Forgiveness

Followers of Jesus are commanded by him to forgive others, even those…especially those…who have wronged us. He commands us to do so, because, when we forgive, especially those who have wronged us terribly, we are most like God.

Forgiveness does not mean that we make believe the injustice never happened, or make light of it. It does not mean we leave ourselves open to abuse. It means we cease harboring ill against the other. We let it go.

Forgiveness does not depend on our ability to bring the other to the same realization. Our forgiveness must commence regardless of the other. We can only make the decision for ourselves to move to the center. We cannot force the other to take that same step. We cannot control the other. We can only control ourselves.

Forgiveness is not for the weak, for it means letting go of our need for justice. It is easier to forgive if we feel some guarantee that justice will be delivered in the near future. But that is not forgiveness.

Forgiveness looks only within, what we can do. It does not think of what should be done to the other.

When we focus on the injustice that has been done, it will become the dominant thought, and so we might be tempted to be God’s instrument of justice, to help things along. That makes forgiveness impossible.

If we call upon God to bring justice, he will begin with us, not with the other. So, we should not call down justice upon the other. The role we have been given is to forgive. Justice is what God will do, mercifully.

When we forgive, we are reminded of the mercy that has been shown to us. When we forgive even the most malicious of acts, we begin to see–only then can we see–how we have been forgiven.

When we forgive, we know God more clearly.

Even when the wrong done to us carries with it such an overpowering sense of malice, when we are filled with disgrace, humiliation, isolation–even then we forgive. Especially then.

Because,

When we feel this way, we have the privilege of experiencing something of what Jesus felt–disgrace, humiliation, isolation.

Jesus forgave, and when we forgive, we are most like him.

Following Jesus means forgiving.

Forgiveness is about deciding what kind of person you want to be, what path you will walk, what kind of life you want to live. It is a decision to conform to the image of Christ. That decision is before us moment by moment, and more often than we might think.

  • Verity

    I agree but (and forgive me if I’m going over old territory here) I think people overlook the need to forgive for the little things too. I find it’s easier to let go of the bigger things, because we recognise the wrongdoing as needing of forgiveness, but the littler things get forgotten. The car that pulls in front of you at the last minute, the person who stops abruptly in the street, the youth that listens to their music loudly, the neighbour who parks in your drive….these things need to be forgiven too. Or we store frustrations and grudges unnecessarily and spoils our experience of life.

  • Kirk Lowery

    I agree heartily with the necessity of forgiveness in our lives. It is essence of being a follower of Jesus. I don’t think, however, it is about changing our feelings. Rather, we “let go” of any effort to seek justice, retribution, recompense or vengeance. These are acts (or, a choice not to act). It doesn’t matter how I feel. Feelings may or may not follow, but obedience is in the decision I make as to what to do with the offender. Frankly, I have a hard time with changing my feelings. But I can act as I should, without reference to emotion.

    • rvs

      Acting in the absence of heartfeltness is a recipe for disaster, in my view. “Going through the motions”–not the most joyful mode. Caveat: “Going through the motions” is a great opening song in “Once More with Feeling,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 6, which addresses this very issue of heartfeltness and hollowness.

  • Kirk Lowery

    Allow me to add, that I do not understand your post as emphasizing emotion. I just wanted to emphasize the objective nature of forgiveness. Thanks!

  • Kathy

    Such a tough subject for me. . . I almost think I know how to forgive the big things better than I do the daily things that need forgiveness. My husband has chosen to make poor career decisions – over and over again, not just a mistake – and I have a hard time forgiving when I can see the short and long-term impact that it has on our family. I’m working on just turning it over to God and letting him work his power on my husband as I certainly have no impact on him and only make things worse when left to my own devices. Sigh.

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  • Fred Harrell

    As Rohr says… forgiveness begins with forgiving ourselves. When we can forgive the contradictions and paradox within ourselves, we are more ready to forgive others….or something like that. Great post Pete, love it.

  • LorenH

    Good post! My wife and I lead divorce recovery groups at our church. It is all about forgiveness. Not agreeing what happened was OK. Not restoring a detructive relationship. Not bleeding for Jesus. It is about accepting the forgiveness God offers all of us through Jesus and living that out by forgiving others. By doing that we are free from being controlled by the past and can move forward.

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    Great post Pete. Thanks!

    Regarding: “Forgiveness looks only within, what we can do. It does not think of what should be done to the other.” I know and appreciate what you are saying here, but I just wanted to add something. To look only within, to what I can do in response to the other, while giving up my need for vengeance is good, but not the ultimate end of forgiveness. To do so is to follow the command, the law, but without another step can lead us to miss out on the true spirit behind the command to forgive.

    True forgiveness, in spirit and truth, is complete when it fueled by compassion and empathy rather than simple obedience. Forgiveness flows naturally when we believe that the person oppressing us is no different, at the heart of his being, than we are. To forgive is to say, if I was in precisely his shoes I would do the samething. It is to recognize that the same fears and doubts that make us defensive plague our oppressor even more strongly. He is oppressed by his own shame and is yearning for peace and rest just as much as I am. The only difference between us is that he has not felt love as strongly as I have. He has not yet seen anyone die for him. He does not know that he need not be ashamed. He does not know what it feels like to be forgiven.

