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.