Yesterday morning I was in a hurry to get to work and was doing about 70 miles per hour when I sailed past a patrolman. I’m not sure he noticed me. Or perhaps he did notice me and even recognized me and decided that it was “Be Nice to a Speeding Pastor Day” and let me off the hook.

But suppose the patrolman had turned on his lights and siren and stopped me. He would have reminded me of the speed limit for that stretch of road, then informed me to what degree I had violated that, as well as the penalty for such a violation. He might then have continued, “Although I should throw the book at you, I’m going to let you go this time. However, if I ever catch you speeding again …” But before “forgiving” me of my violation and deserved penalty, he would still have made it clear what that violation and penalty were.

Before we can properly forgive another person, we must accurately access what he or she owes us.

When you think of the word forgive, does someone’s name immediately come to your mind? In addition to identifying exactly what that person had done to you, I encourage you to calculate the debt he or she owes you for that wrong. Be severe as you think you need to be.

“Because of your affair, I should divorce you.”
“Because of your negligence, I should sue you.”
“Because of your actions, I should prosecute you.”
Remember, offenses always create obligations.

True Forgiveness Releases our Offender of His or Her Obligation

Only after we’ve identified the offense committed and calculated the debt owed can we truly forgive the other person. Remember that the word “forgive” means to release another person of his obligation toward us, as Joseph did. Instead of giving his brothers the death sentence they most certainly deserved, he formally released them from their debt by giving them a new land that they did not deserve:

“And you shall live in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children and your flocks and your herds and all that you have (Genesis 45:10).

In the same way, there needs to be a specific time when you formally release your offender of his obligation toward you. Whether or not you choose to voice your forgiveness to your offender, you can express it to God. Visualize in your mind the person who has wronged you. Admit to God that you’ve been hurt — deeply hurt — by what he or she had done to you. Calculate what that person owes you for the offense: money, separation, divorce, jail, or maybe death. Finally, let me encourage you to pray something like this: “What ______ did to me was wrong, and he should pay for what he did. But today I’m releasing him of his obligation to me. Not because he deserves it, or has even asked for my forgiveness, but because You, God, have released me from the debt I owe You.”


Adapted from When Forgiveness Doesn’t Make Sense © Robert Jeffress (Waterbrook Press)

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