Saturday, May 16, 2009


I have wrestled with this post for quite a while. I’ve prayed. I’ve studied. And I’ve prayed more. And then I’ve chickened out, not posted it. I’ve argued with God, using the logic that I’m not a teacher. Not a preacher. And truthfully, I’m not. As long as I’m being truthful… I don’t always pray over what I post. Actually, I rarely do. I should – after all, I have no idea who will be reading, or how much it will impact them. And so I should be carefully guarding what is said here.

But that’s not the point I’m getting at.

I’m addressing forgiveness.

As a believer, I am called to forgive. It doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t get around that fact. I’m going to start with Galatians 6, verse one.

“Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.”

It’s time for transparency. I’ve seen people slip into sin. I’ve watched it happen, and thought to myself, “How could they? How does a person get so far off track?” I’ve watched people get snared and done nothing to help. I’ve smugly stood by and let them fall, while being grateful that I would never fall for that. The truth is, I may not ever fall for the same thing. If I don’t, it isn’t by my own might or power, but by the grace and power of God working in me.

Even so, for the most part, I don’t really have a hard time forgiving people if they sin – especially when it doesn’t really have anything to do with me.

Ephesians 4:31-32: Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Just as Christ has forgiven me. I am to forgive just as He has forgiven. Do you know what that means? There are things I have done that only God and myself know about. Things that I shudder to think could ever be discovered by another human. Christ forgave me for those things. The worst I have ever done, and the worst I will ever do, He has forgiven. And that is how I am to forgive others.

Okay. So when that person cuts me off in traffic, I am supposed to forgive them. Got it. I’m good with that. In fact, it’s rather easy. When else? When someone says they’ll be there, and they never show, I’m supposed to forgive them. Okay… not as easy as the traffic thing, but I can do it. No problem. Someone lies to me, steals from me, hurts me physically? Yep, you guessed – I am supposed to forgive them. It’s getting harder and harder, but I can still do it.

But why?

Colossians 3:13 – Bear with each other, and forgive each other. If someone does wrong to you, forgive that person because the Lord forgave you.

Okay. That’s right… He forgave me. He knew that not only would I sin before I “got saved” – I’d sin afterwards, too. And He knew that there would be days when I’d neglect to even say a quick “thank you.” He knew all that, and He forgave me anyway. Because of that, I am supposed to forgive others when they do wrong to me.


Speaking of not even taking the time to say “thank you”… have you ever prayed the Lord’s prayer? I have. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve prayed that section of scripture.

“Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Um… has that phrase ever arrested your attention? Because it’s sure got mine. Jesus Himself told me to pray that. To ask God to forgive me as I forgive others who sin against me. I’ve done it, too. I’ve prayed those words more times than I can count. It’s the next verses that get to me though…

Okay, not the “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the Kingdom, power, and glory forever” part. That’s in verse 13 of Matthew 6. Do you know what verses 14 and 15 say? I do. I can’t get away from them; can’t get them out of my head.

“For if you forgive people 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 reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment, neither will the Father forgive you.”

Think about that.

Does it do the same thing to you that it does to me? Does it make you stop and really think? Does it make you cringe? Are there things that come to mind that you just can’t fathom forgiving?

I’m going to be very honest right now. There is one particular person who hurt me. Not a little and not just one time. The pain inflicted was physical and emotional, and in many ways is still with me today. I’m not going to say who, or how, or when. I will say this, though… I have been wrestling and struggling with Matthew 6:14 and 15 for years because of it.

It’s hard to forgive someone the first time they hurt you. Harder still the next time. But what about when you can no longer keep track of how many times they’ve done the same exact thing? What do you do when what they did invades your life – impacting your thoughts, your dreams, your relationships with other people, and even your walk with God? Then how do you forgive?

Can I keep being honest?

You can’t. Or at least, I can’t. Not without God’s help. But what if you already have that? What if you’ve prayed, you’ve asked God to help you, and you truly want to forgive?

