A friend makes an offhand remark, and suddenly it’s almost 10 years ago. I’m sitting in my office and work, my back to the door. I hear a noise and turn around, and three people are standing there. One is my boss. One is his boss. And one is a high-level executive who felt threatened by my speechwriting work for the CEO, and politically maneuvered me out of doing it.
They had a problem. The replacement speechwriter, who had no prior experience, had turned in a 30-page, single-spaced manuscript – that’s 12,000 words – to the CEO for a major 15-minutes speech. It should have been 1,500 words, and the CEO didn’t even like full-blown manuscripts, preferring extended outlines. And the speech was two days away. The three executives were there, essentially hats in hand, to ask me to fix it.
My first reaction was anger, carefully contained. The second was an inward smugness – the CEO had sent them to me to fix it. And fix it I did. But I had to be careful, because, in the corporate world, this is the kind of situation that the three would likely try to find a way of blaming me for their mistake. It was unfortunate that I felt more gratification than forgiveness.
It is, perhaps, one of the most difficult issues anyone, and especially Christians, must wrestle with in a broken world.
It may be forgiving a colleague at work who engaged in the fine art of political backstabbing, with you as the victim. It may be a relative or close friend. It may be a pastor or an entire church. And it may be forgiving yourself.
Forgiveness is tough terrain. And it is the terrain tackled by Brian Jones in his 2008 book, Forgiveness: Get Rid of the Gorillas of Pain, Anger and Bitterness and Start Living.
Jones, a pastor, has heard enough and experienced enough about pain and brokenness in human lives (including his own) to know of what he speaks about forgiveness. Through a combination of observations, personal anecdotes, Scripture references, and self-reflection, He speaks to the very heart and soul of what forgiveness is, why it’s needed, where it comes from, and steps one can take to actually do it.
“The best I can tell,” he writes, “the wrongs themselves aren’t what we catalog and keep recalling. It’s the triggers, the ambient sounds and sensations that bring back the feelings of rage. These are what we can’t help recording and what keep us from forgetting the wrongs done to us.” He’s exactly right. We don’t keep an open journal in our heads about who and what need forgiving, dwelling hourly on each entry there. Instead, the hurt and pain are buried, until something – an observation, an off-hand comment, a scene from a movie or a television program – trigger the memory. And the anger.
Jones uses the metaphor of a gorilla to explain forgiveness. We all keep gorillas inside of us – angry, sometimes raging gorillas of hurt, pain, and brokenness. He tracks the gorillas in his own life and the lives of the rest us, tracing where they come from, what has really caused them (what he calls “gorilla DNA”). And then how we rid ourselves of the gorillas.
Jones is senior pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in suburban Philadelphia. He received his B.A. degree from Cincinnati Christian University and his M.Div. degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author of Second Guessing God (2006), Hell is Real: But I Hate to Admit It (2011), and a forthcoming book to be published in the fall of 2017. He also writes practical articles on leadership and preaching for senior pastors at SeniorPastorCentral.com.
Forgiveness is almost a decade old. But the wisdom and truth it contains about one of the most common needs people experience are timeless.
Top photograph by Peter Hershey via Unsplash. Used with permission.