I’m accustomed to discussing the strange and incredible, the weird and the wonderful… the lesser spoken of topics of the bible.
Basic subject matters, like forgiveness and its place in the life of believers, have been well covered by multitudes of Christians and are fairly self explanatory in the plain text of scripture. In spite of that… I’ve come to realize that the basic things aren’t always so… basic.
As much as forgiveness is one of the central themes of our faith, it has, like many other biblical subject matters, suffered from a great deal of misunderstanding.
No believer is ever likely to have adverse feelings about their own sins being forgiven by YHWH and their fellow believers. When we are on the receiving end of mercy… it’s rarely difficult to accept.
Where it becomes fraught with difficult emotion is when we must do the forgiving.
In spite of the clarity of scripture on the subject, who has not found themselves trying to weasel around the command to forgive others when the offense done to us seems so overwhelmingly wrong and hurtful… especially if the offender shows no remorse?
The reactionary internal resistance to the idea of forgiving a great wrong is so overpowering, that at once it can concoct a long list of justifications for refusal to do so.
Magnitude of Offense: “Forgiveness is one thing… but who could forgive this?”
The most common counteraction to forgiving another is the sheer weight of the wrong that was done. Some wrongs that are done to us really are incredibly vile… others just feel that way. The emotional response between the two are not really very different… whether we have really suffered a major blow or the blow is simply perceived that way in relativity to a person’s own experiences, either can result in such a depth of hurt and resentment that forgiveness seems impossible.
Lack of Remorse: “They aren’t even sorry!”
We can all attest to the fact that it’s much easier to forgive a wrong when the wrongdoer is willing to apologize and admit that they are guilty of an offense. Many times that doesn’t happen… sometimes it does and yet it seems insincere. Whether right or wrong, if we perceive our offender to be without remorse for their actions it can make us feel justified in not forgiving where forgiveness has not been requested, or not been requested to our satisfaction.
Repeat Offender: “Shame me once… shame on you… shame me twice… shame on me.”
Sometimes we have those people in our lives that we try very hard to get along with… forgive them their faults on numerous occasions and yet they continue to disappoint us. There comes a point when we want to ask ourselves how long we’re willing to be a “door mat”. Patience becomes exhausted and we simply want to give up on the individual.
Semantics: “I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget.”
Unless an individual is suffering from some manner of genuine cognitive disorder, forgetting is not realistically an option. What we really mean when we contrive this justification is that we really don’t want to forgive even though we’re well aware of our duty to do so. This usually comes at a point of internal conflict between the conviction to do what is right and the emotional resistance against it.
What the Bible has to Say:
As mentioned earlier… the Bible is as clear as crystal on the matter of forgiveness… it is perhaps one of those rare biblical topics that are so basically defined in a point-blank way that little if any doctrinal debate has ever taken hold of it.
Even though there’s not much getting around the point, nor any wiggle room for interpretation, anyone who has had to do some forgiving they don’t want to do knows how quickly the recall of this subject can be suddenly omitted from one’s thoughts.
The power of the verses dealing with our forgiveness of others is such that it backs us right up against the wall of conviction immediately. There’s no room to turn around and run, no quarter given to fight back… and it’s incredibly uncomfortable to try. It’s also the very remedy we need when we start justifying a non forgiving attitude. We require that stinging discomfort of conscience in the face of a truth we don’t like.
Scripture has an answer to every justification we can come up with. When the struggle is with the magnitude of an offense… we need only to compare what has been done to ourselves to what we have each been responsible for that resulted in the crucifixion of our Savior.
Have any of us ever hurt like He did on the cross? Yet we are freely offered His forgiveness.
“Therefore, as chosen of Yahuwah, sacred and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another. If anyone has a complaint against another, even as the Anointed forgave you, so you also must do.”
– Colossians 3:12,13
“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as Yahuwah in the Anointed forgave you.”
– Ephesians 4:32
And if there is a lack of remorse by our offenders…
“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in the sky forgive your trespasses.”
– Mark 11:25,26
“Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you and from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.”
