First let me encourage you to read this post in the spirit it is written. This is a heavy subject that requires far more than one blog post, but I felt led to share this when I read todays passage. It is vulnerable for me; I hesitated more than a few times, and considered writing with less depth, or on another passage, but God continued to prod me forward. It was difficult for me to write… but we have to begin the hard conversations somewhere if we are serious about our growth in Christ. It may be difficult for you to read, accept and understand. That’s ok. My prayer is that it is a beginning for both of us.
We have all been there… hurt, angry, justified, and if we are honest… not feeling very forgiving.
“but… they did this to me, and I was sooo hurt, I would never treat anyone that way… and I know he has treated others this way too, so I am not alone in this … I am right!”
Have you said these words, or ones like it, to yourself, when you have been wronged?
But reading this passage, I must admit… these words, reasons & justifications don’t seem to matter.
It isn’t about being right, or justified in our anger and hurt. It isn’t even about how awful what “they” did to us really is… we have been wronged, sometimes, violently so… but again, that is not the point of this passage.
This passage is about the fact that I am Forgiven.
and thus… I cannot withhold forgiveness from anyone!
God is telling me to…Forgive them.
Ok… I guess I can forgive “get over” that she hurt me, wronged me….
In fact, I am grateful for this passage when I think about all those whom I have hurt and had to seek forgiveness from… the list is long and I am grateful for their grace and restored relationships.
But Forgive… even the really bad ones?
Yes, God says.
and that stopped me cold! Backpedalling, justifying, and rebelling all over the place!
Until I realized the meaning of forgiveness went far deeper than I ever imagined.
When I first learned this lesson… really learned it, in a deep and life changing way, I was in counseling dealing with having been abused as a young girl. (by a non family member.)
I mean… come on God …abuse is the worse sin out there! (ok, next to murder, I guess) BUT You can’t possibly mean I am supposed to forgive “them.”
As I worked through the pain of my story, and grew as a Christian, I had to wrestle with this one.
As a counselor, I have carried many stories of horrible abuse others have suffered. Eventually our work turned to the issue of forgiveness and I had to look into their tear filled eyes, anguish on their face and talk about forgiving the one who had abused them.
I have really wrestled with this passage.
Surely God didn’t mean I/we had to forgive them?
Yes…in fact He did mean just that.
And here is what I have come to realize:
Sin is sin.
All of it – big ones, small ones… in between sins- are awful and wretched in the face of a Holy God.
We like to have a hierarchy of sin, and the not so bad ones are more forgiveable- right?
…the really bad ones, well we aren’t so sure.
But Sin is sin according to God
- All sin however ‘small’ is enough to divide us from Him
- As sinners we stand in need of forgiveness and being washed clean by the blood of Christ.
- Sin does have different consequences here on earth, so I am not saying all sin is equal in its ramifications and consequences. (this is a very important point.)
But God doesn’t seem to have a quantifier of forgivable sins these verses.
So what do we do with that…?
We choose to let go of the debt that the offender owes us… the price we would exact from them, the pain and penalty we would like to inflict and leave that vengeance up to God-who is far better at it anyway. He promises to vindicate us. (Deut 32:35, Ps. 94:1, Romans 12:19)
We can want revenge, justification, retaliation… for the sin against us. We just can’t enact it ourselves. That is God’s job, He says. Forgiveness is leaving the penalty for sin against us up to Him to handle. We do this- we forgive-because we are forgiven
Forgiveness is our debt being cancelled. Our penalty paid.
- We are sinners. We deserve God’s vengeance. We got God’s mercy.
- We are forgiven because Jesus took the penalty of our sin on Himself
God’s anger and wrath at my sin… Jesus took in on Himself.
…and now I am forgiven.
Forgiveness is a life changing, and eternity changing concept.
2 Things Forgiveness is NOT:
- Forgiveness Does NOT mean Forget, or pretend it didn’t happen.
- Forgiveness Does NOT mean we are in Relationship with the one who harmed us. In fact, I believe it is righteous to end relationships that are abusive and don’t believe that God wants us to put ourselves in harm’s way or be in proximity to our abuser. Please hear this loud and clear. I am not advocating relationship with anyone who has harmed you, even if they are repentant. Restored relationship is unlikely this side of heaven. (Dealing with abusers is a far more in depth discussion than this post allows.)
But many who have hurt us, are not dangerous people, just wounded ones like we are. If a healthy relationship is possible with them, that is an ideal outgrowth of forgiveness…others, may need to have boundaries beyond which we cannot go deeper. But all meaningful, healthy and growing relationships must have a foundation of mutual forgiveness that begins the work rebuilding when we inevitably hurt each other in our messy, imperfectness.
Forgiveness is a gift we have received from God and now give one another and ourselves.
As I read this passage, I realize that forgiveness is about Me…being forgiven by a holy and perfect God… because I am a sinner.
Forgiveness is a Spiritual word.
- It is on the vertical plane between us and God… and He says, Forgive…. over and over and over again…
- Forgiveness is a choice to let go… so we might be free from the burden of hate, anger, and retaliation.
When I began to understand this concept, I was able to open my fist clenched hands and let go of the rage and fear that boiled within. I was able to read the passages on Gods vengeance against the evil ones who would not repent and pray for God to vindicate me.
And as I began to understand the depth of forgiveness that I had received from God, I had no choice but to respond in kind.
This was not a simple or easy or quick process… Few things that require us to let go and really trust God are.
I began in a simple way and looked at the places, I had wronged and hurt others… and I sought their forgiveness…
- some gave it… and relationships were restored… but some were not. I mourn their loss.
- others didn’t forgive me, and I have to live with that… and the pain and sorrow it causes me, has opened me up to be more willing to forgive others.
Forgiving others doesn’t mean saying… “that’s okay.”
- saying, “Thank you for apologizing” and I will no longer count it against you-the slate is clean. We let go of the the debt owed. We give up our right to make them pay, and ask God to take the desire to do so from our hearts.
- it may be a simple exchange between a husband and wife, a mother and child… these are the daily forgiveness we seek and offer.
- it may be an offering to bridge the gap with a friend you have wronged, or who has wronged you… often a tentative, but heartfelt and hopeful..
- it may be time alone in prayer with God, letting go of the vengeance you want to exact on someone who has harmed you or abused someone you love…
In every case, forgiveness is always by the power of God’s spirit working within us.
And it is always driven by the fact that you… that I… that we have been forgiven ourselves and because of that we can enjoy a relationship with a perfect, holy, merciful and just God.
and isn’t that what Easter is all about?
Dan Allender, PhD was integral in my training as a counselor and his work was both life changing and formative:
There are a series of videos on this you tube page that may be of help to understand this concept more fully.
Read about the Theology of Forgiveness/Atonement in Baker Evangelical Dictionary
Daily Lectionary Readings:
Daniel 3:25, 34-43, Psalm 25:4-9, Matthew 18:21-35
If you want to read through the New Testament during Lent (about 1/2 hour a day)
Read on Day 20: Acts 1-6