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Holy Spirit disruptions: Seeing people through the lens of Jesus’ cross

Lynne Baab • Friday September 17 2021

Holy Spirit disruptions: Seeing people through the lens of Jesus’ cross

My friend Elizabeth is telling me about her relationship with her brother and sister. Her parents were not happy with the some of the life choices she made as a young adult. This caused a disconnect with the whole family, and her siblings kept her at arm’s length for many years.

A few years ago, Elizabeth began meditating on Jesus’ death: the events leading up to the crucifixion, the betrayal by his friends, the pain of death on a cross, and the utter desolation of being separated from his Father. “When you really sit with those events,” Elizabeth reflects, “you can’t help but cry.”

Then she started pondering the fact that Jesus had died for her siblings, too. She imagined seeing her siblings through the cross, as if Jesus’ death is a lens. “You cannot stay mad at someone when you see them as someone Jesus died for, when you see them as connected to the cross of Jesus.”

This is forgiveness, Elizabeth believes. She has found great freedom in this new forgiveness she experiences when she thinks about her siblings and especially when she is with them in person. She hasn’t told her brother and sister that she now forgives them, but she believes the attitude of forgiveness has brought a warmth and relaxation into her interactions with them. She is comfortable with them in a way she hasn’t been since childhood.

And they are comfortable with her. Recently Elizabeth and her sister worked together on a big project. Elizabeth’s sister marveled at the unity and harmony they experienced as they explored options and made plans together. Elizabeth is certain that the ease in decision making they experienced comes from the grace of forgiveness she has experienced.

Through forgiveness, the Holy Spirit disrupts our need to be right, our comfort in wallowing in the pain that we experienced in the past, and our desire to justify ourselves. When we forgive, the Holy Spirit does something new and liberating inside us, something that spills out in our relationships, especially our relationships with the people who harmed us. Person after person has told me about the freedom they have experienced when the Holy Spirit has enabled them to forgive.

I have experienced great difficulty in forgiving without understanding. With respect to some of the major hurts of my life, I have needed to understand why they happened, and sometimes that understanding has been really hard to achieve. Elizabeth’s experience short cuts the need for understanding – and all other needs we experience as essential in order to forgive. Jesus’ death on the cross for the people who have harmed us or who have negatively impacted people we care about gives us a lens through which to see them.

Think about a lens on a camera that is designed to filter out light of a certain color. Maybe we could think of the cross of Jesus as a lens that filters out the things that have made us angry at someone. Think about the lenses in binoculars that bring distant objects closer. Jesus’ cross shows us God’s love and forgiveness for each person, bringing closer a reality we often like to push away. Think about lenses in glasses. My glasses give me better distance vision like binoculars, but they also adjust for astigmatism, which causes blurred vision. Blurring is definitely what happens when someone hurts us and we see them as a source of pain. The lens of Jesus’ cross helps remove the blurring and we see people as beloved of God.

Loving God, you know how hard forgiveness has been for me. Sometimes I think it’s because I have a need to be right, but more often I think it’s because I have such a high need to understand. I beg that you would relieve me of my desire to be right and my need to understand. Perhaps you want to do that through the story I heard from Elizabeth about her beautiful practice of meditating on all the components of your death while thinking of people who have wronged her or who she is frustrated with. Help me – and help my readers – ponder your death so deeply that we cannot help but see others as precious people you died for. Thank you for your great love for us. Amen.

(Next week: free to be a little weird. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below.)

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