FORGIVENESS: FACT & FICTION
The greatest need the Christian and the non-Christian have today forgiveness. Our prayers of confession that can bring us forgiveness hinge on our forgiving others correctly and in our understanding of what it means when God forgives us. However, we talk a lot about forgiveness but we little understand the concept from a biblical perspective.
I attended a weekend Christian counseling seminar a few years ago that defines forgiveness as ‘releasing them (those who harmed you) from all responsibility and blame.’
Recently I read another counseling help that said we forgive others because we must remember that ‘they are victims too.’
A pastor forgave his father, who had wronged him, because ‘he had done the best he could.’
While overseas I met Jane, a Christian and a trained counselor, who asked for help. She had been gang raped as a teen and the memory of it continued to haunt her. She had received help from both Christian and secular sources as part of her training: experiencing being the counselee, on the other side of the desk, so to speak. Yet years later this trauma continued to be a present part of her life.
I did not have a lot of time so I asked the most important question: “On what grounds did you forgive the men who raped you?” “On the same grounds,” Jane replied, “that Christ did. ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’”
What Jane did sounds nice and spiritual, even pious, but it is not forgiveness by God’s standard. As God’s children we want to operate as our Father does. This means that we hold people accountable for their deeds, without excuse. We fully understand the awfulness of what they have done and then we forgive and extend mercy. Somewhat easy to do with minor sins, very hard to do with major ones: molestation, rape, incest, humiliation, cruelty.
Even when we fully understand what they have done, God would have us forgive, not excuse. When we excuse someone’s evil then we actually take away the need to forgive! Is that really what we want to do?
How do we excuse? They are just human. They did the best they could. They did not know what they were doing. They lost control. They grew up in a terrible home. Sorry, these are possibly reasons to help explain their behavior but there can be no excuse for sin, not from God’s point of view, and neither from His children’s.
I explained to Jane how she had been excusing these men and helped her see their sin through God’s eyes in stark reality and without excuse. I then asked her to forgive them.
Suddenly forgiving them was hard. She felt anger and rage. She wanted to hurt them back for what they had done to her. I am always leery when forgiveness comes easy. True forgiveness comes hard. The sinner deserves to pay for what they did! But we are commanded to forgive, not because it doesn’t matter, but because God will see that justice is done on our behalf.
This is where forgiveness and mercy are tied together. We must forgive so that mercy can be extended, if that is what God decides. Mercy is not based on the wrongdoer’s goodness or on our giving some excuse for the sin. Mercy is extending blessing when the wrongdoer deserves wrath.
When we don’t forgive we stand between the wrongdoer and God as accusers. And as unforgiving accusers we imitate Satan, not God, and in some unexplainable way, we somehow limit God’s power in the other person’s life. Scary to comprehend!
When we do forgive we are giving that other person over into God’s hands and taking our hands off, trusting that God will see that justice is done. When we forgive we give back to God His proper place. He is the righteous judge. He will see that a payment for sin is made, either by that person or by Christ. As we forgive God can now destroy the force of that wrong so it no longer lives monster-like in our lives.
After a prayer session, T__ came back the next day and said that he had nightmares about the sexual partner he had forgiven the day before. I did not try to persuade him that the dreams meant nothing; instead we went to prayer and asked God to reveal what part of the prayer made before needed to be looked at. (Because, normally, there are no such ‘ripples’ when the prayer is thorough.)
The Holy Spirit led us to consider the forgiveness part of the prayer. The issue had been sexual sin of a particularly awful nature. When T__ talked about perpetrators like this fellow he was very emotional.
I asked him, “How do you think God views such people?”
T__ replied, “He hates them.”
“Do you think that such people can be saved?”
“No,” T__ said.
“T__, if you believe what you just said, then this class of people is beyond redemption. Right?”
When T__ had forgiven his sexual partner his unspoken opinion was that all such people were damned. So did he actually forgive? No!
We went back into prayer and dealt again with just that part of the prayer and T__ confessed his sin of judging and condemning this class of people to Hell. He forgave this person again and permitted God to show mercy, if God decided to, to whomever He wanted. T__ would no longer stand in the way.
When we truly forgive with full awareness and understanding we reap benefits ourselves.
- We are freed to get on with life.
- The memories and emotions are no longer laying just under the surface.
- In many situations, the relationship between us and the wrongdoer is restored.
- We see more clearly the awfulness of sin and its results.
- We begin to operate more naturally as Children of God.
- We become more aware of the role of the Holy Spirit.
- We more fully appreciate the cost that Christ paid on the Cross for sin.
- In forgiving we close a door for Satan to tempt, accuse and attack.
One way to get healing supposedly, according to some, is to confront the wrongdoer and vent your rage. That is not what Christ taught. He said that when we recognize that someone else thinks we have wronged them then we are to go and ask forgiveness. Notice, the wrongdoer begins the healing process by asking forgiveness!
If someone asks for your forgiveness
Forgive for the right reasons. (Forgiving only because you have been commanded to is a poor reason.)
You cannot give peace or release when you say there is no sin when the other person feels there is and needs your forgiveness. You avoid the issue when you say, “It’s okay.” “There is nothing to forgive.” Or, “Don’t worry about it.” Say, “I forgive you.” It is amazing how hard it is to say those words!
If you feel they have sinned and you withhold forgiveness then you are seeking vengeance!
Forgiveness means releasing the other person from your judgment and trusting God to handle it, even to the point of extending mercy, if that is His choice.
This sounds good but can be very hard when a terrible sin has been committed. Extending forgiveness on God’s terms can be hard! And it should be. Forgiveness by God comes with a price tag: Christ bore the penalty for sin in His own body on the Cross.