Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart
by Edward Hersh
As one of those Christians who cannot account for a specific day when I converted to Christ, most of my life has been a journey of following Jesus since I was a young boy. My religious experience is scattered across the denominational spectrum. Near the time when I married, we became founding members in a church we believed was on the cutting edge of church life, following a model of radical obedience to God’s word for us as believers. A popular verse in our movement came from Acts 13:36 which says, “David had served God’s purpose in his own generation.” We served God with great zeal in order to “do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.” (1 Sam 10:7). I am deeply grateful to God for my loving parents and the fellow sojourners we have grown within the faith over the years. However, even the greatest amount of zeal for God cannot overcome a fundamental inability to receive God’s love caused by obstacles such as core misbeliefs (lies believed about oneself, God, and others), wounds, and social injustice.
In 1998 I was introduced to a book called The Transformation of the Inner Man by John and Paula Sandford. The teachings of the Elijah House based on this book brought an enormous amount of healing to my body, soul, and spirit. Even having been in churches where the “baptism in the Spirit” was practiced, I was met by the Holy Spirit in a new way that validated emotional connection to a loving God. My picture of God changed and I heard His voice differently. I answered a call of God to pursue more training in counseling and healing ministry. My career had been in software development so I took a job at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA, so I could study in their graduate school. I completed an MA degree in Human Service Counseling and then entered a doctoral program at Trinity Theological Seminary in Newburgh, IN. Also, through self study, I investigated what seems to be every ministry, method, and book on the topic of inner healing.
About the time I was choosing a topic for my major writing project to culminate the Doctor of Religious Studies degree (I completed it in 2010), an event occurred that clearly placed forgiveness at the center of all I had studied and experienced the last twelve years. A youth in our community shot and killed Mike and Kathy Borden, the parents of his fourteen-year-old girlfriend, on November 13, 2005. The families on both sides of the tragedy are Christians. Then ten months later, Carl Roberts, a local man, also from a Christian family background, premeditated a crime against innocent Amish children in which ten people were killed or injured in a fit of rage. “Peaceful” Lancaster County, PA became the scene of heinous crime committed by “Christian” people. These were not your stereotypical “thugs” from the “inner city.” Other similar crimes occurred before and some since, but these struck close to home because our family connections are close. Besides the deaths, the aftermath is ugly. I cannot explore it here, but many questions still remain. God provides at least one answer—forgiveness, if we can get our heads and hearts around it.
Anger, hate, and rage do not “just happen.” Jesus points this out in Matthew 5:21-23. It’s a progression. Unrighteously judging (wrongly forming a negative opinion of) another person, ruminating, and failure to surrender to God are all elements of something I call a cycle of offense (explained in Chapter One). Since Jesus defines anger as simply calling someone a “fool,” he is making the point that ALL of us are guilty of denying hatred, lust, and other ungodly passions that can lead to disastrous results.
“There, but for the grace of God, go I” (John Bradford). This sixteenth century martyr helps me gain perspective. Like every human being, innate sin has caused me to struggle with “bad fruit” and “bad roots” in my life. Unrighteous anger is a “fruit” with which I am well acquainted. Bad roots have surfaced and been dealt with (with more likely to appear). Though it’s God’s grace that I haven’t behaved in a way that would make me a criminal (in a physical sense), it is also God’s grace that I haven’t had to stay in the imprisonment of cycles of self-defeat, self-rejection, performance-based living, victim-predator, depression, anxiety and others. Through Jesus Christ I am a jail breaker, no longer a jail bird. I am a “free bird” (emphasis on the free, not the bird)!
Freedom in spirit and soul does not necessarily translate into freedom from adversity and struggle in circumstances of life. In fact, like many, I find just the opposite to be true. The scriptural principle holds true that the more knowledge one gains in a matter, the greater responsibility one shares in acting appropriately on the understanding received. Since healing usually involves working through some sort of pain, more gain, may mean more pain. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
On the positive side, I have found that healing begets healing. The more “healed” I become, the more my heart desires the transparency with God to bring more healing. Having become knowledgeable on the topic of forgiveness, has certainly come with its “testing.” What I’ve written in the book is only a measure of what I’ve learned, but I want to share as much as I’m able to communicate so that others can also benefit from my pain (and joy). The greatest end, of course, is to glorify Almighty God and enjoy His Presence forever.
