By James A. Wilson
It is now nearly half a century since I learned the greatest lesson possible about two things for the price of one – the absolute value to the forgiver of forgiveness and the incredible breadth and depth of the providence of a loving God who invariably gives more than we can ask or imagine. The only variable is whether and to what degree we let go of our agenda of entitlements to see – and receive – all He offers us.
I was a twenty-something teaching assistant at a high school in San Diego with a gift for defusing potentially violent confrontations. One of my duties was to patrol the lunch area when students were out. One day I witnessed a teacher deliberately baiting a student until the young man drew back his fist and moved to clock the teacher. I intervened before a blow landed and offered to escort the student to the office so as to avoid further incident. Both were okay with this and the teacher told me to be sure I told the assistant principal all I had seen. I did just that, including the deliberate provocation by the teacher. Later, realizing the teacher would be pretty steamed at me when he learned I had painted him in a most unflattering light, I thought it best to relate the incident to my supervisor first. I did that too and was shocked when – instead of commending me for my fairness – the supervisor said regretfully he would have to fire me. My job – he said – was to back faculty at all times with no exceptions.
I was frankly so hacked off at my treatment I failed to credit for some years all my God did for me in the event. I secured another assistant position at another school in the same district within days. Working different hours made me available for an accelerated credentialing program that halved the time until I would be a certificated teacher; meanwhile the new school needed a reading instructor, unlike the other one. I obtained my credential in a season when less than a third of graduates were landing jobs and yet I found myself – because of my new position – hired as a reading specialist and on my way to earning a simultaneous masters’ degree and specialist credential. This apparent happenstance also led me into the curriculum development and peer education I had wanted to do all along.
The only fly in the ointment – years after the fact – was my resilient resentment over the unfairness of my termination that day. Even after the Lord reminded me this ill treatment made me available for an accelerated program leading to my teaching credential and positioned me for a job in a market where new teachers were not being hired – even then – my attitude was that guy was a jerk who penalized me for doing the right thing. That resentment prevented my appreciation of the ultimate reality I was not penalized at all; God worked all of it together for my good, and the good of the thousands of students I was ultimately able to benefit.
God has this habit of giving us more than we can either ask or imagine; He says as much in Ephesians 3:20-21. He has this even more remarkable will to work all things together in any of us willing to love Him and live according to His calling on our lives. He makes that point explicitly in Romans 8:28 and implicitly on virtually every page of His book, known simply as the Bible.
There is a catch. We are called by this same Lord and Christ to repent as the access point for His love and provision. Truth is every person on the planet has enjoyed unlimited access to Him since His death and resurrection; He says that too in the Gospels and thereafter. Our repentance – focus on Him instead of ourselves – is how we give Him access to us; it is just as crucial as actually cashing a check we are given if we would use the funds it represents.
This repentance is meant to be a lifestyle. Though many imagine it a one-time commitment, every act of forgiveness is one of repentance – re-focus – on Him. When we refuse forgiveness we refuse Him access to our hearts and it never ends well despite His ongoing love and creative vitality meant to be at our disposal. Every time we choose to thank Him in the face of trouble we likewise re-admit Him into our lives and it always ends well – sooner or later, one way or another.
By the grace of God I finally heard it enough from Jesus to actually forgive that guy. Later I learned even to give thanks for the blessing his bad behavior introduced into my life. The fruit has been and continues to be amazing. I recommend – any time we find ourselves in trouble or anger or grief – asking Him to identify the ones we need to forgive or the issues for which we need to give thanks despite their negative appearance.
I recommend this same advice to myself whenever I forget the lesson I might have learned in 1972 with a bit more humility to enable the learning. It is a lesson requiring frequent repetition. It is a reminder the Gospel is – after all – a lot more good news than mere good advice.
James A. Wilson is the author of Living As Ambassadors of Relationships, The Holy Spirit and the End Times, Kingdom in Pursuit, and his first novel, Generation – available at Bounty Books, or at firstname.lastname@example.org