers, and who wants to be associated with that right now, right? We’re convinced to think that because Pell was this ‘deadly wolf in sheep’s clothing’ then we should in turn develop thick skin and not trust anyone, because of the possibility of us being let down and disappointed. But ultimately right now, the issue shouldn’t be Christianity versus the world. The issue right now I believe is that we expect our heroes to always live up to our expectations and there is no leeway for mercy and forgiveness. Yep, you heard me. Pell, like many others who have fallen and stumbled at let us all down, should be forgiven. Not right away, because we’re grieving and confused and angry and feeling all kinds of emotions…but if we’re a true Christian, we can eventually do this. We should do this. Forgive those who have wronged us, either directly or indirectly. Not because we expect forgiveness and/or acceptance in return but despite that. And certainly not through our own strength but through Jesus’ strength, and because while we were still sinners, Christ forgave us in the most purest way imaginable, by dying for us on a cross, and taking our punishment so that we can and will be saved when we believe into the cross and the resurrection.

Don’t get me wrong, forgiving someone doesn’t mean condoning their actions, nor does it mean accepting their viewpoints in the future if you don’t agree. True forgiveness I believe, is standing alongside someone, regardless of how it makes you feel, and say that I am choosing to look past your actions, and into the person that Jesus says you are, because Jesus forgave me when I was at my worst, when I didn’t deserve it, when I’ve done worse than you. I was unlovable but Jesus loved me first. And because I’ve been set free, I can love you and forgive you too, even if it is uncomfortable. I can show the love of Jesus to you. No one has the right to walk around with shame and guilt and condemnation reigning down on them all the time, no matter what they’ve done. The price has been paid already because Jesus has already died, so beyond the immediate consequences and ramifications of the choices you make, I believe that second chances and freedom can be offered to those who need it. Now you may not be at the stage to forgive George Pell, and tht’as ok. You may not be ever. I know I wouldn’t have if he done something to me. But that doesn’t change the fact the he, along with all of us, is suffering in his own kind of way, beyond anything we could imagine. It doesn’t excuse him for what he did, but rather reminds us that we’re just as guilty too. Why should we point out the stick in someone else’s eye when there’s a plank of wood in our eye that is disturbing our vision that we need to tend to first? There are no hierarchy of sins according to God. It’s just sin. What Pell did is the same in the eyes of God as each of our own hang-ups and screw-ups, no matter how small they are. Admittedly we all deserve punishment because we’re far from the people God wants us to be. But because of grace, and because of Jesus living in us, we can in time extend that grace and forgiveness to others. Even George Pell.

There’s a few songs from Matthew West- one of my favourite artists ever, that have resonated with me while I’ve been trying to sort out the George Pell issue in my head in preparation for this blog. Sure I delved into Matthew’s album Into The Light around this time last year, but I would like to revisit this gem of an album again. It’s probably one of my favourite albums ever (no joke!), and while last time I didn’t delve into the concept of forgiveness, I reckon it’s appropriate here. See, the title track was inspired by a true story of a girl who died at the hands of a drunk driver, and the mother who forgave him. The story truly is the depiction of what forgiveness looks like on this earth- and who better than Matthew West himself to delve into what the song is all about!

The song “Forgiveness” chronicles a mother dealing with the death of her daughter at the hands of a drunk driver. It was one of the first stories I read and it stuck with me the whole time and I was waiting for the right time to deliver this message through a song. Now the song is seeing the light of day, and it is my honor to share it. The song is about Renee, who lost her daughter Megan in a car accident at the hands of a drunk driver, a 24-year-old named Eric who was by all accounts a great young man, but made a tragic mistake. Renee’s been on a journey of hatred, and bitterness, and she’s learned how to forgive the young man who took her beloved daughter’s life.

In a miraculous way, after Megan’s death in 2001, Renee began giving presentations, and in time, God put it on her heart to forgive this man and reach out to him in prison. She learned that until she was set free of the anger and bitterness she held towards Eric, she was going to be the prisoner even though he was the one behind bars. 

As a result, Eric found his own personal faith in Christ and they developed a unique friendship to the point where she feels like she gained a son, and she even went to the courts to cut Eric’s sentence in half. He made a terrible mistake taking the life of two young girls, and yet he’s been forgiven. Renee told him that she serves a God who commands her to forgive and she needed to be set free as much for herself as for him. After Eric leaves prison this November 2012,  he’ll be standing by Renee’s side at these presentations, which is a story the world needs to hear! He’ll be a free man, in more ways than one. Renee’s story is life-defining as we all need to think about how forgiveness can set us free.

What a powerful, powerful testimony and account of God working. This song alone should give us reason to check out Into The Light again and again, and should also challenge us in respect to if we’re as forgiving as we say, and as forgiving as we should be. Yes, forgiving doesn’t erase the hurt and the pain, however I reckon forgiveness heals us all over time. Grudges and bitterness aren’t the best way to live, and I believe that if we are to live life to the full, and not to be a prisoner in our own ideas about judgement and/or vengeance; then we need to forgive. In order for us to stay sane, we need to. Not saying it needs to be done now. But look at the life of Renee and Eric now! How God stepped in and turned around a bad situation for His glory. He can do that for each one of us too. Just something to think about as we go about our week, and make sense of what Pell has or hasn’t done.

Until next time guys. There is no easy resolution to this issue of the betrayal of someone whom we have/had immense respect for- but I’m sure that with God by our side, we can heal and be stronger people than before.

It’s the hardest thing to give away 

And the last thing on your mind today 

It always goes to those that don’t deserve 

It’s the opposite of how you feel 

When the pain they caused is just to real 

It takes everything you have just to say the word… 

Forgiveness, Forgiveness 

 

It flies in the face of all your pride 

It moves away the mad inside 

It’s always anger’s own worst enemy 

Even when the jury and the judge 

Say you gotta right to hold a grudge 

It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free’ 

 

Forgiveness, Forgiveness 

Forgiveness, Forgiveness 

Show me how to love the unlovable 

Show me how to reach the unreachable 

Help me now to do the impossible 

Forgiveness, Forgiveness 

Help me now to do the impossible 

Forgiveness 

 

It’ll clear the bitterness away 

It can even set a prisoner free 

There is no end to what it’s power can do 

So, let it go and be amazed 

By what you see through eyes of grace 

The prisoner that it really frees is you 

 

Forgiveness, Forgiveness 

Forgiveness, Forgiveness 

 

Show me how to love the unlovable 

Show me how to reach the unreachable 

Help me now to do the impossible 

Forgiveness 

 

I want to finally set it free 

So show me how to see what Your mercy sees 

Help me now to give what You gave to me 

Forgiveness, Forgiveness

“Forgiveness” by Matthew West from Into The Light (2012)

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