The American preacher Chuck Swindoll (whose radio programme "Insight For Living" can be heard on Trans World Radio) used some of his favourite ("favorite"?) epitaphs as an illustration. One which sticks in my mind is, "I told you I was sick."
I like walking in North Staffordshire. By the River Dove, the number of people walking along the famous Dovedale wore away the path. So a new path was created, using many tons of crushed limestone, to withstand the thousands of feet, pounding away. (I have to admit, the path is on the Derbyshire side. All the better to get views of the Staffordshire Peak District.)
The Parable of the Four Soils found in Matthew 13, starts with the down-trodden. The path. The one from whom the devil snatches away the seed of Gods word immediately it is sown.
Not every sharing of the Word of God meets with immediate and obvious success. Beware of using this as the evangelists cop-out. Even the good ground takes time before any shoots of growth appear. And some seeds remain dormant for years before germinating.
"You do not receive the Word of God because you have a hard and unforgiving heart? You must forgive."
The path. Hard? Yes. Unforgiving? May be. Trodden down by people. Whose fault is it that the path is hard and down-trodden? The paths, for getting in the way? Or the person who trod on the path? "Well, I was only following him. And there was a signpost. Public footpath." So the hard and unyielding path is at fault for not forgiving the person who treads it down.
I heard of someone who let fly at a friend with, "You couldnt even ." Without any attempt to make up, the speaker carried on as if nothing had ever happened. Later, when a friend was really needed, the person who had been so devastated by that remark (and others) had nothing left to offer, though they wanted to help. The well was dry.
"Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there remember that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to they brother, and then come and offer thy gift." (Matthew 5:23-24.)
Maybe the issue is less the willingness of the path to forgive, more the willingness of the person who treads it down to be forgiven. Then to accuse the path of unforgiveness is putting the boot down, hard.
Interesting, isnt it, how hard the Sermon On The Mount is to live up to.
I must add to my ramblings above that there are some situations in which we must forgive without there ever being any discussion about the matter. Sometimes it is a remark or deed in all innocence, and the person concerned would be terribly upset to learn that this had caused any problem to anyone. Or the person is someone who has done us willful wrong, but is of such a nature that any attempt at reconciliation would inflame the conflict.
For our own good, we must be prepared to forgive in that secret place where only God is a witness to what we have done.
R J Higginson, B.Sc., B.D., June 1999, copyright.
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R J Higginson, B.Sc., B.D. ; Copyright