NEWS & VIEWS
What does Forgiveness look like?
Forgiveness. It is a word that means different things to different people. Most people prescribe to the belief that ‘we will forgive, but not forget’. Is that true forgiveness? What is meant by the phrase, ‘…but not forget’? As we look at these questions and others relating to this topic, let us start by laying a foundation of truth…
Psalm 86:5 says, “5 O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask your aid.”
1 John 1:9 says, “9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.”
Luke 24:47 says, “47 With my authority, take this message of repentance to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me.’ (words of Jesus)
We need to know and believe that God is all about forgiveness. He says in 2 Peter 3:9, “9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.”
So far we have a very rosy picture of this subject, but there is another side to this that we must look at and accept. In Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus says, 14 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” There is absolutely no ambiguity in His words. If we are to receive His forgiveness, we must be willing to forgive those who trespass against us.
We need to come to terms with the truth that we are loved by God and that he wants to forgive us. So too we need to accept that our unforgiveness towards others means we prevent ourselves from receiving what we need most: God’s forgiveness, because the truth is that God has made the decision that He will not forgive us if we don’t forgive others. Quite a scary thought…
In Mark 11:24-25 Jesus says, “24 Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you will have it. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”
First Jesus beseeches us ‘to listen to Him’. In His next words we learn something that I think is often overlooked – the reason why our prayers are sometimes not answered: we have a grudge in our heart against someone. We need to forgive that person, confess that we have been holding onto the grudge and ask Father to forgive us. Now the path is open for God to work!
Luke 6:27-38 – “27 “But if you are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. 28 Pray for the happiness of those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give what you have to anyone who asks you for it; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do for others as you would like them to do for you.
32 “Do you think you deserve credit merely for loving those who love you? Even the sinners do that! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, is that so wonderful? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, what good is that? Even sinners will lend to their own kind for a full return.
35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to them! And don’t be concerned that they might not repay. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to the unthankful and to those who are wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.
37 “Stop judging others, and you will not be judged. Stop criticizing others, or it will all come back on you. If you forgive others, you will be forgiven. 38 If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving—large or small—it will be used to measure what is given back to you.”
Here we see a much fuller picture of what forgiveness looks like in practice and I can hear myself groan inwardly at how far I’ve yet to go on this journey towards forgiving others as God forgives me. It is a high calling indeed!
Looking at these verses we note that Jesus again speaks about our willingness to listen. He also mentions, again, that if we forgive others, we will be forgiven. In the Hebrew culture and language, if something is repeated it is considered very important. It is a form of emphasis. Surely, we need to sit up and take notice of this…
Having firmly established the truth that God loves us and wants to forgive us, that His forgiveness towards us is dependant on our willingness to forgive others, we need to compare His teaching on forgiveness and our practice of forgiveness.
When people hurt and betray us, we often say that we ‘forgive them, but we won’t forget what they did’. In other words, there is a corner of our heart that is going to be used as a storeroom for that memory. Why? So that we are justified in our mind when our behaviour towards them changes? Or perhaps it’s ammunition for the ‘next time’ they hurt us. Whatever the reason, choosing to ‘not forget’, sets you up for failure when it comes to true forgiveness.
But how do you forget? We seem to find it all too easy to forget things we should remember, but those things we should forget, just keep resurfacing. Even when there is a real desire to forget those memories, we seem totally unable to do so. You may be thinking of Jeremiah 31:34c when the LORD said, “And I will forgive their wickedness and will never again remember their sins.” (Also in Hebrews 8:12), and wondering about our inability to forget. My friend, it’s not so much about blotting the memory from your mind as it is about what you do with the thought when it resurfaces. Do you dwell on it, allowing anger to rise up in your heart? Or do you remind the enemy that you have forgiven the person and deliberately choose to think of something else?
Another aspect of human forgiveness is forgiving the person who hurt us, but hoping in our hearts that God will ‘deal with them’. Without realizing it, what we are actually wanting is nothing short of revenge. We think that by wanting God to sort them out, it’s ok – but is it? In Luke23:34, ‘34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive these people, because they don’t know what they are doing.” There was absolutely no hidden desire in Jesus’ heart that Father would ‘deal with them’. This is not an ability that we as humans possess. Our natural, sinful nature is bent on revenge. We want those who hurt us to ‘get what’s coming to them’. Just look at your attitude the next time you watch a moving about someone who has been really hurt and how you react when the perpetrator is brought to justice. Even if he is shot, there’s a feeling of ‘well, he deserved it.’ Be honest - and you’ll see your own beliefs on this subject, even though you may not like what you see.
Does this mean that we have an excuse for our behaviour? Absolutely not! Philippians 4:13 says, ‘13 For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.” With His help we can forgive those that hurt us and ask Father to forgive them and to not hold it against them. Is this Biblical? Acts 7:59-60 says, ‘59 And as they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And he fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.” Now that is forgiving those that trespass against you!
Let’s look at Luke 6:36-38 again: ‘36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. 37 “Stop judging others, and you will not be judged. Stop criticizing others, or it will all come back on you. If you forgive others, you will be forgiven. 38 If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving—large or small—it will be used to measure what is given back to you.”
I have often heard this verse used regarding financial giving, but look at the context – it’s not about money, it’s about forgiveness! Be generous with your forgiveness towards others and your Heavenly Father will be even more generous towards you. We need that. I don’t know about you, but not a day goes by in my life that I don’t need my Father’s forgiveness and I cannot afford to have that channel blocked. Neither can you.
So we see that our forgiveness towards others involves both an internal and an external factor. In our heart we choose not to dwell on the memories of what was done to us and we choose to ask God to forgive them and not hold their actions against them. In practice we pray for them, we show kindness towards them, we pray for their happiness (and salvation), we don’t judge them and we don’t criticize them.
On our own we cannot succeed, but we remember 2 Corinthians 12:9a, ‘9And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (NKJV) Truly, we are without excuse…
In closing I’d like to share the words of a poem I wrote that sums this all up quite nicely:
Forgiveness is something
We like to receive
But giving it away
Is so hard to achieve
We struggle and fight
To hold onto our grief
Choosing not to see
That it’s all wrong belief
For forgiveness given
To others, my friend
Is more a gift to you
Than for them in the end
It’s not only about
Setting them free
But releasing yourself
I’m sure you’ll agree
It’s not based on some feeling
But an act of your will
The truth of this
I wish to instill
True forgiveness is not only
Your forgiveness to them
But choosing to ask God
Not to condemn
And finally when
The process is finished
You’ll find yourself
In no way diminished.