As a pastor, I am often asked about forgiveness - how it is accomplished, when is it required, what does it look like, what does it feel like, how does it act, etc.
Let’s start with what forgiveness is not:
- Forgiveness is not forgetting. Generally, our attempts to forget amount to denial. Whatever the offense was: betrayal of a trusted friend; abandonment of a parent or spouse; abuse from a relative; embezzlement of funds – whatever the offence, it did happen. It was damaging. It hurt. It is forever a memory. It will not be forgotten. God has the ability to forget. Generally, we do not have that same ability.
- Forgiveness does not always lead to reconciliation. Often our offender has already died. Sometimes they don’t want to reconcile. In many cases the offender claims a desire to reconcile, but isn’t willing to honestly own their responsibility, allowing for authentic reconciliation and relationship. A genuine relationship must be built on truth between two people. It simply takes two to reconcile.
- Forgiveness is not a one-time event. There’s simply not a blanket approach to forgiving someone. Because we remember, because there are triggers that take us back to the offense, forgiveness is cyclical. Actually, as I’m typing this very point, I’m remembering an offense that made me so angry. And, I have a choice. I can allow myself to relive it, mull over it, justify my anger and their stupidity … or I can choose to forgive, again.
Forgiveness says, “I will not hold you responsible for my choices in dealing with the pain. I will not allow you and the hurt you caused to control my life. I choose to not be held hostage to anger, bitterness, and vengeful thoughts.”
Forgiveness opens a door to new levels of relational connection with God – who demonstrates His grace and forgiveness through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.
(Recommended resource: Getting Rid of the Gorilla: Confessions on the Struggle to Forgive).
[by Mark Waltz]