With all the problems in this world, along with the mistakes each of us make throughout our life, the need to forgive arises almost daily. However, forgiveness is often misunderstood and therefore, many times, it is not properly applied. So knowing what forgiveness is and isn’t is of tremendous importance and can bring you and those you love to the light of a new day.
But a lack of this knowledge can hurt relationships in terrible ways. The symptoms of such hurt may take form in a wide variety of negative characteristics, most notabely bitterness, envy, pride, and lust–though whatever symptom arises it always results in broken relationships. To stay away from such relational disaster, we must learn how to rightly forgive. With this, let’s take a look at what forgiveness is and isn’t.
Forgiveness does not excuse behavior. This is an important point, especially when you want to forgive someone for a great injustice. We must realize that granting forgiveness does not mean that the injustice wasn’t grievous. When someone apologizes to you, have you ever said, “It’s okay?” I know I have. And that’s normal to say when you are dealing with minor infractions. But when someone abuses, cheats, lies, steals, etc., these things are not simply “okay” just because someone apologizes for them. In these situations, things may never be okay again between you and that individual, but you can still forgive, while knowing that what they did was wrong and may carry many serious consequences with it. This brings us to our next point.
Forgiveness does not negate consequences. Let’s say I lie to my wife, but then feel convicted and apologize for lying. While she may forgive me, it doesn’t mean that she trusts me. The natural consequence of my action is a loss of trust; therefore, for my wife to trust me again, I must earn her trust back. This has to do with justice, which can be pictured as en evenly balanced scale. So, if I broke trust, I must earn trust. If I was to break the law, I may still have to do the time for my crime, even though those I victimized may have forgiven me.
Forgiveness does not equal reconciliation. How true this is because reconciliation takes two willing parties, but forgiveness only takes one. To have a reconciled relationship, two individuals must each meet the other’s terms. While this is great when it occurs, many relationships will not reach this stage. For example, if I stole something from you, you may choose to forgive me, but it would be quite unwise of you to attempt to be reconciled to me if I continue to be a thief. Being a doormat is never synonymous with forgiveness. We should never allow a perpetrator to continue in his/her destructive patterns when they haven’t yet turned from them.
Forgiveness is not forgetting. This is a very common misperception. I believe it arises from a Bible verse which states,”I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). From this, we typically think that since God remembers our sins no more then we should also try to do the same for others. There is one problem with this–forgetfulness is not an attribute of God. On the contrary, God knows all things, and He asked us to not be forgetful. What the above verse actually means when it says, “remembers,”is that God doesn’t hold us in light of our sins any longer. So in applying this to our lives, we too can not hold people in light of their offense, but we are not asked to forget about it.
Forgiveness should never come cheap. To forgive someone is a serious matter, and it should not be taken lightly. Frankly, there are some things that hurt us so deeply that we are not yet ready to forgive. In such a case, don’t offer up cheap forgiveness. Only say that you forgive someone else if you really mean it. Be honest with yourself and with them. Forgiveness can be a process.
Forgiveness is divine. Merriam-Webster defines forgiveness as “to give up resentment” or “to grant relief from payment.” In order to truly do this, one must trust in divine judgement. This is really what forgiveness comes down to–letting go of your “right” to punish. It is amazing how withholding forgiveness often hurts you more than it hurts your offender. Resentment is a cancer of the heart. This is one good reason we are called to forgive and also why we should forgive. To be able to fully release a person to God and not harbor any hatred, anger, bitterness, or ill will toward them is truly a divine act.
I hope these tips help you along the path of right living. Being a more forgiving person will brighten both your path and those whom you come into contact with. Also, remember that forgiveness is not only important for others, but it is important for yourself. Until next time. (Comments and questions welcome.)