When was the last time you thought to yourself – about some athlete or celebrity in legal trouble, an ex who wound up in a bad relationship, or a former boss or co-worker who lost their job – “serves ’em right, they got what was coming to them“?
You probably don’t have to dig too far into the ol’ memory banks, because we humans are a spiteful bunch. We forgive, but don’t forget, or we forgive conditionally, only after we’re compensated for whatever slights have been leveled against us.
In the book of Acts, Paul paints the picture of a different kind of forgiveness, though. One that evokes the kind of grace our Heavenly Father shows us.
Accused of the crime of… well, of being a Christian, Paul slyly uses the courtroom of King Agrippa to preach a sermon. Surprised, the King laughingly says that Paul’s confidence is so impressive it might actually convert him to Christianity. Paul responds: “I would wish to God that not only you, but all who hear me this day might become such as I am, except for these chains.”
Paul has been beaten, arrested, and dragged into court by these people, and still all he wants for them is their salvation. He doesn’t pray that God would visit their aggression back on them. He does wish to trade places, so they could see what it would feel like to be so persecuted. Instead, he prays that they would have all of the good that he’s experiences, but none of the bad.
I pray that I’d be big enough to wish the same for my transgressors and enemies. I pray that if I someday meet my gradeschool bullies again, or the girls that broke my heart in high school, or the guys that got the jobs I really wanted, or the lady that cut me off in traffic, I’ll be willing to share my love of God, but not the pains of the world.