At Work & Theology 101

Forgiveness at Work is Difficult. It’s Also an Opportunity.

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Last month, the world lost a remarkable man, Louis Zamperini. He was ninety-seven.

Zamperini was on the track team at the University of Southern California and ran in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Near the beginning of World War II, he joined the U.S. Army Air Forces and was sent to the Pacific theater. In 1943, Japanese forces captured him in the Marshall Islands.

He was tortured and severely malnourished for the next two years, and was finally released at the end of the war in 1945.

In 1949, Louis Zamperini put his faith in Jesus Christ at a Billy Graham crusade.

Less than two years later, he returned to Japan because he wanted to meet the men who had tortured him during the war, most of whom were in prison.

He told them about the forgiveness he had found in Christ. He told them that he forgave them for what they did to him, and he hugged each one of them.

Called to Forgive

It’s challenging to hear Zamperini’s story and then reflect on our own lives in the office. Most workplace offenses seem petty in comparison.

In the workplace, offenses often involve being falsely criticized, a broken promise about a promotion, or being made the scapegoat for a failed project.

Few of us face the kind of challenges Zamperini faced. And yet, many of us find it difficult to forgive workplace offenses.

Workplace offenses can be serious and we should not minimize them. Sometimes these offenses come with consequences. As a case in point, most of Zamperini’s captors went to prison.

Even when we are wronged, and even when there are consequences for the offenders, the Apostle Paul addresses the state of our hearts in I Corinthians 13:5 by saying that love is not resentful. Or, as it is rendered in some English translations, love does not keep a record of wrongs.

Jesus cried out from the cross, “Forgive them!” Even though we did not deserve forgiveness from God, Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection secured it for us.

In Christ, we not only receive forgiveness, but a mandate to forgive.

Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32

Forgiveness at Work

Thinking (or writing) about forgiveness is lot easier that doing it.

Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive. – C.S. Lewis

Why did Mr. Zamperini decided to face his captors?

He knew that the sins of his own heart were just as dark as the sins committed by the prison guards.

In an interview many years later, Zamperini explained that as a new creation in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17), he felt it was his duty to face his enemies with love (Matthew 5:44). He was responding to Christ’s command to forgive as he had been forgiven.

We’re called to do the same. We’re called to love and forgive our “enemies” in the workplace and to be tender hearted toward them.

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, offers three tips for developing a forgiving spirit:

  • Leave the righting of wrongs to God.
  • See the hand of God in man’s malice. Just to be clear, Pastor Keller is not suggesting that God causes man to sin. Man’s sin is his own doing. He is saying that God can, and often does, use man’s evil intent to bring about good (Genesis 50:20).
  • Repay evil not only with forgiveness, but with practical affection.

If you have an example of forgiveness at work that you’d like to share, please post it in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.

Here’s a brief video of Zamperini talking about forgiveness.


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