Summary: Forgiveness heals the hurts of the past and can change the future...but to know what it is, I offer a list of what it’s NOT.
“What it isn’t”…Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts.
Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Jesus is known as the “Man of Sorrows.” He endured personal abuse, culminating in His crucifixion. If anyone had a right not to forgive, it was Jesus. If He’d harbored resentment for all the wrong done to Him, there would’ve been no cross. He chose to forgive, even while on the cross. His life and death make our pardon possible--we are declared blameless--our record of wrongs is erased, and the new life Jesus bestows enables us to be forgiving people. No offense by anyone could ever equal our guilt before Christ, Who stands ready to forgive us.
Forgiveness involves self-sacrifice. In order to forgive others we have to surrender our desire for revenge and retribution. We offer the offender free grace, just as God has for us. Grace forgives what it cannot excuse. We receive it and offer it to others.
What does it really mean to forgive? I think many people are unclear on the concept; in order to know what forgiveness is, we need to go over what forgiveness is not…
>Forgiveness isn’t forgetting. It’s not amnesia. People claim, “I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget.” My answer to that is, “Don’t forget--each time you remember the hurt, remember your forgiveness.” This means we don’t bring up the past. The “love chapter” of the Bible, I Corinthians 13, says that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, was asked, “Don’t you remember the wrong done to you?” She answered: “No, I distinctly remember forgetting that.”
>Forgiveness isn’t pretending. We don’t act like the past doesn’t exist or that a hurt didn’t occur. We no longer use past hurts as a weapon; the past is a dead issue. We can’t ignore that a hurt occurred, but we can’t change the past, and wishing it never happened won’t make it go away. When we forgive we don’t change the past, but we sure do change the future.
>Forgiveness isn’t a feeling. It is an intentional action. It has nothing to do with how we feel. When people say, “I can’t forgive”, they mean “I won’t forgive.” Forgiveness is a clear choice, a conscious decision. We can feel hurt, betrayed, and angry, and still forgive.
>Forgiveness isn’t conditional. We don’t demand change before we forgive. When someone asks for pardon we don’t say, “I’ll first wait and see.” The person who hurt us may hurt us again, but we have a responsibility to forgive. We may need some recovery time, because forgiveness is also not immediate. We may even ask for reparation, but we shouldn’t demand proof that those who hurt us are truly sorry. That’s not our job.
>Forgiveness isn’t weakness. It’s not “giving in”. It takes strength to forgive. The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.
>Forgiveness isn’t partial. The Jewish standard in Jesus’ day was to forgive 3 times (“3 strikes and you’re out!”); the divine standard is “70 times 7”, according to Jesus. What He meant is that there’s no limit to our pardon. In forgiving, we cancel the debt. It might be useful to write your hurt on a piece of paper, then tear it up, showing that the debt has been forgiven.
>Forgiveness isn’t waiting for an apology. We initiate the healing by taking the first step. Determining who is wrong is less important than restoring the relationship. Sometimes those doing the hurting feel they’ve done nothing wrong. It’s not our job to convince them otherwise but, in our hearts, to forgive them. Telling someone who doesn’t want forgiveness that they’re forgiven can be an insult. It may be better to picture the one who hurt you in an empty chair, tell them how you feel, and that you forgive.
>Forgiveness isn’t a one-time event. There is no instant forgiveness in that true forgiveness takes effort. It is a lengthy process of steady growth as a relationship is gradually restored. Trust isn’t rebuilt overnight. We forgive--one memory at a time. The goal of forgiveness is reconciliation.
>Forgiveness isn’t condoning wrong. By forgiving, we’re not saying the action was OK; it’s not. Nor does it let the wrong happen again. Forgiveness does not mean turning a criminal loose. When people hurt us accidentally, we excuse them; when they hurt us intentionally, we forgive. But we don’t minimize what was done to us.
>Forgiveness isn’t losing. What do we win by holding onto the hurt and anger that accompany unforgiveness? When we don’t forgive we’re imprisoned by bitterness. To forgive is actually to win.
>Forgiveness isn’t figuring out why we were hurt. When we’re the victims of what seems a senseless attack, we’d like to understand why anyone would want to do such a mean thing. We may never know their reasons, but that doesn’t release us from forgiving.