As activities of the US president will continue to grab headlines in 2020, recall this past presidential firestorm.
One of the first presidential acts of former U.S. President Gerald Ford was to pardon his predecessor, Richard Nixon, who was under a cloud of scandal related to the Watergate cover-up.
That decision severely damaged Ford’s early popularity as the nation’s chief executive and probably cost him the subsequent presidential election. However, in retrospect, most observers now agree that the pardon spared the nation a major distraction and helped the country heal after Watergate.
It is of interest that Ford’s successor in the White House, Jimmy Carter, seemed to have understood the healing power of a pardon as well. As one of his first major acts, Carter pardoned nearly 10,000 men who had evaded the draft during the Vietnam War.
Pardon is not only in the language of the judicial system, but it is also in the vocabulary of the Bible. Simply said, relationships cannot thrive without pardon. This includes marriages, friendships, working relationships, and families.
And that all begins with our relationship with God. It is based on pardon.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:6-8).
First of all, for pardon to really be pardon, there must be a violator who broke a law. A criminal. This fact must not elude us, that each of us has violated our moral obligation to keep God’s law of perfect love.
Secondly, It is natural for a person to evade the hopelessness, anxiety, and despair of that guilt and shame. To cover it up. To pretend. To self-medicate. But there is only one way that works. The Bible urges us to forsake all the ways that make sense to our imperfect minds and all the thoughts that seem like quick fixes for getting rid of guilt and, instead, go right to the source of mercy and pardon. To seek the Lord. He lets himself be found like an adult playing hide-and-seek with a 2-year-old. “Oops, you found me! How’d you do that!?” With delight the child smiles and comes in for a hug.
Finally, to be pardon it must be free. No strings attached. God’s pardon is always and only free. There’s no pilgrimage required, no penance to perform, no criteria to meet or club to join. If there were, it wouldn’t be pardon, would it?
Freely forgiven by God, then, go now and freely forgive others who have hurt you. Forgiveness isn’t about forgetting but remembering. Remembering that God, for the sake of Jesus, forgives the person who hurt you, and furthermore, remembering that God has forgiven you. Remembering this makes it possible to begin the process of forgiving others.
And the healing powers of pardon do their work. God’s work.
PRAYER: I turn to you, O God of mercy, and confess my sins. I call on you, O Lord of promise, and believe in your forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Heal me from my guilt, and cleanse me from my sin. Give me a forgiving heart that does not hold grudges and manipulate people with guilt, but opens up to your love as it also loves others. Amen.
FURTHER MEDITATION: Slow down, and use the PRAY acronym.
- Praise (tell God what you appreciate about his pardon)
- Repent (tell God about your sins, trust in his pardon, appreciate it)
- Ask (request him to work in your heart and help you pardon a person who has hurt you)
- Yield (talk to God about the next step after you say “Amen,” how you want faith to lead the way, how you are willing to be part of his answer and see it develop for your good)