The idea of traditional forgiveness has always made me rather uncomfortable actually. The commonly practiced “I forgive you for wronging me” has never really sat well with me, probably because I never really understood it.
Forgiveness was always displayed to me as either the freeing of someone from their transgression—as if they needed my forgiveness to be saved—or a false show of how gracious I was, that I would let someone off the hook after they’d hurt me. But, both feel pretty disingenuous and both just miss the point of forgiveness altogether.
So, what is the true essence of forgiveness? Is it the act of saving someone from damnation? “They need my forgiveness, so they can receive grace for their wrongs,” people might say. Or is it about elevating your own sense of righteousness, humbly offering them a pass while remaining on my moral high horse?
The problem with both options is that forgiveness becomes about setting the other person free, as if one could condemn or imprison the sinner to begin with. It becomes about seeing someone else as less than yourself and offering them a way to salvation by assuming that you deserved to either give or deny them grace. But this is far from what forgiveness actually is! Although there are plenty of times when it can make one’s ego feel great, granting forgiveness in this way never actually brings much happiness. So, the question is, what if we were looking at forgiveness all wrong? What if it isn’t about setting someone else free but rather setting ourselves free? What if forgiveness is about letting go of your false identity and stepping into one that can’t be harmed.
What if it’s about setting yourself free from the belief that you are less than and accepting that you are His. As Christians, our identity is sons and daughters of the Father. We have been given seats at His table and have been clothed with His power. We are His children but we live in a world that constantly tries to erase our belief in that identity. It feeds us lies of inadequacy. We believe that being a child of God can be taken from us or that our identity can be compromised. And the ego needs us to believe in these lies because that’s where it gets all its power and it only exists when we put value in an identity that’s outside of the one given to us by our Father! Forgiveness means letting go of the false idea that you can be harmed, stolen from, made to feel less than or that someone else can change your identity in the Father. The truth is, no one can do that and in Christ, nothing is lost. It may feel like a loss but we are to live above that.
The danger in seeing yourself as less than you are means you run into the danger of giving others the power to harm you. We all do this; I am as guilty of forgetting my true nature as anyone! But we need to continually remind ourselves of who we are in Christ. I remind myself that I am spirit first, body second; that this world fades, but the soul is limitless; and that the Father of heaven calls my soul one of His own, and my home is elsewhere. This planet is just a pit stop, a blip on the radar.
FORGIVENESS IS A DECISION AND A PROCESS.
We can’t force ourselves to let go of something in a moment, of course not! However, Richard Rohr, a priest and motivational speaker wrote, “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” While we may have thoughts and decisive moments of letting go, it is in the processing of letting go again and again that we experience the full magnitude of forgiveness. We decide to do it and we do it … and we do that again and again and so on.
We must remember that forgiveness is not something that we can do on our own. The hardest things in life and the most important things in life are often things we do not do alone. For many of us, we’ve tried forgiving and we haven’t made progress. If we were going to make it alone, we would’ve done so by now. But for me, forgiveness is all about God opening my eyes to what I am blind to, continually forcing myself to see a new perspective and Matthew 7:1-4 further explains this. Jesus talks about how we’re to work together to remove the barriers in our life and reminds us that we all have barriers and we all need help! Each of us have wounded others and been deeply wounded ourselves. Our ability to give forgiveness is connected to the depth of forgiveness we’ve received. Scripture constantly reiterates one message about forgiveness—forgiven people can forgive! God forgives us in Jesus and enables us to forgive others. Throughout the New Testament, we read passages like Matthew 5:7, Ephesians 4:29-32, Colossians 3:12-14 and Matthew 6:9-14, all linking God forgiving us and us forgiving others. If we want to experience the freedom that comes from forgiving someone else, we need to experience the forgiveness God wants to introduce into our lives.
How often should we forgive? The Pharisees taught that one was obliged to forgive three times; after that, if the offender persisted in offending, one was freed of any obligation to forgive. So, Peter thought he was being very magnanimous when he asked Jesus, “‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times”(Matthew 18:21).
This is the best part – Christ’s response must have completely stunned Peter: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’ (v. 22). Like whaaat?? That just sounds crazy, right? So, some might take it literally. “Well, okay 490 chances of forgiveness one has – on the record,” But really? Wouldn’t you lose count?
But this is the point! There can be no end to our Christian duty to forgive. In fact, if we try to keep a record of the times we have forgiven, we have not forgiven at all. When we continually keep a record of forgiving, we continually keep a record of the wrongs as well. This is contrary to the entire biblical concept of forgiveness: to let go, and to leave it in God’s hands.
