Limits of Forgiveness
Limits of Forgiveness
We all get accustomed to limitations in this life. We have limited time and resources. We have limited strength and agility. Because we live in a world of limitations, it is easy for us to imagine limitations where none exist. Take patience for example. Is there actually a reservoir of patience from which we draw that eventually dries up? Of course, there is no literal pool of patience and yet we talk about our patience being tried and exhausted. In those times we ask for the patience of Job instead of critically examining why we cannot muster more patience.
Forgiveness like patience is a limitless resource if we will open our eyes to see and our hearts to use. We can see this displayed in the lives of men and women when we pause to see how they conduct themselves. Take for example Army chaplain William T. Cummings. He is known for the phrase, "There are no atheists in foxholes." Cummings was serving in a hospital in Manilla at the beginning of World War II. The Philippines were overrun by Japanese forces in the closing days of 1941 and into 1942.
American and Filipino troops were forced to retreat. 1st Lt. Cummings was cornered with the rest of the troops on the Bataan peninsula. What ensued after their surrender is known as the Bataan Death March. During this forced march across the island the prisoners went for days without food or water. Many died from exhaustion and many more were abused or killed because they could not keep up during the march. Cummings was one of five chaplains who witnessed this death march and were held as POWs in Camp O'Donnell. Even within the camp survivors were not safe as the death toll continued to mount.
Near the end of 1944, as American troops neared the Philippines, the prisoners loaded into overcrowded transports in order to be taken back to Japan. Aboard the ships men continued to die regularly due to malnutrition and exposure. Even then Cummings continued to serve as medic and chaplain to the troops. Those around him marveled as he noted that he wished to serve as a missionary in Tokyo when the war ended even though he never got the chance. When troops made disparaging comments about their captors Cummings retorted, "Son, no one is hopeless." If forgiveness had limits it would seem that Cummings was pushing them farther than most.
This account struck me deeply as I read it in the book Tears in the Darkness. When we talk about the spiritual qualities of God and Jesus, they so often seems unattainable to me. How could I hope to forgive like God (Psalm 86:5) or Christ (Luke 23:34)? Then this account shook me to my very core. How could I forgive like Cummings? He was just a man like myself. What reasonable excuse could I find for holding grudges for the relatively minor slights I've suffered. Then I realized the only one limiting my ability to forgive was myself. Instead of holding on to those feelings, I could simply take them to God and drop my feelings at His feet. In fact, it was liberating to finally be able to consistently put those feelings aside along with the weight they carried. I felt free. You see forgiveness truly is a limitless resource and something we are required to give in order to get it in return (Matthew 6:14-15). Remember the only limit placed on forgiveness in your life is the one you impose yourself.