THE MEDICINE OF FORGIVENESS
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Language can be lethal. Dr. Bernard Lown, professor of Cardiology at Harvard, tells of how he learned this, very dramatically. He had a middle age woman as a patient, who had a narrowing of the tricuspid valve on her heart. She had this problem for a decade, but one day a Dr. Levin was leading a group of visiting physicians through the clinic, and when he came to the particular patient he turned to the doctors and said, "This woman has TS." As soon as they left the room, the woman began to hyperventilate, and her pulse accelerated to 150. Her lungs began to take on fluid also, and Dr. Lown asked her what was going on. She said, "Dr. Levin said I have TS, which means terminal situation."
He was amused at her misinterpretation, and informed her that it meant tricuspid stenosis. But she didn't buy it. She got worse, and nothing they could do would reverse the congestion, and later that day she died of heart failure. She was no worse that day than she had been in a decade, but she died because she heard a death sentence in a doctors use of two words. It is a rather trivial reason to die, but since our bodies believe what the mind tells them, faith in a false idea can have deadly power.
There is, however, a positive side to the power of the spoken word. It can also lead to amazing healings. Dr. Lown has marvelous examples of this also. He had a heart patient who was at the end of his rope. They had exhausted all their means to help him survive. On his morning rounds of what should have been this mans last day, he commented to his staff around the mans bed that he had a wholesome, very loud third-sound gallop. This was a poor sign, for it meant the heart was under a great strain, and was failing. But to the surprise of all, this man suddenly took a turn for the better. He made such a marvelous recovery that he went home.
When he came back to the doctors office for a check-up, Dr. Lown asked him why he thought he made such a recovery. He said ,"Doctor, I not only know what got me better, but even the exact moment it happened. I was sure the end was near, and that you and your staff had given up hope. However, Thursday morning when you entered with your troops something happened that changed everything. You listened to my heart....and announced to all those standing around my bed that I had a wholesome gallop....I figured I still had a lot of kick to my heart, and could not be dying. My spirits were for the first time lifted, and I knew I would live and recover."
Fortunate for him, he did not understand what the doctor meant, for it probably would have led to his death that day. His misunderstanding saved his life, because it gave him renewed hope. Words can kill or make alive, and all of us have this potent potential at all times. The snake has his venom, and we have our vocabulary, and both are capable of giving or taking life. The world is a sicker or healthier place everyday, just because of the things we say.
This is the truth so relevant as look again at the Great Physician at work. Jesus did not write out prescriptions, He spoke them. His very words were the medicines that people needed to get well. The wonder drug of words was his specialty, and no where do we see a more potent dosage than we see Him using on this young paralytic. In verse 5 Jesus said, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
The Greek word for son here is teknon. This is not the usual word for son in the New Testament. This is a much rarer word, for it is an endearing word. It is the word Paul used in calling Timothy his beloved son. It is used only a few times in the Gospels, and Jesus uses it for this pathetic paralytic. Not only does Jesus address him with this loving term, He unconditionally says to him, "Your sins are forgiven." If this is not spiritual penicillin to a sin sick soul, there is no such thing. This was the verbal antic-biotic that set the sick sinner free. Just as Jesus spoke the word and the sea was calm, and just as He spoke the word and the demons fled, so here he spoke the words of comfort, love, and hope, and brought healing to a paralyzed body. Jesus had a bed side manner that was excellent, for there are no better healers than those who make it clear to the patient that they are determined to heal.
Hippocrates, over 25 hundred years ago said, "Some patients, though conscious that their condition is perilous, recover their health simply through their contentment with the goodness of the physician." The words that came out of the mouth of Jesus could have been words of anger at being so rudely interrupted by this paralytic, but they were not. They gave instant assurance that Jesus had compassion for him.
Jesus was determined that this man be made well, and so even though He knew it would anger the Pharisees, He said to him, "Your sins are forgiven." These words that gave the paralytic back his health made the teachers of the law sick. They were so disturbed by his audacity that they said, "He is blaspheming." This was the beginning of the end for Jesus, for the charge of blasphemy is what led Him to be crucified. Jesus really stuck His neck out for this sick sinner. But in so doing, He revealed to us for all time one of the most powerful wonder drugs of the universe-the medicine of forgiveness. Jesus did not invent this medicine, for it was clearly linked to healing even in the Old Testament. Jesus just highlighted it, and made it clear that it is more available then we realize. Let's look at the linking of forgiveness and healing.