Let’s get real for a moment as always. The reason many of us refuse to forgive is our fear of loss. And there’s no denying that forgiveness requires us to give up attitudes and actions that are important to us.
Fear of Losing the Energy that Anger Produces. Some people are reluctant to let go of the burning energy that rage generates. It’s like a fuel that keeps them moving. Without it they would likely descend into despair and sense of less purpose because their anger literally is their purpose.
Forgiveness does not guarantee change in the other person’s behavior. Forgiveness is an act of obedience, not a tool of manipulation. It is a way of cleaning up the grudges and resentments that damage us. Don’t just forgive because of some complex that you feel you are going to change the other person. Only God produces true conviction on one’s heart.
Fear of Losing the Image of Superiority. Holding an offense against another person places us in a “good guy, bad guy” picture with ourselves wearing the white hat. Imagining that we are better than others makes us feel good, but such a prideful attitude is so damaging. When we hold people captive to our judgment, we are trying to play God in their lives. This puts us in an unwinnable wrestling match with our Creator, who, as the apostle James reminded us, “sets himself against the proud” (4:6).
Some of the greatest obstacles to forgiveness are the misconceptions about what it is. Realizing what forgiveness is not may make it easier.
It is NOT Condoning the Behavior. Once we understand that the act of forgiving does not compromise our moral standard by condoning the offense, we are able to forgive even the worst of sins. To forgive is not saying, “What you did is okay.” No way! It is saying, “The consequences of your behavior belong to God, not to me.” When we forgive, we transfer the person from our system of justice to God’s. I mean, does that not sound liberating? To forgive is to recognize that the wrong done against us is a debt of sin, and all sin is against God.
It is NOT Forgetting What Happened. It would be foolish to erase from our mind some of the wrongs done to us. If we were to do so, we would never learn from our experiences and would walk right back into the same or a similar situation, only to face the same disappointments! What can eventually be forgotten are the raw emotions associated with the event. When we forgive, the terrible memories and feelings gradually diminish and allows us to move on not in bitterness but in love and peace.
It is NOT Doing the Person a Favor. Jesus raises the standard of forgiveness to a whole higher level. According to him, we are to forgive even those who remain unrepentant. Forgiveness benefits the giver at least as much as the receiver, so we extend it whether the person asks for it or not. Mad stuff.
Make a quality decision
Forgiveness is about more than saying a prayer, like, “Lord, I forgive so-and-so.” Forgiveness is a serious decision you make. It’s not easy and it will probably be uncomfortable or even painful, but the reward of going through it will be worth any pain you’ve experienced.
Depend on God
Fortunately, we can depend on God to gain the strength needed to forgive. This means we live with a prayerful mindset and attitude: “Lord, help me not to be offended today. Keep me from unnecessary anger. If I am mad at someone, show me who it is. Give me the grace to forgive them.” (Ephesians 4:32.)
If you’re easily offended or there’s a person in your life who just annoys you, not only do you have to decide to forgive and live in peace, but you are going to have to depend on God for the grace to do it and make it a matter of prayer.
Understand Your Emotions
Emotions provoke psychological changes that prepare a person for action. So, feelings create a desire to do something. When somebody hurts you and you feel pain, the first thing you may want to do scream and tell them to back off. You may want to get them back or you want to get away from them.
You need to know that your feelings will probably need time to catch up with your decision to forgive. Your feelings are not the real you. They’re fickle. You can feel a thousand and one different ways about the same thing. You can love somebody one minute and then you can’t stand them the next. But remember, your will, gives you the ability to live beyond your feelings.
Pray for Your Enemies
In Matthew 5:44 Jesus instructs us to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This has got to be the hardest thing in the whole world to do. But we don’t get out of something just because it’s hard. Whatever God asks us to do, it’s always for our benefit. That’s hard to remember in the moment of hurt but it really is true.
The Choice Is Yours
But ultimately you have the choice to overcome evil with good and find a new level of joy you didn’t know was possible by choosing to forgive. I want to encourage you to do yourself a favor and make the right choice. Forgive! It is so much better for your soul in the long run even when it doesn’t seem like you could ever do it.
So, I end with some wise words from my main man C.S Lewis;
“…you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart—every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out. The difference between this situation and the one in such you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case, we accept excuses too easily; in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough.
As regards, my own sin it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are not really so good as I think; as regards other men’s sins against me it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are better than I think. One must therefore begin by attending to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought.
But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine percent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one percent guilt which is left over. To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian character; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.
This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life—to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son—how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.”