– Luke 6: 28-31
“Then Yahushua said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
– Luke 23:34
And if we deal with a repeat offender….
“Then Keph came to Him and said, “Master, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Yahushua said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
– Matthew 18:21,22
“And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”
– Luke 17:4
And if we are tempted to hold a grudge anyway…
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your celestial Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
– Matthew 6: 14,15
“Judge not and you shall not be judged. Condemn not and you shall not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”
– Luke 6:37
Since there is no question that believers need to forgive… no matter what… the only question left is “How?”.
Forgiveness can at times seem virtually impossible. The very sight or mention of someone who has done great personal offense can elicit extreme feelings of repulsion and anger and pain. How does one fight through such intense feelings to get to a place where forgiveness is possible? They don’t…
The command to forgive is a command to make a decision and act on it… it is not a command to tame our own wild emotions until we feel only good things towards our offenders.
The forgiveness that we enjoy from our Creator is not defined by His abstract warm feelings towards us… we would never benefit from that in a practical way.
We benefit through His act of redeeming us according to that forgiveness, and through the blessings He imparts on us as forgiven individuals.
In the same manner our good feelings towards our offenders… even if they are possible… are useless to them in any practical way. Our act of forgiveness must extend the same open hand of generosity that we receive from our Creator.
We have a duty to treat them with the same respect we want to be treated with, the same charity we want to receive, and the same concern for their well being that we would like extended to us.
It may seem strange or insincere to take those benevolent actions without “feeling it”… but in their proper place, feelings will conform to fit our obedience to YHWH… if the act of obedience is never carried out, our feelings will surely never prompt us to it.
Who Benefits by Forgiveness?
It is often argued by Christians that the act of forgiveness benefits the one forgiving most by way of releasing anger, resentment and hostility… an “unburdening” effect and that is presented as the motivation for believers to forgive.
If you’ve ever tried to live by that philosophy, though, you’ll find it very disappointing. You will not magically shed your emotions of anger and resentment as you one day make some internal statement to yourself like “I forgive this person.”.
Nor is an act of forgiveness ever done genuinely which is done simply to benefit self. Our forgiveness obtained through Messiah benefits Us… and our forgiveness of others should benefit Them.
We benefit in forgiving by doing what is obedient to YHWH, which is always beneficial, not because we have relieved ourselves of stressful emotion. Once we obey… then YHWH is able to begin to heal those stressful emotions so long as we continue in obedience.
Should it all go back to the way it was?
One of the trickiest issues in forgiveness is knowing whether or not to reinstate an offender to their previous position in one’s life. If an act of forgiving involves demonstrated good will toward the offender, does that automatically mean they should be offered the same trust they once might have freely been given?
Forgiveness does not equate with trust, and the decision to return someone who has wronged us to a former trusted position can depend greatly on what position they held in our lives, and what the manner of their wrong was.
A parent should naturally forgive their child of disobedience when they sneak out of the house and take the car for a spin… but they should not automatically trust that child to be left with the car keys after that action.
An unfaithful spouse should be forgiven of their crimes and yet that does not mean the faithful spouse is obligated to continue in a marriage that has been compromised.
An employee who gets drunk on the job should be forgiven of their bad decision by their boss… and yet that employer is within his rights to not trust his worker to continue in his employment.
What should be considered in a decision to return someone to a former position of trust is a consideration of what is practical versus what is purely emotional (e.g. Am I denying that trust out of spite, or because there is a serious matter at stake if the person is not trustworthy in the future?)… as well as consideration of a repentant attitude… a sincerely repentant person is less likely to repeat their offense if reinstated to a position of trust.
A Second Chance…
We’ve all been given a second chance… for that matter a third and fourth… etc. When one who has wronged us genuinely seeks a second chance to prove their trustworthiness to us, we should all consider how many chances we have been afforded by our heavenly Father.
We’ve all been grateful for those second chances, and so in an effort to do for others what we would want for ourselves, those requests should be honored if at all possible in a practical sense. This might take time and be extended to the individual one small step of trust at a time… but trust can be rebuilt.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
– Matthew 5:7