  • http://craigvick.wordpress.com Craig Vick

    I wonder if we don’t need to do more thinking about the differences between forgiveness in the first person as opposed to the third person. What seems right and good as I look at forgiving those that have wronged me takes on a more ambiguous hue when I look at what I should tell others about forgiveness. I’m thinking of the obviously distorted practice (in the news recently) of a church that had three year old children forgive their abusers as well as some things Levinas says about forgiving Heidegger.

  • Dan Litz

    “If we call upon God to bring justice, he will begin with us, not with the other. So, we should not call down justice upon the other. The role we have been given is to forgive. Justice is what God will do, mercifully.”

    favorite line

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  • http://lisesletters.wordpress.com Lise

    This topic seems to be in my face these days. I’m about to start re-writing a chapter in my forthcoming book and the chapter is entitled, “When Forgiveness Seems Impossible.” Writing the chapter is forcing me to look at places where it is hard to forgive and why (for me personally anyway). In conjunction with this topic, the best material I’ve read of late on forgiveness is theologian Miroslav Volf’s book, “The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World.” It is really quite brilliant and addresses a number of difficult issues associated with the psychological struggles tied up in the forgiveness process.

    When we’ve been hurt it is so easy to resort to black and white thinking. The transgressor or abuser can be viewed as all good or all bad because it is so hard for the human heart to live in the complexity of grey. There is so much to say on this topic. I guess I better save it for my chapter as my heart and mind wrestle together on this one…

  • Tim Atwater

    Thanks for this post. And comments.
    I’m preaching a series on Genesis and we’re up to Gen 42 and 45 — as far as i can tell, the first real ( or at least the most nearly real so far?) repentance in the bible, by Joseph, of his brothers.
    (Jacob does a generous offering to Esau back in ch 32 but that’s pretty ambiguous — it appears he know he’s done wrong, but he doesn’t seem v sorry. Judah is first i can see who says he is more in the wrong than someone else (38) but again it’s sounding v ambiguous as to repentance. (he doesn’t sleep w Tamar again but neither is he recorded as helping her get remarried.)

    The big question for me re forgiveness (this week at least) is about timing —
    Perhaps twenty years can seem about right, in one sense, here for Joseph…?

    It’s taken the bros that long to admit guilt. (I don’t think we should wait for repentance to forgive — but in reality that surely often makes it a lot less difficult…)
    And I am thinking there are usually at least a few dimensions of forgiveness — most obviously perhaps personal and community forgiveness ( community as any mix of congregation, village, culture, whatever larger than individual unit here).
    For example, it is probably right for us as individuals to forgive as quickly as possible. For our own healing to happen among other reasons.
    But we should not (in my view) be too quick to forgive larger injustices, like slavery, like racism, like greed that destroys lives. Nor should those on the perpetrating end of such behaviors claim forgiveness without reference to those on the receiving end of injustice and unmercy…

    Back in Genesis 42-45 now — for Joseph himself, of course, it would probably have been better sooner. Less stress etc. But as a patriarch he is (knowingly or more likely unknowingly) also speaking for posterity on behalf now of the oppressed. (later he will be an oppressor of Egyptian family farmers but that’s another discussion…)

    Back on chronology of forgivness — Jesus in John 20 at least seems to leave open the not-yet option. At least for the first disciples. At least that’s how i’ve been hearing it. I’m not hearing the forgive or not forgive options as open-ended in john 20, even for the apostles, certainly not for the rest of us. But I am still thinking there may be a word for all of us here as to not always right away, not always in a hurry. But I am not so sure on this. And want to be very open to hearing a better word on any and all of this.

    Thanks v much.
    Grace and peace.

  • http://JeremiahDiehl.com Jeremiah Diehl

    I find it interesting that you didn’t mention the consequences of refusing to forgive – which is God will not forgive us. Scary thing when you think about it

  • James

    Shall we elect a president who is most likely to forgive a nation who threatens our national interests or those of our allies? Or is politics a different category than personal life with its “smaller” hurts? I ask that sincerely because I think forgiveness must have something to say to all of life not just certain categories. Maybe we would be less hawkish even in times of national crisis if we truly learned to forgive like Jesus–he who said two swords were enough for his personal defence, then healed the ear cut off by the single swing of only one.

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  • http://cs-entrop.za.pl/profile.php?mode=viewprofile&u=519&sid=da0d447fdb686ee2c641cf9ccefc7648 Curt Stellhorn

    But Romney would be wise to offer her a position of some sort, along with the many others who ran towards him, and toss in Sarah Palin also. When Obama reported he was likely to fundamentally change the United States, several assumed he intended for the superior. Now that we know the reality, lets get about genuinely changing it right into a vibrant growing region, instead of a broke has-been nation that has to bow down to some others.

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