In the past, challenges have usually turned my mind toward Christ. But something that just happened recently turned my mind toward Cain as well.
Yes, that Cain.
The Cain who killed his brother thousands of years ago and has his story shared over and over countless times in countless Sunday school classes and in between the yellowed pages of countless Bibles tucked on shelves all over the world. The Cain we talk about in direct comparison to his obedient brother—the surest sign really of a fallen world. The symbol of slipping beyond the forgiveness of an ultimately forgiving Heavenly Father.
That Cain, in particular, has been on my mind since a couple days ago.
I got a letter from someone who hurt me pretty bad three years ago. I thought the damage was beyond repair. Actually, I was fairly certain that if I ever saw him again he’d have hell to pay. Out of all the people who had ever made mistakes in my life, offended me, or treated me wrong, they all fell short of the bitterness I tended to have pent up toward this man. Without rehashing the story, it was simply unforgivable.
But that was three years ago. Seasons changed. I grew and learned. And between then and now I learned the hardest lesson I’ve ever had to learn: That forgiveness is owed to everyone, even the ones who never ask for it.
What a painful lesson that is to learn. It’s painful because you crave for justice to be served. For “I’m sorry” to finally be said. It hurts simply because you feel like you’re the only one bearing the cross. And for three years I’ve wondered ever so often why I had to give this man that forgiveness. Was it just so that I could move on?
Contrary to what the world says, the answer to that is no.
We’re commanded to forgive all men—not just the repentant ones. The commandment isn’t in place just so we feel better either. The forgiveness we give is mercy that we owe simply because Christ forgave us first–before we even asked for it.
I didn’t know the repercussions of that kind of forgiveness—the hardest kind—until I opened that letter. I never thought I’d hear from him again. In fact, for the last three years I’ve imagined him going through life without a second thought about me or the damage he caused. In a way I didn’t even care to hear from him again. But then the letter came. And it all made sense.
He asked for forgiveness. He asked, sincerely and deliberately, for me to understand that the hurt he caused had ultimately led to such suffering that his whole world began to fall apart. His faith was shaken—his family crumbled—he had fear that the blessings would never come.
And then—three years later—it was my duty, out of all people, to tell him that they would. That I already forgave him, long before he ever asked for it. That he was free simply because I was told to set him free.
But why? you might ask. Why should you forgive the woman who walked out on you or the man who beat you for years? Why should you forgive the father who drank too much or the stranger who ran the red light and killed your sister? Why should you forgive the church that kicked you out or the friend who betrayed you?
Why? Because you’ve been given grace too, even in your most undeserving of moments.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a leader in my church, once said: “For our own good, we need the moral courage to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. Never is the soul nobler and more courageous than when we forgive. This includes forgiving ourselves.”
We talk about Cain’s fall, his rebellion, his turning away from God’s voice and his unforgivable sins. But how often we forget that Eve—a mother stricken with grief for both of her lost sons—had to forgive too. Not even she was exempt.
So neither are we.
Cain, in the pages of my Bible, reminds me of my obligation. So does the letter in front of me from a man that sat in the pages of my past. Because these aren’t just stories. These are reminders.
Father, forgive them.
Words always given to the undeserving. Words first given to us.