So much of life depends on proper alignment.
If your vehicle is out of alignment it is both costly and dangerous. Tires will wear unevenly and will have to be replaced much sooner than they should. Usually, a vehicle out of alignment will pull either to the left or right, which is dangerous. Getting your front end aligned will cost something, but only a fraction of the cost of failing to get it done. Automotive specialists say that a sudden jarring (like hitting a pothole or the curb) is the usual culprit for needing to realign vehicles.
Similarly, our relationship with God must be in proper alignment at all times because it is costly and dangerous when it’s not. Those potholes that are responsible for our misalignment with God? Other people. Specifically, the things they do to us (and/or our loved ones). Scripture calls those potholes: trespasses. When our neighbor sins against us it is like driving into a pothole and we immediately begin pulling to the right or the left. The anger and resentment wear on us unevenly. Every moment we continue in our misalignment increases the danger that something really bad is almost certain to happen.
When your vehicle’s alignment is out of whack you take it to a service department or a repair shop and there is a machine that can properly realign the front end. When your life is in misalignment due to the sudden jarring of a hurtful act by another person the act of realignment is called forgiveness. And just like you hate to take your vehicle to the shop and fork over the bucks to get it realigned, realigning the soul through forgiveness is just as aggravating.
Why should you have to fix this? When you hit a pothole in your vehicle you immediately think (or shout), “How come the road maintenance crew hasn’t fixed that! Now, thanks to those lazy scoundrels I’ve either got to drive around with the steering pulling or spend money I don’t have to get a professional fix my car!” And when the pothole is a trespass committed by your neighbor its, “Why do I have to make this right? I was cruising along in life minding my own business when ‘Wham!’ They’re the ones who ought to be making things right, not me!” The flash of anger becomes deep-seated resentment which if allowed to go uncorrected morphs into bitterness which ultimately becomes hate. Continuing in that state for long almost always ends in catastrophe…for us. Not the one who was our pothole.
There is an unusual narrative in the gospel of Mark that speaks to this facet of being misaligned and the urgent need to seek proper realignment. It’s found in Mark 2:1-12. It’s about the healing of a paralyzed man. Jesus is preaching in a house. The friends of a paralyzed man couldn’t get through the crowd and into the house to see Jesus so they improvised. They found a way onto the roof and made a hole in it and lowered their friend down to Jesus. There was no way that could be ignored. Jesus saw their faith and said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).
Let that sink in for a moment. The man has a rather obvious physical problem. He was brought to Jesus in the hope of having that problem corrected. Instead, what he and his four friends (along with everyone in the packed house) heard was a statement releasing him from the debt of his trespasses! What trespasses? That’s not to say the paralyzed man was sinless but there is absolutely nothing in the entire text that suggests he had become paralyzed due to a crime (sin) he had committed.
There are 26 specific healings the gospels attribute to Jesus. This is the only one that Jesus directly links to forgiveness of sin (it is implied in John 5:14 with the healing of the man by the Bethesda pool). Frankly, when you read the text you can understand why the scribes were taken aback by the Lord’s proclamation of forgiveness. It seemed out of place and completely inappropriate to the circumstances.
Jesus knew the scribes were offended and asked them if they thought it was easier to forgive sins or heal the man of paralysis. The rhetorical answer, of course, is that it seems that forgiving sins is much easier than healing paralysis because there is no empirical way to prove forgiveness has actually happened. Anyone can say another's sins are forgiven, but no one can prove it happened. Stunningly, to make a point about the nature and power of forgiveness, He told the paralyzed to get up, pick up the bed he was brought in on, and go home. It happened.
Lost on most people is the powerful revelation of the connection between forgiveness and the totality of life. The quality of a paralyzed man’s life was fantastically improved and that complete turnaround (miracle) was initiated by a proclamation of forgiveness…when it wasn’t even asked for! Do you see the point I’m making?
Forgiveness is about a lot more than dealing with the pain others have caused. Forgiveness is not getting over or learning how to live with some bad thing that was done to you. Forgiveness is actually about helping another person completely realign their misaligned lives. We seem to have turned forgiveness into something done for ourselves. Something like this, “I forgive you because I have to heal and move on from what you did to me.” When actually, forgiveness is more about allowing others the ability to move forward in life. That’s why it’s so hard.
Why should I fix the pothole that damaged my car?
Because at some point in life (perhaps more times than you even know) you were somebody’s pothole. Like the paralyzed man Jesus healed, you probably didn’t even consider your need for forgiveness and you certainly never asked for it. But also like the paralyzed man, you sure didn’t mind when someone else brought your completely unrelated need for Jesus to Him.
Do you know what you didn’t read in the text? The paralyzed man (or his four friends) arguing with Jesus that he hadn’t been brought to Him for forgiveness but healing.
There is a song called “People Need the Lord.” It speaks of “Empty people filled with care” and “Laughter hides their silent cries” and being “At the end of broken dreams.” There is a lot of profound theology in the Bible and I could say that people need the Lord to be saved from hell, to successfully make disciples, and a thousand other true things. But if you boil it all down, people need the Lord to forgive them and realign the vehicle of their lives.
The scribes were upset because they knew that the kind of forgiveness Jesus extended to the paralytic required great authority. That’s why He said for all to hear, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home” (Mark 2:10-11). We can’t do that, right? Wrong.
In John 20:22-23 Jesus said to His disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them…” People need the Lord because they need forgiveness. Forgiveness for being born sinners. Forgiveness for being potholes in other people’s lives. If God brings them into your life (like the four friends of the paralytic brought him before Jesus) then you know what you have to do if you endeavor to be Christ-like.
When you hit the pothole (through no fault of your own), immediately take your car to get it properly realigned and then go back and fix the pothole remembering that you have been the pothole yourself.
(Editor’s note: This was the second in a series on forgiveness. If you missed the first blog you can read it by clicking HERE)