“Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”
– C.S. Lewis
“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.” This line starts the famous book series A Series of Unfortunate Events. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are orphans from losing both parents in a mysterious house fire. The story follows their lives as they try to evade Count Olaf, an evil man who wants their fortune.
As the story progresses, we discover a secret organization with a schism. We discover, that in reality, we have come in the middle of the story and the Baudelaire orphans are caught in the middle of something bigger than just the death of their parents. They are caught in a story of revenge. A stolen sugar bowl, an argument leading to the use of a poisonous dart, and a death that ignited a fire of revenge.
In our own lives, there are unfortunate events. We experience pain, betrayal, and loss. We feel the stab of words, and the execution of actions leaves us hurt. In us a spark ignites, and we feel deep inside we must fight fire with fire.
But, what does the Bible say about revenge and forgiveness? How can we make sure our lives do not turn into a series of unfortunate events?
Give Me What You Owe
A man stood before the judge. He was on trial for evading the IRS, and the federal judge brought up the debt he owed. Since he was a young man, he never paid his debts to anyone. He would wriggle and manipulate his way out of things. But, not any more. When the total was given, and everyone in attendance was shocked. The amount was more than anyone could think of paying. “You are found guilty, and are sentenced to prison until all can be paid.”
The man turned around and saw his wife holding their first born. Tears began welling up in her eyes. She knew she would never see him again. Realizing the weight of his guilt, the man turned to the judge. “Your honor, I have a debt that I cannot pay. It is too big, and I deserve to be separated from this life and from my wife and child. I was wrong in breaking the law. If you could find it in your heart, would the courts please forgive me?”
The judge looked at the man, then to his wife and child. His heart filled with compassion. “Sir, I am a just judge, but I am also a compassionate judge. I forgive your debt and set you free.” The man was given some clothes to change out of his orange jumpsuit, and he walked out of the courts a free man.
The next day while the man was out for a run, he passed a neighbor. “That man owes me $50! He never paid me back.” So the man walked up to the neighbor and yelled, “Look man, I gave you $50 last month, and where is it? Did you think you could take advantage of my generosity? Go inside and get me my money.”
“I’m so sorry. We have been on hard times, and I am working on getting your money. I need more time.” Unwilling to listen, the man dragged his neighbor to the courts and sued his neighbor.
When the day of the lawsuit came, the man stood with his attorney waiting for the judge to come in. A familiar face sat down. It was the judge who pardoned him. “You sir,” said the Judge, “You look familiar. Didn’t I forgive your debt and pardon your sentence to prison?” “Yes, your honor,” the man replied. “Then why are you here suing your neighbor?”
You can probably guess the man was not well received in court.
This story may be familiar to you. It is found in Matthew 18:21-35. After being asked how often should we forgive, Jesus told the same story. It wasn’t about the amount of times to be kept in record, but about the attitude of forgiveness.
Remembering Our Debt
See, Jesus told this parable to remind us about our debt. All of us have a debt. So often we are quick to point out the “heinous sins” in others, but we are just like them. Romans 1:26-32 is frequently used to prove God does not approve of homosexuality. But if you read the entire passage, we will see God does not approve of any sin. There is an item or two on that list each of us can check off. That is why God’s wrath is revealed (Romans 1:18). It is not because of their sin. It is because of our sin. We all sin, and we all would rather turn a deaf ear to God than face our reality. Therefore, we are guilty (Romans 3:23). Our sentence is not a fine to pay, it is death and separation (Romans 6:23; Romans 5:12).
But, God the creator and just judge sees our state and our guilt. Even before anyone can ask for forgiveness (which no one did; not even in the garden), God sent Jesus to take on a human body, take our sin as his identity, and die in our place (Genesis 3:15; Romans 5:8-11). God forgives our debt because of Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).
Yet, we are so quick to lose the memory of our debt before God. We forget Christ’s death and resurrection. We forget how we came before God and asked for our forgiveness before the Divine Court only trusting in the grace seen in our savior’s blood giving us his righteousness.
We forget this moment, because we remember something else…
Our Little Black Book
Have you ever looked at someone and remembered that last conversation and that comment that stung your soul? Our mind is like a little black book. We remember the hurt done to us, and we mentally write down his name in our black book. How many times have we unfriended someone from social media just because we remembered their actions? How many times did we change directions in a church hallway in order to avoid that person?
Being bitter is having a mental little black book. If we are not careful, our little black book could span the amount of books in a 13 book series. We see the face, and inside that spark of revenge ignites.
