Forgiveness – Not what we thought

Category: Brad's Posts

There are lots of reasons to not choose to forgive.  But at least part of our reluctance to do so may be rooted in a misunderstanding of the grace itself; our definition has perhaps become distorted.

Forgiveness is not:

  • Forgetting.  It’s not possible, and we set ourselves up for failure when we expect that we can.
  • Excusing.  Forgiveness is not rationalizing someone’s behavior:  “Well, they had it rough…who could blame them?”
  • Dismissing.  “It’s not that big of a deal – I probably made too much of it.  It probably wasn’t as bad as I remember it.”  And yes, looking at it through adult eyes can make it seem that way.
  • Pardoning.  A pardon is a reprieve from consequences, but in fact, there are always repercussions.  Failing to admit this can lead to…
  • Becoming a doormat.  Forgiveness is not tossing healthy boundaries, or self-abandonment.
  • Restoring trust.  That’s earned, and requires credibility.
  • Reconciliation.  This is possible in some cases, but often it is not.  In essence, forgiveness is always a necessary step toward restoration, but restoration is not a necessary outcome of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is:

  • A decision not to collect a debt.  Their obligation to atone for this offense has ended.  There is no longer a need to ‘make it up to me.’  Forgiveness is a rock voluntarily dropped; I promise not to pick it up again.
  • A surrender of justice.  Essayist Lance Morrow described self-justice as a warped Newtonian law:  “For every atrocity, there must be an equal and opposite atrocity.”

Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous – you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God!  (Ps. 7)

  • A reinterpretation of the person.  The ability to forgive and pray for offenders can sometimes be accomplished by seeing them not just as a perpetrator, or even a monster, but as a person infected by sin, and in bondage to their desires and their past.

“Through prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God.  Jesus does not promise that when we bless our enemies and do good to them they will not spitefully use and persecute us.  They certainly will.  But not even that can hurt or overcome us, so long as we pray for them.  We are doing vicariously for them what they cannot do for themselves.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship