Tuesday, November 11, 2008


**I was sorting through old posts, and realized that this particular one never got published. It has been sitting here, unposted, since July. But I am posting it now.**

Something that I think about often is forgiveness. I'm not saying that I'm this person who's had an exceptionally difficult life, or that it's some great accomplishment of mine to forgive. I'm just saying that in my life, I've had my fair share of it. Both given to me and given by me.

Matthew 6:14-15 sums it up for me. I've put it in a few different translations below. Because each one says the same thing, in a slightly different way. Perhaps one will speak to you?

In the Amplified Bible, it says:

For if you forgive people their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.

In the Message Bible, it says:

In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God's part.

Finally, I like the simplicity of the New International Version:

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

This, to me, is plain. It is simple. It is concise. Forgive, if you want to be forgiven. If you don't want to be forgiven, then don't forgive. There have been people in my life that I struggled for years to forgive. Events, actions, decisions that tore me up inside. Forgiving these people wasn't for them. They lived their lives completely obvlivious to my unforgiveness. My anger, my hurt did nothing to make things right. It did nothing to change them. All it did was alienate me further from my God. Hurt, betrayal, anger - those feelings stayed with me as long as I gave them home. They threatened to destroy my life. They seeped into every area, every facet of my existance. In forgiveness, there is freedom. By forgiving, I'm not absolving them of responsibility. That can be done ONLY by God. And they are, ultimately, ONLY responsible TO God. But by forgiving, I am absolving myself of responsibility. I no longer need to do anything about it. I quit my job as burden-carrier. Sometimes, I find myself picking it back up. That's when I need God's grace to lay it back down again.

Let's switch angles just a little here... and look at it from the perspective of the sinner. I've sinned. I don't like that I've sinned. But I have. In the last hour? Probably. In the last day? For sure. I am not always honest. I sometimes am lazy. I don't read my Bible or pray as consistently as I should. I battle pride and selfishness. Get the picture? These are just the "inward" sins. The ones that others don't usually see. I'm saved. I have the Spirit of God inside. I, more than so many I know, should be able to resist temptation. I should be able to lead a spotless life, right? And yet, I don't. The next passage, taken from The Message Bible (Chapter 5, verses 20 and 21), says it quite well.

All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn't, and doesn't, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it's sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that's the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life -- a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.

The part that's hard though, is what exactly forgiveness means. Does it mean forget it? Does it mean pretend it never happened and openly trust the person again? Does it mean you can't let it influence future choices or actions?

Well... I see it like this. There are some things which simply cannot be forgotten. At least not by our own natural strength or ability. And as far as pretending it didn't happen and openly trusting? Let me ask this: Imagine you know someone who spent twenty years drinking themselves drunk every single day, nearly dying from the toxic effect on their liver. They got sober ten years ago. Would you leave them in a room alone with an open bottle of vodka next to a glass? No. Not unless you wanted them to fall. Same with forgiving, I think. If someone does the same rotten thing to you over and over, don't put yourself in position for it to happen again. Forgiveness should not be confused with foolishness.

That said, what IS forgiving? It is letting it go and giving up resentment. Don't hang onto the bitterness or hatred - they don't do anything to or about the one who hurt you, and they certainly don't help you. Unforgiveness hurts only the person who is refusing to forgive. It has no real impact on the unforgiven.

When you forgive, you are releasing that person from any obligation to "make it up to you." It's not based on anything they have or have not done since, nor is based on their words or promised future actions. It is an act of trust. It is saying, "Lord, you forgave me. Of everything I have done wrong. Ever. And everything I will do during whatever time I have left. I didn't deserve it. This person that has done wrong may not deserve my forgiveness either. But, I will not harbor resentment. I am choosing to not expect them to "pay me back" for what they did. I am choosing to trust you to set things right. I am trusting that you are big enough, and love me enough, to carry me through this hurt. To cool the flames of anger. To dry my tears. Still my trembling, fearful heart. And I am trusting you, that You will keep Your promise to forgive me for all that I have done. This person is not perfect. He or she is flawed. But so am I. So just as I have been granted mercy, I am granting it."

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