Now, we would quickly admit that we would not murder that person or harm their family. But, don’t we think of the best come-back? Don’t we think about how to put that person in their place? Don’t we plot words, rumors, or anything subtle? We may not want to start house fires, but we are excellent at passive aggressive revenge.
Hebrews 12:15 warns us to not let a root bitterness (or a little black book) become a weed in our minds and hearts. When that happens it will only cause trouble and hurt many.
No Happy Ending
In A Series of Unfortunate Events, many people die by the hand of Count Olaf. He is so set on destroying the Baudelaire orphans and getting their fortune that everyone suffers (even himself). Why? We read that the Baudelaire mother stole a sugar bowl and was part of an argument that ended in the accidental death of Count Olaf’s father; leaving him an orphan. Seeing her leave the opera, Count Olaf says (in the Netflix series), “She will burn.”
Two sides are drawn, and a whole 13 book series spends thousands of pages telling of a scheme of revenge that leaves no happy ending. Count Olaf thinks he will be happy having the Baudelaire fortune through his schemes, but he ends up dying with nothing. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are still left as orphans with no home, the secret organization has fallen apart, many families split apart, and many people dead. You would think it would have a happy ending, but that is not how this story goes. (A quick glimpse of this story)
When we scheme, plot, and think about how to get back and get revenge (however that may look), we only end up in a series of unfortunate events. We are alienated from people who were once close to us, we burn bridges, we become thin-iced so people have to be careful what they say or do around us. We fortify ourselves behind walls, and we lose the ability to truly love people. We hold people at arms length with suspicion. Our lives become a series of unfortunate events where we never get peace and justice. We don’t get a happy ending.
Breaking the Cycle
However, we can write another chapter that breaks this cycle. We can break our series of unfortunate events; even if we do not get justice now.
As Jesus hung on the cross, he forgave those who betrayed him, made false accusations, stripped him, whipped him, and nailed him to a cross (Luke 23:34). And while on that cross, Jesus paid your debt and offers you forgiveness. All we have to do is confess our sins, and he will totally forgive us (1 John 1:9). Everything can be forgiven. We are not the victim when it comes to our state before God, we all have sinned. Yet, we can all be forgiven.
But, God’s forgiveness becomes the basis for how we live (Ephesians 4:32). We are not to live like the man who choked his neighbor for what he owed. Instead, we are to be like Christ. This means we are to forgive. We are to not hold things over people. God does not hold our sin against us because of Christ; therefore, we need to be quick to forgive, let people go, and burn our mental black book.
How Will Your Story End?
“There is no happy endings here,” is one of the final lines of an episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The author states, “If everyone fought fire with fire, the whole world would go up in smoke.”
I had a mental black book, and it was full of names. It went back many, many years. Holding on to my black book caused me to distrust people, push people away, burn bridges, and hurt people who honestly wanted to love me. My thoughts of revenge were not succeeding in hurting those who hurt me, bullied me, sexually took advantage of me, mocked my disability, or tore me down with their words. My quick comebacks and sharp words, like daggers, were only hurting me, and I was living in a series of unfortunate events. I was fighting fire with fire. Until I gave it to God, and remembered what Christ did for me. It was hard forgiving them. Somedays Satan reminds me of my hurt, and I have to forgive and move on. Words hurt, actions scar, but I have a choice to have a happy ending because God through Jesus has forgiven me. Yes, I still see some faces of those who hurt me, but I will not allow their words or actions to control my story. I am not a victim when I am unwilling to forgive. Forgiving them takes boldness in my part, just as it did for Christ to die on the cross and forgive me.
Forgiveness breaks the series of unfortunate events. Forgiveness heals you and others. Forgiveness begins to build trust. Forgiveness is the only thing that gives life, peace, and rest. We live in a broken world, and Jesus felt the rusted nails of this broken world. But, this broken world is no excuse to not be like Jesus. Forgiveness brings light into this dark world, and gives a taste to others what God is really like.
So, who is in your little black book? What are your schemes against them? Are you tired of turning a page in your life, and it be only a series of unfortunate events you started because of holding on to hurt and not forgiving? How will your story end?
This attitude of forgiveness is not a once learned and kept mentality. It can be a daily struggle to forgive. But, we can turn our no happy ending into a new life, and a new chapter because we let revenge go and forgive. We forgive because we remember how God forgives us.
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
– C.S. Lewis