“Okay, I gotta ask…” I started.
“You want to know what a forgiveness laboratory is,” Joe anticipated.
“I’ll bet you hear that a lot.”
“Sure do,” Joe said with a smile. “Why don’t you come by the lab for a visit sometime?”
So here I was, introducing myself to Gracie, the receptionist (yeah, I caught the irony in her name).
“I’m here to see Joe,” I started. “Sorry I’m a little late.”
“We forgive you,” Gracie replied with a wry smile. “I know… bad joke, but it comes with the territory. Actually Joe is finishing up a couple of interviews and asked me to show you around.”
Gracie got up from her desk and shook my hand. It was then that I first noticed that this charming, poised single mom was wearing a white lab coat.
“Everybody at the FG wears one,” she said. “We don’t handle chemicals or anything, but in Joe’s words, it’s a reminder of two things: as believers we are forgiven by Jesus Christ, and as researchers, we’re always learning – we never have it all figured out.”
“So everyone here is a Christ follower?” I asked.
“Not necessarily,” Gracie said. “Joe believes that all truth is God’s truth, and that we can learn from anybody. But as a company, we make no apologies for our stated belief that true forgiveness is found only in Christ.”
Gracie led me past a library, conference room, a couple of classrooms, and half a dozen or so offices. She then led me into a room filled with children’s toys – lots of big, padded things.
“This is the anger room for children,” she said.
“Wow, you probably need one of those for adults,” I muttered.
“We actually have one, but it looks very different,” Gracie said. She opened the door to the soft-lighted room across the hall, and there in the center was a single, empty wooden chair. “We use this as a place where adults can voice their hurts or anger to people who can’t or won’t be here to hear it.”
“Does that help?”
“We’ve seen some wonderful results,” Gracie nodded.
“So is the FG – is that what you called it? – mainly a counseling center?”
“The FG is a research center,” Gracie said. “We partner with researchers in psychology, theology, education, family studies, and a world of other areas. We bring in people from different professions. We try to learn from children, and have even done research on certain dogs.”
“So how did all this begin?” I asked.
“It all started when I got desperate,” said the voice behind me. I turned to see Joe Jacobson’s smiling face and now-familiar lab coat.
“Hey, Joe! So you actually founded the FG?”
“I did,” Joe said with a tranquil, matter-of-fact expression on his face. “For years I lived with a simmering rage, dating all the way back to my middle school days. I lost a lot of good friends, missed out on a scholarship opportunity, and even got fired once because of how angry and bitter I was. But you know, it was always somebody else’s fault.”
Joe’s eyes narrowed. “But when my first wife said she couldn’t take it anymore, and left with our three kids, I knew something had to be done.”
“So is that when you became a Christian?” I asked.
“Oh no,” Joe said, “That’s the saddest thing of all. I was raised in church, and received Christ at children’s camp when I was in the fifth grade. But I never really understood or applied God’s truth about forgiveness for years. Then when I tried, it didn’t seem to work.”
“Didn’t people teach about forgiveness at your church?” I asked.
“Oh, sort of. Angry-sounding preachers would tell us we should forgive in the same voice they used to say that the world was going to hell. Sunday School teachers would talk about it. But nobody ever really showed me how.”
“When I would try to forgive,” Joe continued, “it would work for a couple of days, then the feelings of resentment or hurt would come back. For a while I decided that I must not be a true Christian.”
Joe went on to describe how he had learned to love exploration. How he had explored other philosophies and religions, looking for answers. But he kept returning to Jesus’ claim to be the way, truth, and life.
“So what have you discovered about forgiveness here at the FG?” I asked.
“Among the more important things,” Joe replied, as if he had anticipated my question, “we have learned that forgiveness isn’t something you do once and forget it.”
“That makes sense, I suppose.”
“When the feelings return, we have a choice whether to hold onto them or let them go and forgive the offender again.”
“Doesn’t that get old?”
“Sometimes. Anger can be very energizing,” Joe said from obvious experience. “But in the long run, it’s a destructive kind of energy.”
Joe went on. “But our greatest discovery happened when we combined what we call Formula 432 with Element 118.”
“Sounds very chemical,” I said.
“Aw, just lab talk,” Joe said with a smile. “One of our guys used to be a youth pastor.”
“Say no more,” I said.
“Formula 432 is actually Ephesians 4:32. We learned it as kids in church:
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
“I noticed that on the wall in your lobby,” I said.
“Then you probably also noticed Element 118 on the other wall,” said Joe. It’s from Isaiah 1:18:
“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.”
“When our researchers combined these two truths, we made a breakthrough discovery about forgiveness.”
“What’s that?” I asked, intrigued.
Joe’s answer rocked my tidy little world…
And in the next post, I’ll tell you what he said.