“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15.
I recently read an article written by Laura Mae Gardner titled, “Forgiveness In Mission Settings: A Biblical Perspective,” and I learned a great deal about what forgiveness is, why it’s important, and how to forgive. A lot of what I know about forgiveness also comes from the Bible and my own personal revelations. I want to share with you some of my thoughts on the article, as well as my own opinions using Scripture and events in my life. Anything you see in quotes is from Laura’s article and should not be attributed as my writing.
Forgiveness is somewhat of a conundrum for everyone. It feels unnatural in a world where it seems like it’s okay to take vengeance against those who have wronged us. This is evident in war, in the death penalty, in gossip, in almost every aspect of our lives. However, like everything in life we have choices. We can decide how we will handle a situation. Part of the spirit that God has given to all of us is a spirit of self-control. I’m not here to tell you that forgiveness is an easy task and depending on the severity of the wrongdoing it can take years to feel like you’ve truly forgiven someone. “We keep on giving, stumbling, floundering in this work of forgiveness. Remember there are no experts in forgiving, only beginners.”
Just like all of you, I’ve been hurt in my life by people who I called friends, significant others, and even my family. I’ve cried, yelled and removed myself from people who have hurt me. I’ve struggled with forgiveness, and I continue to struggle with forgiveness daily. In fact, a large part of my life has been learning how to forgive the emptiness I felt my father left in my life. My dad is a wonderful man, but I wished everyday when I was younger that he had been there more for me. Now that I’m older I understand him better as a person. I understand the divorce impacted my relationship with him in ways that he couldn’t always control. I know that my dad never intentionally hurt me or my brother–it was something more indirect but just as painful. I can remember last year on Thanksgiving I got in an enormous argument with my dad over the phone about the neglect I felt from him. There were tears, there was yelling, there were hurtful things said. And no, I did not feel better after I said those hurtful things–I felt awful. I called him back and apologized for what I said. God does not want us to get angry, to yell, to seek revenge.
The key to forgiveness is knowing exactly what forgiveness is: “forgiveness is not an interpersonal skill to be learned and practiced and added to our repertoire of techniques. Rather, it is a posture of the heart, a life stance flowing out of our relationship to God. . .Forgiveness is that benefit of Christ’s death which I receive by faith which cancels the debt I owe to God for my sin. . .Because of what Christ has done for me, I can acknowledge the debts others owe to me and extend to them His gift of forgiveness for the impact of that sin.” In other words, Christ paid the ultimate price for our sin: he died on the cross and gave us the chance to receive salvation through faith in Him. God does not need us to take vengeance on others–God is the only one who can forgive sin. We must forgive others just as God has forgiven our sin through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection.
In my own personal experiences I’ve realized that forgiveness comes in stages for me, and it takes an indescribable amount of self-control sometimes to keep my anger curbed. It is only by the grace of God that I can keep my emotions in check especially since I am naturally an incredibly emotional person. The first step that Laura talked about in her article was awareness. Awareness means looking at the situation with introspection and perspective. Perspective means that we must realize that we, too, have wronged others. We have said and done things that have hurt others. We are not perfect. Introspection means “remembering the magnitude of my debt to God, my heart fills with love for him.” Our sin goes against God, and He is the only one that we should remain focused on in our day-to-day lives. If Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sin then why can’t I extend even a portion of the sheer magnitude of this forgiveness to others?
Laura calls the second step in forgiveness the work stage, which is where we must force ourselves to examine the wrongdoing as we would if we were auditing taxes. Is this really a sin? Or is this a conflict? Or is this a difference that needs to be understood? It can be painful to examine the wrongdoing, but it is important to reflect on it in order to see where we stand in the situation. Step three is to cancel the debt. “In forgiving another I give up my demand for vengeance. I release my hold on the one who wronged me. I am not going to ask for payment again. I do not hold this debt against him. I will not malign him to others.” Lastly, “the result of real forgiveness is to live forgiven and forgivingly.” Laura explains that there will be times when we are reminded of the hurt or pain caused by someone and we may even have to learn to forgive again.
So why must we forgive? That’s easy: because Jesus said so, and he paid the greatest price of all.
Forgiveness may not happen overnight, and forgiveness does not mean placing yourself in situations where you will be hurt again. It is okay to step back and sometimes you may have to walk away, but this does not make the task of forgiveness any easier. “Forgiveness does not mean denying the pain that the other person’s sinfulness cost me. . .Forgiveness does not mean that the perpetrator can escape dealing with God for his/her sinful behavior. . .Forgiving someone does not necessarily restore my trust in the one who wronged me, nor restore our former relationship. . .Forgiveness is not smoothing over things. Forgiveness cannot happen until I acknowledge that the offense was wrong and that I am hurt.” In my journey toward forgiveness there are many things that I try to practice. Some of these include walking away when a conversation or argument turns into anger. I have also been working on refraining from talking about the person who wronged me in a negative light to others (this is mainly because it is too easy to say mean and hurtful things about someone aka gossip). Again, forgiveness is not easy, but God’s grace is sufficient, and God is my strength.
“When I give up the option of vengeance and refuse to take the debt back, to whom am I giving it up? To the one who wronged me? No. And this, I believe, is a key factor in forgiveness. God is the third-party. I give up to God my feelings of vengeance and my longing for justice, I give up to God my pain and hurt, I give up to God my need for the resources to carry on. I trust Him to take the matter from there. I allow the perpetrator to deal with God Himself since it is only God who can forgive sin. And it is only God who can help me let Him deal with the sin of others.”
In lots of ways, this takes an enormous burden off our shoulders since we are not responsible for “getting even,” and I will always work on the act of forgiveness because God commands me to do so.