November 21, 2013


Over my lifetime, I've had a lot of reasons to deal with the topic of forgiveness. I finally think I have some idea of what it's about these days, and I'm getting much better at it that I once was.

I still see a lot of people with what I think are misguided ideas about what forgiveness is for, and a lot of people who are struggling with these ideas while desperately needing to bring the healing of forgiveness into their own hearts. We really need to move into a better understanding of forgiveness so that we can do our own healing and help others along in the process so we can more fully live a life of love as Christ would have us live.

It seems to me that we put the cart before the horse concerning forgiveness. We put reconciliation for the other and the group ahead of healing for the self. and we've gotten this idea from well-meaning preachers who have tried to keep the peace in a group, but without the deep understanding of how forgiveness works, and who the primary beneficiary is.

First off, the offender's repentance is not a requirement for forgiveness. If it were, knowing that some people will never repent of their transgressions, and knowing that Christ has commanded us to forgive people anyway, then how could it be a pre-requisite for forgiveness?

The answer is that forgiveness is not for the offender, it's for the injured.

Forgiveness is our way of casting off our burden of anger and resentment so that we can live a fuller life of love. It is a way of casting off the chains of past hurts that keep us tied to our past.

Forgiveness is when we make that conscious decision to be free of the burden of that pain. It doesn't mean the pain is going to disappear magically, nor do we have to wait for the pain to fade in order to forgive.

It's not an instant job, either. When asked how many times they should forgive someone, Jesus told them seventy times seven times. Was Jesus talking about letting someone hurt you over and over that many times? Maybe, but I don't think any of us could be expected to withstand that. Maybe he was talking about how many times we should tell ourselves that we forgive someone, a way to make it sink into our hearts and minds.

We have to make that decision to forgive on a daily basis, sometimes even more often for some of the big hurts that are done to us. It's pretty naive for us to expect for these resentments we've carried around for so long to just disappear instantly. It's more natural to remember the pain, so we have to keep reminding ourselves to forgive seventy times seven, or maybe many more times.

Making this decision to forgive someone doesn't mean that we are reconciling to that person or letting them close to our lives again. Those are entirely different things that may or may not be appropriate depending on the offense and if the offender ever repents and changes.

Forgiveness is NOT saying to someone, "I forgive you." That is just a means of informing someone of the work you have already done; it is not the work, and if the work hasn't been done, then it's just a lie told to make the offender feel better.

Forgiveness is NOT a license for someone to blithely re-insert themselves into your life. It is NOT an expression of a renewed trust. It is a declaration of freedom.

Whether the object of forgiveness is a person, an institution, or even ourselves, it's something we do that is primarily for our own benefit, so that we can better live a life that benefits others. The forgiveness that benefits the offender is not ours. It is theirs and God's.

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