The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


No way out

Unforgiveness confines us to a hell of our own making

Many years ago I learned that hell literally means "to be walled off from." The Old English, Germanic, Latin and Greek roots all have to do with being hidden, covered and concealed. Only later did I realize that being unforgiving is hell.

When hurt, we wall ourselves off for protection. But our protection becomes a prison. The walls we build to keep others from hurting us, from getting too close, also keep us from the freedom and joy we crave. We become lonelier and lonelier. We expect someone else to reach out to us. We long for companionship, failing to realize that we've jailed ourselves.

Even our bodies react. We may say naively: "He's a pain in the neck!" or "She makes me sick!" It might be literally true. Several years ago a friend of mine made an appointment with Carl Simonton of Fort Worth, Texas, one of the first doctors to deal with carcinoma on a spiritual and emotional plane.

In their first session, Simonton bluntly asked, "Who is your cancer?" He recognized that there are many reasons for illness, but he was strikingly perceptive.

My friend was startled but knew the answer immediately. He had been "eating his heart out" (actually it was his liver) because some years before his boss had promised and then denied him the national post he had aspired to all his life. Before he died, my friend came to believe that continued anger and mourning had produced physical results.

Everyone has been victimized. For some of us it may have been so traumatic that we doubt we can ever be healed. But there is no hope in living as a victim.

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