Forgiving – the challenge and the power

Yesterday’s theme at my church was forgiveness, in particular the challenge that each of us face in forgive those who’ve hurt us deeply.  We looked at an extended clip from As We Forgive, and then invited people to write down names of those they needed to forgive, bring them forward to the altar, pray, and release their anger. There was an avalanche of forgiving that ensued…all day, at every service.  You can hear the sermon here, but be advised that the film clip was in Rwandan, with subtitles, so that part will only make sense if you know Rwandan!

The challenge comes in the wake of these moments.  We wonder if there are next steps to take, wonder if what we did was real or meaningful.  I’d like to offer a short list of observations about the nature of forgiveness and invite your feedback, questions, and comments as well.

1. Forgiveness isn’t something we do once, and then we’re utterly released.  Often, we’ll battle maintaining a spirit of forgiveness, as old bitternesses will creep back into our lives easily.  That’s why we need to forgive continually.

2. Forgiveness isn’t the same thing as being a doormat.  Forgiving a person means you’re releasing your own hurt to God, letting Him be your healer and shepherd, and leaving any judgement of the other in the hands of God.  This frees you to respond to situations out from the posture of strength and love rather than weakness and fear.  Out from the posture of strength I might need to say to someone, “Because I love you and you’ve done this thing, this is the line I’m drawing in the sand…” etc. etc.

3. Forgiving is different than reconciling.  Forgiving can be done unilaterally, without the involvement of the perpetrator or offender.  If there’s to be true reconciliation of relationship though, that will require both parties, and both confession and forgiveness.

4. Forgiving has practical health consequences.  Sleep health, blood pressure, stress levels, and all of these very practical things are all reflections of the degree of bitterness rattling around in my person.  Release the bitterness and I feel it not only socially, but in my very body.

5. Real forgiveness is rooted in the cross, because it’s through the cross that I’m able to move the perpetrator from the category of ‘inhuman’ to human, just like me.  And it’s also through the cross that I come to see myself in the category of “sinner”, just like my perpetrator.  This paradigm shift grows like a plant, in the soil of intimacy with Jesus, and nowhere else.

I hope this helps as a follow up to what happened in our worship yesterday.  Feel free to share your own insights, questions, and resources.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • http://www.kristievosper.com Kristie Vosper

    Great words.
    I have thought about this quite a bit lately too. We are so terrible at saying “sorry”. We are much more prone to give defense.

    My brother and I have struggled over the years in our relationship. We’re very close in age (18 months apart) and there have been epic arguments and fights, yet a deep love and friendship still exists. Now that we’re 29 and 30 yrs old we’re learning how to “say sorry” to each other. It’s been so beautiful.

    The other day he had said some hurtful things to me, we didn’t talk for a few days, and when we did, we talked it all through and then he said “before we move on, let me sincerely apologise for my behavior”

    These words showed me that we just might be growing up…maturity! health! hooray!

    Instead of saying “Oh it’s alright” and brushing it off as my language is accustomed to, I said “thank you so much. I fully forgive you. I love you.”

    There was such sweet release between us…and of course a depth much deeper than the avoidance method we were raised to believe was king.

    If we’re to be known as Christians by our love, then it seems to me that both saying sorry and forgiving others is likely one of the most loving acts we can do to mirror who Jesus is to the world. It’s so unique and strange to a world of full of defense and argument.

  • Lisa

    Thank you so much for your sermon yesterday, the exercise in the service and this follow-up – the timing of all this can only be a God thing, as this is something I am presently struggling with. Someone who hurt me deeply has come back into my life, not seeking forgiveness – for what end, I’m not sure – and I haven’t felt able to fully forgive him, or to forgive myself for my own part in it. Yesterday I felt moved to forgive him, took my hurt and bitterness and left it at the alter in God’s hands, and afterwards I felt great, felt freed…for most of the day. But that was it. Then I was angry, sad, confused, bitter all over again. Reading this follow-up, I realize that what I’m craving is reconciliation, and that probably will never happen.

    So now I will work on drawing my line in the sand, trusting God to give me the strength and love (for myself) to do so. And then continuing to work on forgiveness.


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