We are living in very divisive times. Of course it’s obvious politically, but also we see it in our life, whether it be at work or home, and other aspects of our daily life. There was a day when people could disagree and remain friends without any hostility toward one another. For the most part, it seems like that day is gone.
According to the old Indian folklore, the Iroquois leaders Deganawidah and Hiawatha convinced the Five Nations (the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca) to stop fighting among themselves and form a Confederacy. Many believe that this probably happened before Columbus arrived. To celebrate the new peace, the Iroquois buried their weapons under the roots of a large white pine tree. An underground river then miraculously washed the weapons away. The tribes could never use them against each other again. Hence, we get the idiom “bury the hatchet” which basically means two parties would forgive one another and make peace.
The story continues that right after they buried the hatchet that a bald eagle flew over where they were and landed on that tree and had six arrows in its claws. (One of our early American colonial symbols came from that, a bald Eagle with 13 arrows in its claws.)
Another American tradition came out of this practice, “shaking hands.” One Cherokee tour guide in Cherokee, North Carolina, explained it like this, “The right hand was the ‘hatchet hand,’ so if the right hand was extended toward another person with an open gesture, that symbolized there was no hatchet present – the hatchet was buried.” Basically, an empty or open right hand was a symbol of forgetting and forgiving—the person had buried the hatchet.
Although burying the hatchet is an old Indian tradition, it is a principle that is found throughout the Bible. Listen to the words of Jesus as he gave the Sermon on the Mount, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matt.6:14-15) This is a strong statement!
Forgiving someone is easily taught but is much more difficult to practice. There are usually two types of offences, one is when we are wounded, the other when we are wronged. Being “wounded” is accidental. It happens all the time. Someone makes a comment or does something, and unintentionally offends someone. When a person is “wronged” it is intentional, and harm and pain was intended. Either way it hurts and God calls us to forgive.
When we choose not to forgive, a couple of things happen. First the Bible uses the phrase “a root of bitterness” to describe what happens in the heart when we harbor resentment. In the book “Shoah,” Claude Lanzmann’s Documentary on the Holocaust, talked about the bitterness that remains in his soul over how he and his neighbors were treated by the Nazis, he said, “if you could lick my heart, it would poison you.” Unfortunately, I have met a few people like this and I’m sure you have also.
The second thing that happens according to a story that Jesus told is that when we refuse to forgive someone we are not harming them but we are putting ourselves in a self-made prison. (Matt. 18:21-35)
In Luke 17:1 Jesus said it is impossible to get through life without being offended. By no means are we minimizing the hurt and pain that comes when someone does us wrong. We cannot hold onto it! Someone may say, “So, I should just let them off the hook?” The answer to that question is an emphatic “No.” Do not let them off the hook. But what we do have to do is take them off of our hook and put them on God’s hook. Put them in God’s hands. Just say, “God, I can’t handle this, you can, I forgive them and I leave it to You.”
The bottom line is we must learn how to bury the hatchet. The problem is we often bury it but leave the handle sticking out of the ground just in case we want to grab it up again. In the Indian tradition it states that they buried it so deep that an underground river miraculously washed the hatchets away.
Jesus not only taught us to forgive, he demonstrated it under the most extreme circumstances. At the last supper, Jesus knowing that Judas had betrayed him still washed his feet as he did all the other disciples. To take it a step farther, while on the cross Jesus looked at those who had abused him and rejected them and cried out to his heavenly father, praying, “Father forgive them.” It is time to bury the hatchet for you are never more like Christ than when you forgive someone.
The writer is the pastor of Northtowne Church of God in Sidney.