My background also contains some significant “stuff” created by a condition of optic nerve damage at birth. Legal blindness has presented challenges (and produced perseverance) that I could write an entire book about someday. I lived my childhood with the receiving end of “kids can be cruel.” In adolescence I blamed a lot on God and questioned the typical “hard things in life to understand” with the added burden of trying to figure out what society means by “normal.” Adulthood intensified this struggle as I tried to fulfill duties of manhood (husband, father of four, employee, leader, etc) like other men, but with less than half the eyesight of a person seeing with 20/20 vision. Without a driver’s license, severely limited access to printed material, and handicaps in social settings, I was (and am) forced to depend on God who came through in numerous and miraculous ways. My theme verse became the passage in 2 Corinthians 10:9-12 which says, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
As a person with a disability I identify closely with people in underprivileged classes. Society’s attitude towards people with disabilities is generally demeaning and lacking inclusively. People with disabilities are generally viewed as “needy” only, instead of valuable contributors who possess a piece of what is needed for the community as a whole to thrive. Unfortunately, the Church seems to be as guilty as the society at large in the failure to provide people with disabilities dignity, opportunity, equality and empowerment. If the civil rights struggle to improve conditions for people with disability is compared to the civil rights movement of the ’60s—Rosa Parks being asked to give up her seat on the bus for a white person— might be compared to a person with a disability being told they shouldn’t be trying to board the bus. Lack of employment opportunities, poverty, and social isolation are common place and at much higher rates among this group than the public at large. There are some wonderful people doing some great things to address these problems. I would be remiss in failing to acknowledge and thank these persons. On the other hand, much of the assistance offered is patronizing because it fails to include the participation and contributions of persons with disabilities themselves.
By default, as a member of the “disability community,” I have become an advocate forced to take occasionally unpopular positions on matters in the community at large. Again, this is not a position I would choose, but by God’s grace I can help others bear their burden, to some degree at least. I mention all this because participation in society as part of an “oppressed class” creates even more opportunities to understand and practice the grace of forgiveness.
Jesus’ teachings consistently contrasted the physical realm with the spiritual. Most of the physical healings recorded in the gospels were performed with a direct message of spiritual healing. Jesus healed peoples’ eyesight to demonstrate the spiritual blindness of people of the day (particularly the religious). Our generation is no less “blind.” We are blind to the bitterness, resentment and blame in our hearts. Even God’s people are often blind to the power of forgiveness, and the world of freedom waiting outside the walls of the prison of darkness. “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but has no vision” (Helen Keller).
Most profoundly, Jesus communicates this in the story of the man born blind that is healed in John chapter nine. I think many miss the main point of the story explained in the last few verses.
“Jesus said ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’ Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’ Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.’” (John 9:39-41)
Blindness is the spiritual condition of those unable to surrender to God the right to judge the guilt of offense. Jesus opens spiritual eyes. Jesus only frees those from debtor’s prison who first see their captive condition. Those who think they see well enough without Christ’s intervention, are doomed to a life characterized by blindness. The parts of our heart not yet surrendered to Christ for His judgment will grow like a cataract gradually creating greater degrees of blindness. There is no neutral territory. We allow the eyes of our heart to be opened wider to God’s message of forgiveness, overtaking the darkness, or we choose to close the eyes of our heart (being content in unforgiveness), surrendering to darkness.
In the story mentioned above the physically blind man was accused by religious people of both having some sort of sin in his life, and not having enough faith to be healed (physically). They became trapped into thinking their physical sight qualified them to judge the “blind” man’s spiritual condition. Hence Jesus warned, “now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” Jesus was interested in healing the “whole person.” Understanding and practicing forgiveness is the centerpiece of spiritual vision and peoples’ freedom in Christ. I have experienced an incredible amount of healing in my own life. As I have allowed God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to change my heart from the inside out, my responses to life circumstances improve; past, present and future. Triggers from past hurts no longer have the intensity they once did. Fellowship with God is more intimate because many blocks have been removed. The future looks brighter as God multiplies the seeds of my repentance (from ungodly judgments) to yield an increased harvest of good fruit.
Presently I am involved in a number of arenas to try to make a difference and advocate for “whole person” healing. A number of years ago I connected with a medical doctor in Lancaster who has similar apparition to combine a spiritual approach alongside the typical medical treatment to physical, mental and emotional health problems. Robert Doe, MD leads a ministry called Light of Hope Community Service Organization. I am part of a team of counselors who works with Dr. Doe in clinic settings to provide spiritual care treatment for illnesses, addictions and mental health issues. This project is called the Refuge of Healing and Hope and consists of people from various churches and ministries in our community. I serve other organizations in chaplaincy work, and serve on mission teams to promote transformation and healing of the whole person.
Lancaster County is a popular tourist area in Pennsylvania. My wife and I operate Blue Rock Bed and Breakfast to welcome visitors and provide lodging and breakfast to guests from all over the world. In addition to the hospitality, some people come to our location for healing ministry. Individual and family counseling is offered from a spiritual perspective. Particularly for leaders, this affords an opportunity to receive help without the risks of exposing problems in their local community. Training is also offered to help leaders and lay counseling teams sharpen their skills in prayer counseling and healing ministry.
Let me extend a warm welcome for you to come visit us in Lancaster. We’re conveniently located near many attractions, and if you are looking for more than a vacation, we would be honored to be a part of what God is doing in your healing journey as well!
I have gleaned the best from each of the numerous counseling and inner person healing techniques I have studied over the years, and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal and direct what is needed on a case by case basis. The tools and templates I draw from often focus on themes in this book.Further discussion and exploration of specific topics in the book can be scheduled with the author through "H-E-A-R-T for Success" (see the page called 'Visit the Author' on the authoredhersh.blogspot.com web site). It is our hope and prayer that the book Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart be a tool used by many to set hearts and minds free in Christ.