The path through life brings many challenges to all of us. One of the most common challenges we face is the need to give and receive forgiveness. It’s something that bonds us all, regardless of our background or place in life.
The new movie The Shack illustrates this concept beautifully. In this movie, the main character loses his child in a horribly brutal way. The pain from this ordeal leads him to question everything about his life. Often it is through pain and tragedy that we are all forced to step back and examine our lives.
The character, Mack, goes through four stages of forgiveness that represent what we all need to go through at one time or another. Through his experience, we can all learn a great deal about hope, love, forgiveness and the divine power that is always available to us if we simply are willing to receive it.
1. Forgiving God: When horrible things happen to us, whether it be relationships, finances or a major tragedy and health issues, the initial response if often to blame “God”. We have a desperate need to make someone or something responsible, as it’s too painful to accept that bad things just ‘happen.’ It’s especially difficult when we know God has the power to ultimately prevent the tragedies we all face. However, free will reigns on this planet and thus bad things do and will happen. Learning to forgive God means accepting God isn’t going to interfere with free will. Consequences will always prevail and God will always be here to love us through our pain.
2. Forgive Ourselves: Often when challenges or tragedies arise we blame ourselves. There may have been something we could have done differently to prevent this from happening. However, it’s crucial we realize that we are fallible and imperfect. We need to learn to forgive ourselves for being human, no matter what that may involve as we go through life.
3. Forgive the Past: In many cases it is our past that affects what happens to us in the present. It affects how we behave, how we relate to others and the choices we make. When it ultimately creates chaos or devastation in our lives, it takes real work to forgive people who have hurt us from years ago to have the power to truly change our lives and move forward in a healthier way. Forgiving the past can be very difficult, as the people and events are often long gone. It is something that must be done in our hearts and minds and rarely brings a sense of true resolution, which is what we seek. We can only forgive and let it go, knowing we have learned from those experiences and can make better choices now for the people we love.
4. Forgive the Perpetrator. The most difficult act of forgiveness is forgiving the person who harms us now. In The Shack, forgiving the murderer was beyond horrific for Mack initially. Mack wanted him to suffer, just like Mack’s daughter and family had suffered. However, Mack was able to finally see that the murderer is also a victim of his own past and only God can see all that drove such evil. It becomes clear that we can not judge one another, no matter what the crime. We can only forgive so that we can move forward, find true peace and be able to love the people we chose to love.
Forgiveness is never about approving what harm has been done to us. It is never about releasing someone from the consequences of their behavior. It is always about letting go, accepting we do not know the whole picture and trusting God to support us and love us, no matter what.
Wm Paul Young, author of the novels, The Shack, soon to be a major motion picture release, Cross Roads, and Eve, and the recently released non-fiction Lies We Believe about God, was born a Canadian and raised among a stone-age tribe by his missionary parents in the highlands of what was Netherlands New Guinea (now West Papua). He suffered great loss as a child and young adult, and now enjoys the “wastefulness of grace” with his growing family in the Pacific Northwest.