Forgiveness Part II
Forgiveness is such a difficult thing for so many people because – I think – there is such confusion about what forgiveness isn’t. Yesterday I attempted to define what it is. I pointed out that the Greek word that Jesus uses in Matthew Chapter 6 when he talks of “forgiving” our trespasses as we “forgive” those who trespass against us is the word aphiaymi which can be translated as “to send away.” Forgiveness then has something to do with releasing, or as Timothy Keller says, “absorbing” the hatred, bitterness, resentment, guilt, shame etc. associated with unforgiveness. It means refusing to “repay evil with evil” (Romans 12.17).
But what holds most people back from seriously engaging in the process of sending away or absorbing the pain is the sense that somehow the culprit is getting let off the hook; that we are essentially saying, “I know that what you did to me was horrible, but you are forgiven and therefore free to hurt me again if you so choose.”
That’s NOT what forgiveness is.
Rob Bell and Steven Furtick have both helped me better understand what forgiveness isn’t.
• Forgiveness is NOT condoning. In other words, we are not saying that what was done to us is not a big deal. We are acknowledging the hurt, betrayal, abuse etc. but saying that we are no longer going to hold on to the junk that comes along with unforgiveness.
• Forgivenss is NOT forgetting. As Rob Bell so appropriately says, “You can forgive someone and still get a restraining order.” Although God is able to forget our trespasses against Him, we are not capable of erasing our memories (the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was pretty cool though, I must say).
• Forgiveness is NOT always reconciling, Sometimes it is; but not always. Sometimes we just need to do the hard thing and get out of certain relationships and situations; they’re toxic and they’re killing us!
• Forgiveness is often NOT something that can be done in your own power. Moses was not able on his own to part the Red Sea. Elijah was not able, on his own, to make the rain stop and start again. There are some things in life that require divine intervention and sometimes (depending on the offense) we will need the help of the One who is by very definition Forgiveness, to give us the ability to forgive.
• Forgiveness is NOT something that is done with the expectation that the other person will change, apologize or even understand. We forgive so that we can change, not necessarily so the one who has hurt us will change. Remember the words of Lewis Smedes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
• Forgiveness is NOT releasing someone from justice/consequences. I Peter 2.23 says, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” Remember: "Go in the house and let your Father take care of it." God is God of justice and righteousness; no one will get away with hurting another person without paying the price for it.
After looking over this comprehensive list of what forgiveness isn’t, I hope you will feel more inspired to move towards “sending away” some of the stuff you’ve been holding on to. In the end, you will be the one to reap the benefits. As Timothy Keller reminded us, forgiveness is in many ways an act of suffering and death, but with every death for the follower of the Risen Christ comes a resurrection.
May you experience the freedom of forgiving those who have hurt you today, so that you may be able to experience the fullness of life that Christ has in store for you from this day forward.