The rest of this post is going to come straight from my heart. I am going to share what I have done, what I have learned, and what forgiveness actually looks like in my life. As you read, I pray that God would speak to your heart – and that you’d be willing to listen.

I’ve been wrestling. Struggling. I’ve stayed up late at night, risen early in the morning. I’ve gotten help from other people – people who are older, wiser, and have walked with God a lot longer than I.

There is someone I needed to forgive. Someone I didn’t want to forgive. But no matter how many Bibles I opened, I couldn’t find one that didn’t say I needed to forgive. I couldn’t imagine how I was to do this, and really, I didn’t even know what, exactly, it was that I was trying to do. As I’ve sought God, as I’ve been helped by others and spoken to through His Word, there are some very important things I’ve learned about forgiveness.

First, I need to forgive the person. The focus here is on the person who hurt me. It’s not on the hurt me, but on the person. A human being. Someone with flesh and blood. Someone who, in spite of whatever it is that they’ve done (or not done), is loved by God. Someone with a heart that beats within his or her chest. Someone who laughs, who cries. Someone who has known the depths of despair and the heights of love. Someone who will live, forever. When you strip away everything temporary, this person is no different from any of the rest of us. He or she knows fear, anger, betrayal… every pain that they have given to others, they’ve received themselves. For all I know, they’ve endured things I can’t even begin to imagine. Even if they haven’t… I need to forgive. The person.

The next thing to really speak to me was the notion that this person, like any other person, had the potential to spend eternity in Hell. The realities of hell are too horrific for me to comprehend. Absolute agony, more intense than anything anyone here on earth can even begin to imagine. Total and utter darkness. Complete separation from God, with no hope of reunion. An absolute absence of hope, of love, of peace, of joy. Being more alone than is possible here on earth. Forever. No end. This is what we all deserve. It is what we have earned. But I’m not going there, and you don’t have to either. Jesus has paid the price. And really, truthfully… if the love of God really is in me – if I really have chosen to follow Him – then I can’t wish that for anybody.

Once that sank in, I started to pray for this person. To pray that if they haven’t made that choice – if their eternal destiny right now is hell – that they’d repent. That somehow, someone or something would get through to them. It’s urgent. Important. Infinitely important. Honestly, I’d prefer that this person had never been a part of my life. But they were. And they are. So when I think of them, I pray. Because whether I would have chosen to know him or her, life has dictated that I do.

Once those two things had really solidified for me, I was stuck. I didn’t wish any ill for this individual. I didn’t intend to do anything untoward to them. I was even praying for his or her salvation. But it wasn’t quite enough, and I knew it. There was still one question burning in my mind: what is forgiveness? How do I know if I’ve done it? I think I have, but… what if I haven’t?

One thing that made me wonder was the fact that I still find myself feeling angry, hurt, and several other “negative” emotions that are directed toward this person. I asked myself, “If I had really forgiven him or her, would I still feel this way?”

Turns out, the answer is yes. Stay with me – I promise to explain further. But for now, I’m going to keep going.

I also wondered, what if I do sometimes find myself tempted to act… ahem, ungodly, toward this person? Then what?

It turns out that I’m actually still human, and still susceptible to those things that afflict us humans. It also turns out that the love of God constrains me… and as time goes by, the temptation is lessening. I don’t know if it will ever be gone completely – but I have learned that it doesn’t have anything to do with whether I’ve forgiven.

The next thing I found myself wondering, I actually took to my Pastor. I kept thinking about someone else that I struggled to forgive – and succeeded. I have since developed a desire to be with that person. I enjoy his or her company, and I even seek it out. But this other person? I don’t want to see them. I don’t want to talk to them. I really would be okay with going the rest of my life and never having any contact again. How does that line up with forgiveness?