There is no way to separate the two, for any time you forgive another, you cause healing to take place. Healing of relationships, and healing of guilt in the offender is common by forgiveness. If sin is a great cause of suffering, then forgiveness is a great cure of suffering, for whatever eliminates the effects of sin, heals. To forgive is to heal, and thus, the two are inseparable. Ps. 103:3 says, "He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases." Is. 33:24 says, "No one living in Zion will say, I am ill and the sins of those who dwell there will be forgiven."
Here we see that forgiveness is a panacea. It leads to total health, and freedom from all disease. To be totally forgiven is to be totally healed, and thus, totally healthy. The greatest healer in the world would be one who could provide forgiveness for all sin. This would be the ultimate, for this would guarantee that all disease could be eliminated. All sickness ultimately has its origin in sin, and therefore, whatever can lead to all sin being forgiven, can lead to all sickness being healed.
Many ask, "Is healing in the atonement?" If the atonement deals with forgiveness, then it by its very nature deals with healing. You can't forgive and not heal, and so you can't have atonement and not have healing. If Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins, then He died for the healing of our diseases. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil says I John 3:8. Sickness and disease are the devil's works, and Jesus destroyed them in His life ministry, and also in His death.
If our sickness has any connection with sin, Jesus is ever ready to heal, for He is every ready to forgive. If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and this leads to healing. If, of course, the sickness is not due to sin, forgiveness cannot be a cure, for there is then no connection between it and the disease. All sickness is a result of sin, but not necessarily the sin of the one sick.
In the healing passage in James 5, there is a clear distinction between sickness that is sin related, and what is not. But the connection is made very clear, and the idea of forgiveness is made crucial to healing. James 5:15-16 says, "And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed."
Forgiveness, both on the divine and the human level, leads to healing. Christians are often sick because they are not forgiven by God or by other Christians. Bad relationships clouded by sin lead the Christian to physical problems. The remedy is to be found in forgiveness, which is a medicine that God is ever ready to dispense from the pharmacy of His heart. It is a medicine that each of us possesses also, and which we can dispense if we are willing. All who can forgive are, to that degree, into healing. Gift or no gift, all can heal by the medicine of forgiveness.
A great deal of the sickness in the body of Christ is due to the lack of the medicine of forgiveness. Christians do not forgive themselves, or others in the body, and they will not forgive those lost sinners outside the body, and the result is weakness and sickness within the body. No relationship can survive without forgiveness. No two persons can relate as family, friends, mates, or partners, in anything without offense. We not only sin against God, but against every person we relate to, and sometimes even against total strangers. We have all heard this famous prayer,
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
One of the things you can't change is that people you love and care about will sin against you, and offend you. This is the bad news of a fallen world. But the good news is, there is an antidote to prevent this negative reality from destroying relationships. It is the medicine of forgiveness.
There is a power greater than the power of sin, and that is the power of forgiveness. By this power we can restore to wholeness what sin has broken. By forgiveness we can even raise the dead, and bring to life again that which has been killed by sin. If we were as willing to be as forgiving as Jesus was with this sin sick paralytic, we would all be in the healing ministry. It works for everyone.
Gigi is Billy Graham's oldest daughter. She is married to a doctor. One day he had several patients with heart breaking problems, and an emergency took his lunch hour, and he was behind all day. A traffic jam on the way home added to the tension. He was uptight as he arrived home to his wife and seven children who demanded his attention. Gigi had a rough day as well. She had a sleepless night with the baby, and a rainy day that kept the kids confined in the house all day. After a hectic supper and clean up, these two weary Christians found themselves in bed together.
The potential for conflict was high, and they took full advantage of it, and were soon into a quarrel saying things they didn't mean. Soon Stephan was slamming the door and driving away, leaving Gigi to dissolve into her tears of discouragement. It happens to the best of mates. But the best of mates, Christian mates, know the antidote to this poison that destroys millions of marriages. Their separation was not used to plot vengeance, but rather to deal with their Lord. Robert Quillen said, "Marriage is the union of two good forgivers."
Listen to the way Gigi describes the rest of the story, and how that evening ended. "I fell on my knees beside the chair, asking the Lord to forgive me and to fill me with His Holy Spirit so I could be to Stephan all he had ever dreamed. I asked for His strength, His sensitivity, His wisdom so I could juggle my own schedule, the demands of my home and children, and still have time to meet my husbands needs when he came home from the day's work. Then I added a timid P.S., asking Him to give Stephan a change of heart, too.
