Thursday, February 01, 2007

Some thoughts on Forgiveness

A devotional booklet that I just read by Gary Inrig on "What is True Forgiveness" spoke volumes to me this morning. I thought I would share just a few little nuggets that would behoove all of us to take to heart and apply when necessary.

"To forgive is to wipe the slate clean, graciously to cancel a debt. The word for forgive that Jesus uses has various meanings. It means 'to set free, release' and in certain contexts 'to wipe away, release.' A forgiven person has been set free from his past behavior and had his record wiped clean."

"What does forgiveness look like? Is it something we do automatically? Do we do it immediately? Is it a single act or a process? Do we wait until we feel ready to forgive? Do we require the other person to repent, or is forgiveness personal and internal, something we do for ourselves? If we forgive, does that mean we must immediaitely return to a persistently abusive relationship?"

I'm going to recap here most of the main points of the devotional. The main text of scripture that was used was Luke 17:1-10, mainly focusing on verses 3 and 4. "If a brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day and seven times comes back to you and says 'I repent', forgive him."

First of all, the term "brother" indicates a fellow Christian. Equally important is that Jesus was talking about sin. This must not be passed over quickly. Many things may irritate, annoy, and upset us about someone else. Those things may require enduring; they do not involve forgiving. But we need to confront sin and rebuke the sin. If the brother repents, then we need to truly forgive.

We need to resist the temptation to keep those who have sinned against us in an emotional penalty box, making them serve endless hard times for their offenses.

Forgiveness never minimizes the reality of sin. Forgiveness doesn't involve excusing an act. If it can be excused, it needs to be understood, not forgiven. Forgiveness is about the inexcusable. Nor does forgiveness involve ignoring or denying sin, turning a blind eye to the misdeeds of another, or pretending it didn't happen. C.S. Lewis says: "Real forgiveness means steadily looking at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice." Repentence then involves more than a feeling of wrongdoing or regret, and produces more than an apology. Repentence produces a change of mind that produces a change in direction.

Jesus was not talking about "forgetting" sin as the old cliche goes "forgive and forget." God does not forget our sins. He would be less than God if his memory was capable of lapsing. Instead, he "remembers them no more." That means God does not remember those sins against us, that He does not treat us on the basis of our sins. We do not need to forget what we have done as much as we need to face what we have done. True forgiveness flows toward repentance. The ideal is clear: I am sinned against; I confront the offender; he sincerely declares his repentance; I declare my forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting to remember, but remembering to forget. Forgiveness is not a case of holy amnesia that wipes out the past. Instead, it is the experience of healing that drains out the poison from the wound."

Remember that forgiveness cancels all debts, but it does not eliminate all consequences. If we have sinned against another, there may be long-lasting consequences that occur. However, to rehearse and review the sin over and over to the person who wronged us is not true forgiveness. When we say "I forgive you", the choice is made to deal with the issue completely. It is as if the wrong has been buried and is dead forever. Just as God buries our sins into the deepest sea and remembers them no more, we need to forgive in the same manner. However, we are human. The offense done to us may crop up in our memory. That is what Christ meant when He said, we need to forgive seven times seven. Each time the offense comes to mind, we need to forgive and go on. Clara Barton, the nursing hero of the Civil War, had a friend mention a particularly cruel act done to her and asked her, "don't you remember?" Barton's answer: "I distinctly rmember forgetting that."

Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It's a permanent attitude. That is why a declaration of forgiveness needs to be accompanied by a commitment to loving acts toward the forgiven person, regardless of how much we struggle with unloving feelings.

I hope these thoughts on forgiveness penetrate your heart as they did mine this morning. It's unhealthy to cling to old hurts and allow them to rot away our very beings. How much better to forgive, be renewed and refreshed, and move on!!! It's only by Christ's power in us that we can do it, but do it we must!

Choose to forgive!


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