Forgiveness is that noble-sounding thing that we know we are supposed to do, but is so contrary to our human nature that we feel that it is impossible.
It’s helpful to find out what forgiveness is and is not before we dive further into it. There is a lot of baggage around the word and more than a few misconceptions.
WHAT FORGIVENESS IS NOT
Forgiveness is not minimizing the offense that was done against you, pushing it under the rug or saying it really didn’t hurt me. What the other person said or did was not OK.
It’s easier to understand this if we look at God’s forgiveness of our sins. God didn’t decide one day that our offenses against Him really didn’t matter or didn’t offend Him after all. He was just going to forget about it and pretend it didn’t happen. If that was the case, Jesus would not have had to die.
There was real offense and it caused the death of God’s Son, and because of that, He can offer us forgiveness of our sins. He can cancel the debt that we owed him.
Secondly, forgiveness is not necessarily reconciling with the other person, although it’s absolutely true that you have to have forgiveness before there can be any reconciliation.
Again, we can look at God’s example for help to understand this. God has forgiven all sins in Christ — the sins of the whole world. But that is only one part of the equation. Each individual has to accept the forgiveness offered and be reconciled to God. It takes two parties for there to be reconciliation, but only one party for there to be forgiveness.
To sum up, there can be forgiveness without reconciliation (or a restoration of the relationship); but there is no such thing as reconciliation without forgiveness.
It only takes you to forgive.
What is forgiveness? It’s a gift we give as a choice to someone who doesn’t deserve it (in our opinion) to free them from any debt we feel they owe us. We are saying: the debt is forgiven. You don’t owe me anything anymore.
I can hear your flesh screaming at the injustice of that, but consider what the world would look like if more people practiced this … even more followers of Jesus Christ. What would happen if we actually did what Jesus us told us to do?
The relatives of nine people slain inside the Charleston, South Carolina, historic African American church were able to confront the accused gunman Dylann Roof Friday at his first court appearance, only a few days after the June 17, 2015, shooting. “One by one, those who chose to speak at a bond hearing did not turn to anger. Instead, while he remained impassive, they offered him forgiveness and said they were praying for his soul.
“‘I forgive you,’ Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, said at the hearing, her voice breaking with emotion. ‘You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.’
“’We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with welcome arms,’ said Felicia Sanders, her voice trembling. ‘Tywanza Sanders was my son. But Tywanza Sanders was my hero. …. May God have mercy on you.'”
“I forgive you; may God forgive you.” “Give your life to Christ, so you can change your ways.” “Hate won’t win.” These were comments made by relatives of the deceased. (excerpts taken from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e26Eysq22Yg)
The minister at the church the following Sunday service said: “Lot of folk expected us to break out in a riot. They just don’t know us. We are a people of faith.”
“I’ve never seen the multitude of victims as forgiving as this,” Naomi Broughton, major in the Charleston police force, said. “But there was a lot of angry people. I was angry. I don’t know if I would have been as gracious as those family members were.”
I don’t know if I would have been as gracious either — when someone shot my loved one in cold blood, totally unprovoked, simply because of the color of their skin?
These people followed what Jesus said to do and allowed love rather than hate to rule; their forgiveness shocked the entire world. More than that, it totally put a stop to the enemy’s plans to bring about more racial violence and hate and strife. Instead, the churches in that region experienced unity and the love of Christ was magnified. That’s how offense is stopped and we escape the enemy’s trap.
I hope none of us will ever have to forgive something so heinous as these people did. Maybe we should start with something smaller, like a spouse who spoke harsh words to us, or the person who cuts us off in traffic.
Even those seemingly small injustices cause us emotional pain, the feeling that we are owed something, that something has been taken away from us that was rightfully ours. That pain is real, just as real as when we throw out our back by picking up something too heavy for us.
What do we do when we have pain? We try to get rid of it! What we want to find out, then, is how to get rid of the emotional pain that comes from offense.
Next time: Dissecting offense to find the cure.