I felt peace and a sudden refreshing. I got up, washed my face, adding a little color to my cheeks and lips, combed my hair, lavishly sprayed perfume on myself, and climbed into bed to wait. Presently I heard the front door open and familiar footsteps in the brick hallway. Our bedroom door opened quietly and Stephan stood there, his tired face and kind, loving eyes drawing me like a magnet. I flew into his arms. Later, our loving erased the last traces of frustration and anger. Clinging to each other as we fell into a much-needed sleep, I couldn't help wondering why we hadn't thought of this in the first place."
We so often forget the power of forgiveness until we have a broken relationship, and then realize that forgiveness is the only cure. Marriage is the testing ground for Christian principles. If you can't forgive your mate-you can't be forgiven by God, Jesus made clear at the end of the Lord's prayer. A healthy relationship towards God is dependent upon a healthy relationship to your mate. If you are not a healer you can't be healed. The medicine of forgiveness only works in those who dispense it themselves.
There are only two things you can do with sin. You can make it worse, or you can make it better. It's like a stain on your tie or blouse. You can make it worse by smearing it over a wider area, or you can make it better by finding a way to get rid of it. Forgiveness is the stain remover. Anything else just smears it and increases the damage.
Jesus is sometimes accused of being soft on sin. He so freely forgave people who were clearly guilty of sin. But we need to examine this clearly, for it is a misconception which I have had too. Non-forgiveness is what is soft on sin. If you do not forgive sin, it grows in its power and influence. Wars, murder, and divorce are the results of the lack of forgiveness of sin. Sin not forgiven is magnified, and it spreads until many are affected, besides the original victims.
Forgiveness hates sin to much to allow it to have greater impact. Jesus could say, "Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more," because His goal was to decrease sin and it's influence. Forgiveness is the only power that can eliminate the spread of sin and its influence. The most radical thing you can do to sin is to forgive it. Anything else you do may only spread it. Forgiveness is sin's most deadly enemy. It does to sin what penicillin does to a culture of bacteria-it destroys it. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, and forgiveness is the weapon that most often does this. In the war on sin and disease the most powerful weapon is forgiveness.
The other side of the coin is, Satan's most effective weapon is the unforgiving spirit. By this one weapon he is able to produce misery beyond calculation. In contrast to Gigi and Stephan, we have these words of Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady, where he says of Eliza Doolittle-
But I will never take her back,
If she were crawling on her knees!
Let her promise to atone
Let her shiver, let her moan
I will slam the door
And let the hellcat freeze.
This is the spirit that keeps the world sick, and so full of broken relationships. There is only one cure, and that is the medicine of forgiveness. Joyce Landorf tells the typical story of her relationship with Laurie her teenage daughter. "I recall somewhere in her 14th year, she had her own rebellion about everything from skirt lengths to hating peas and carrots. She made it very difficult for us to love her. And she casually, yet deliberately, drove us all up the wall! She didn't go into drugs (four friends did). She didn't have an abortion (one friend did). But for 18 months she doubted everything about the Lord, she disagreed with everything we said or did, and she made life in general miserable. We refused any of her ugly actions stop our loving her-it wasn't easy but we managed in spite of her.
By the power of forgiveness they limited the damage of her rebellion, and she came through it to be a beautiful Christian woman they were proud of. At the heart of every good news story is the power of forgiveness.
It is, in fact, the very essence of the Gospel. Jesus died for the sins of the world, that all of us might be forgiven. Forgiveness is no mere sideline, it is the very heart of the Christian faith. Without forgiveness of sin there is no good news that makes any ultimate difference. But with it, it makes all the difference in the world. This poem by an unknown author says it all.
Not far from New York, in a cemet'ry lone,
Close guarding its grave stands a simple headstone,
And on it is graven this one word alone-
No sculptor's fine art has embellished its form,
But constantly there, through the calm and the storm,
It bears this one word from a poor fallen worm,
It shows not the place of the silent one's birth,
Reveals not his frailties nor lies of his worth,
But tells out its tale from those few feet of earth,
The name is unmentioned, the date is untold;
Beneath lies the body, corrupted and cold;
Above rests the spirit, at home in the fold-
And when from the skies the Lord shall descend,
This stranger will rise and to glory ascend,
Well-known and befriended, to sing without end-
The greatest healing in the world is to be forgiven, and the greatest healing you can give is the medicine of forgiveness.