Forgiveness is a vital spiritual practice. Fortunately, I’ve always found it pretty easy to forgive and move on. In part, it may be that my memory is so bad. I can’t hold a grudge because I can’t remember what it was that I was mad about. It has been that way since I was a child.
In my old age, though, I have experienced a shift. It still is true that when someone says, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake,” no matter how great the offense, it is soon forgotten and genuinely forgiven and flushed from our relationship. I’ve discovered, however, that when people have no self-awareness or no ability to acknowledge their mistakes and own them, I have a very hard time forgiving and forgetting. I don’t hold a grudge or wish ill upon them, but our relationship becomes frozen.
Bill and I were talking about this recently, and he suggested that this was what Jesus meant when he said, “Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the one unforgivable sin.” I think he is right. You can’t forgive someone who is incapable of knowing that they need forgiveness. It isn’t that you must remain angry or bitter toward them; it simply is that forgiveness must be given AND received. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is not an unforgivable sin because God can’t or won’t forgive. It is when we, in our hubris or arrogance, can’t acknowledge our need for forgiveness and thus can’t experience it or receive it. It isn’t that God won’t forgive; it is that we won’t be forgiven.
As Christians, forgiveness is not an option. I’m not sure we do someone a favor by pretending their offense was inconsequential. When trust is broken it must be restored, and that isn’t done by one party pretending it didn’t matter while the other party pretends they did nothing wrong.
Genuine forgiveness only happens between two people who are honest and real. It requires the person doing the forgiving to acknowledge the hurt and extend grace to one who acknowledges the offense and seeks to have the relationship restored. Pretending by either party cannot bring healing, and without that the relationship will forever be artificial. Yes, we must forgive, but that is not the same thing as flippantly pretending it doesn’t matter. No; grace is much harder work than that.
By Michael Piazza
The Center for Progressive Renewal