Fact 1: Our ability to forgive is rooted in the depth of our gratitude.
The parable discussed in yesterday's post is the basis for our first fact. The foundation of forgiveness is our gratitude for the undeserved forgiveness we have received through Christ. Take some time to meditate about how much you have been forgiven. In the gospel of Luke we read about a sinful woman who washes Jesus feet with her tears and dries them with her hair.
Jesus said, "Impressive, isn't it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal." (Luke 7:47)
Phillip Yancey wrote about how Jesus always demonstrated forgiveness to the hurting. "I can't help noticing the tenderness with which Jesus treated people with wounds caused by moral failure. A Samaritan woman with five failed marriages, a dishonest tax collector, an adulteress, a prostitute, a disciple who denied Him-all these received from Jesus forgiveness and reinstatement, not the judgment they deserved. Jesus saw in people not what they had been but what they could be, not their past but their future." Christ has extended the same forgiveness toward us. It is an awesome act of grace that should make us overflow with a gratitude that influences our willingness to forgive others.
Fact 2: Forgiveness is an act of trusting God for justice.
Forgiving is not the same condoning or diminishing an offense. Forgiving a person who has wronged you does not mean they are "off the hook" for any consequences or judgment that may result from their actions. Forgiveness is a personal act of your will that releases the other person from your condemnation. That is all Jesus asks of you; the offender is still responsible to God for the rest. By extending forgiveness you are not saying the offense was insignificant or unimportant. You are saying that you trust God to see that justice is dispensed according to His Holy judgment and timing rather than yours.
Fact 3: Forgiveness does not require amnesia.
Forgiveness is not forgetting. The old "forgive and forget" admonition was one of the biggest barriers I faced in my journey to learn how to forgive. You know the old mental challenge: Try not to picture an elephant in the room. You can't do it. Instantly the image pops into your mind. The more I tried to be spiritually mature by forgiving and forgetting, the more my offender became an elephant in the room. That person or event was all I could think of. In time, if you entrust your need for justice for God, you will think less and less of the hurt the offense. C. S. Lewis wrote to a friend late in his life. "Dear Mary…Do you know, only a few weeks ago, I realized suddenly that I had at last forgiven the cruel schoolmaster who so darkened my childhood. I had been trying to do it for years." To try to achieve a state of forgetfulness is to set yourself up for failure and frustration.
I must add, however, that while it is impossible to instantly forget we cannot to use past hurts as hammers against others. A man was complaining about his wife to his buddy. "Whenever we get in a fight she gets historical." His friend corrected him, "You mean hysterical." He said, "Nope, historical. She dredges up my past and reminds me of every thing I've done wrong in our marriage." You may not forget the offense, but you can choose not to hold it against that person. Don't get historical.
Fact 4: Forgiveness does not require reunion.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same. Certainly it is a worthy goal to have the gift of forgiveness lead to the restoration of a damaged relationship. But it takes two people to reconcile, and you have no control over anyone's response except your own. Your offender may not respond graciously to your forgiveness. He or she may not be ready to acknowledge their part in the offence, accept forgiveness, or desire to be reconciled. Again, all that is required of you is to extend the grace of forgiveness. Remember, forgiveness is an overflow of gratitude for how much we have been forgiven. If I put on a mournful face and declare that I will forgive my brother "because someone has to be mature and take the bullet," well, that is not quite what Jesus had in mind. Puffing myself up with the false humility of martyrdom (e.g., heavy sigh…I guess I have to be the "Christian" here) is not "forgiveness." That cannot restore me to my brother or to my Lord.
Fact 5: Forgiveness is an act of the will.
It is not a response to feelings. Forgiveness requires choice and faith, just like every miracle. If we decide to wait until we "feel" like forgiving (or worse, wait until the other person makes the first move) we will remain spiritually stuck. We must choose to forgive, and to trust God to eventually change our feelings. The Holy Spirit will reshape our feelings over the course of time.
Fact 6: Forgiveness does not mean you do not acknowledge the offense.
Jesus is not asking us to ignore reality. After all, if we have not been wronged, there is nothing to forgive. He is asking us to acknowledge how much we have been forgiven and to extend the same courtesy to others. Forgiveness is acknowledging the offense without cover-up or excuse and still choosing to forgive.
The rest of the “forgiveness facts” are coming on Day 4 of God’s Weight Loss Plan.