Let me give you the example my Pastor gave to me. Suppose someone were to threaten him (my Pastor) at gunpoint? What if they told him they were going to kill him and his family? Then, suppose they went to prison. Thirty years later, Pastor has forgiven them, but they still haven’t repented. If Pastor never wants to see them again, does this mean he hasn’t forgiven them? No. It means he doesn’t want to be shot and killed. It means he wants to protect himself. And he wants to protect his family.

Then we talked about what forgiveness is.

Forgive… from the words “fore” and “give.” To give. Prior to, in advance of, or in the absence of. Forgiveness, while associated with repentance, is given independently of that repentance.

It isn’t between me and the individual – it is between me and God. It is an attitude of the heart, and the reason I do it is because of what God did for me – not because of anything this individual has or could do.

Forgiveness doesn’t have anything at all to do with my emotions. If I am still wrestling with anger, hurt, fear… that doesn’t mean I haven’t forgiven. It just means that I’m human.
Forgiveness also has nothing to do with trust. Pastor gave another example here.

Suppose you have a man who is a convicted child molester, who has been “clean” for twenty years. He has repented of his way, and given his life to the Lord. He comes into our church. Will we let him? Absolutely. He can come to church. He can serve – in some areas. He can worship with us, sit in services, and come to the altar whenever he wants. But that man will not be allowed to serve anywhere in our children’s ministry. If a child goes into the bathroom, and the man then gets up and goes in as well – someone will follow. He will be watched. Does this mean we don’t forgive him? Of course not. It just means we don’t trust him.

Lastly, forgiveness doesn’t mean that what was done is okay. It doesn’t mean that what happened is forgotten, and it doesn’t mean that it would be acceptable for the individual to repeat previous actions. It does mean that I am releasing that person from whatever they owe me. Or whatever I think they owe me. It means that I don’t expect them to give me anything.

It means that I can say, “Yes. That was wrong. No, I don’t trust you. No, I don’t particularly care to be with you. But, you don’t owe me anything. I am moving forward, and as far as I am concerned, any debt you have is between you and God.”

Today, I took another step down this road called forgiveness. I prayed, and asked God to help me do it.

And then I wrote. I wrote down the things that I felt this person had taken away from me. And the things I felt this person had given me wrongly. And I wrote that today, I absolve this person of all he or she owes – both what I would have kept, and what I would prefer to never have received. I am letting it go of it all, and I will not pick it back up.

I signed it. Dated it.

And then, I ripped the sheet into three pieces. One piece with what this person “took” from me. One piece with what this person “gave” me. And one with that statement of forgiveness.

The piece with what he or she had taken away? I prayed over it, listing each item. “Lord… this person took away these things. I am releasing his or her obligation to give them back. I know it is a debt that cannot be repaid, but even if it could, I would not require it. I forgive him or her.” And then I ripped that paper up until all that was left was a pile of tiny pieces.

Then I moved on. “Lord, these things that have been left with me? I release him or her from any responsibility to remove them. I trust that You will do whatever needs to be done with what is left, and I forgive him or her.” I made another pile of tiny pieces of paper.

After taking a minute to contemplate what this really meant, I pushed the pieces into one pile. I took one last piece of paper – a scrap that had ended up being empty. I wrote “I forgive” on the piece of paper.

I put it on top of the pile.

And now? Now, there is nothing more than little scraps. I can’t make out any of the things that were taken, and I can’t make out any of the things that were “given” to me. All I can make out is forgiveness.

Yes, the pain is still there. And no, I don’t trust the person. No, I don’t even like the person. And this person may very well have to face consequences for what was done. But he or she owes me nothing. Nothing. Because I forgive.

Will you?

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1 comment:

samcam said...

I'm thankful to have found this by following a link you left on another site we both frequent. Its an issue I've been struggling with, especially the question as to whether or not me forgiving him makes it okay that this was done to me.
I'll admit my faith had taken a pretty bad beating but I'm on the road to healing. I have a bit further to go before I can can take the steps to forgiveness but I wanted you to know that your words (and those of Pastor) have helped. (I was beginning to wonder if you'd written it just for me...)
Thank you