Forgiveness is acknowledging a sin as wrong, not excusing a sin as if it never happened.
Have any of you ever had this conversation? Someone does something that they feel bad about to you. They say, “I’m sorry”
You say, “It’s ok”
Anyone ever had that kind of conversation? I bet many of you have. And I bet most of the time you were telling the truth. But this saying, “It’s ok” is saying that what happened did not hurt, and did not matter. Saying, “Oh, it is no big deal” is not forgiving. It is excusing.
When we do something wrong, it is a big deal. It is sin. We don’t come before God and say, “Forgive us our sins”, and hear him say, “No problem”. No. Instead we hear Jesus crying out from the cross, “Father forgive them, they know not what they are doing.” Sin is serious business. It is serious enough that God wants us to acknowledge our sins. Our sins are serious enough that God wants us to confess our sins to Him.
And when we come before the Lord and confess our sins, we often at the same time ask him to excuse us instead of forgiveness. We go into all the reasons why we really are not to blame for what we have done wrong. We plead our extenuating circumstances on why we have done the thing that we have done. Our bad temper. The evil things that the person had done to us that justified what we have done to them. Our low self-esteem. Our loneliness and unhappiness. Our poor health, or the lack of rest we got the night before. We poor on these excuses when we say to the Lord, forgive us our sins often times. Asking God to forgive us and accept our excuses at the same time.
But Jesus commands us to come to God and say, “Father forgive me. God I was wrong. I did what was evil, and I need your forgiveness”.
Often when we are asked to forgive someone else, it goes the other way. We think we are supposed to forgive and forget. To wipe the slate clean, and to pretend like nothing ever happened and what happened did not matter. When we forgive another person, it does not mean that we pretend like nothing ever happened. When we forgive someone, it means that we acknowledge what they have done. We acknowledge what they have done that is wrong as wrong. And then we choose not to hold it over their heads. We choose not to get revenge. We choose to not try and set things right. We choose not to put them in their place. We choose to kill that resentment against them. And we choose to release them from that “debt”. And we leave them to God to judge.
Also, because forgiving is not excusing, forgiving does not mean we live without boundaries. You may be a kleptomaniac. And you may have stolen money from me in the past. My forgiving you does not mean I should feel obligated to leave my wallet on the table and walk out of the room. Forgiving does mean that I don’t hold your sins against you, and that I stop keeping a running list about why you are a bad person. It means that I start hoping for the best for you, instead of having secret fantantasies that some evil befall you.
This brings me to my second point in understanding forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a verb, not a noun. We think that forgiveness is a feeling we posses. A state of being. It is not. Forgiving is something that we do. We learn to forgive by acting as if we have forgiven someone. We forgive by choosing to forgive someone.
Forgiveness is a continuing action. Most of the time it is something that we choose to do, but something that we must recommit to over and over again.
Let me, in vague terms in order to protect the privacy of those involved, share how I have done poorly with this forgiveness thing and how I have done it well. Because I do often fail in doing forgiveness well, but when I have chosen to follow Christ’s way, he has blessed me.
There is one person in my life that I find hard to forgive. This person has hurt me. And they have not hurt me once, they have hurt me over and over again. They call me names. The spread lies about me. They have a certain amount of power over people, and they use this power recklessly. They would pretend to be my friend, and then betray me. Not just once, but over and over. And when I think about this person, it is hard for me not to wish evil for them. To wish this person would lose their job, be discovered for the fraud that they are, and to be punished for being so self-absorbed. I fantasize about telling this person exactly what I think about them. I fantasize about punching this person in the face. I want this person to feel like a failure about everything they have done in their entire life.
Then there is this person that I forgive well. When I have an opportunity to do good by this person I do, because they are my sibling in Christ. I pray for this person. I drive along in my car, and say that maybe my wife and I should try and spend some time with them, because I think that they feel lonely. When they ask me for support, I offer it to them. Even at significant personal sacrifice. And I do this despite the fact that they have done some things that have hurt me very deeply, and I do this despite the fact that I know I cannot trust them. They have even taken things I have shared with them in confidence, and shared them with others in a public setting. And they have not always been kind to my wife.
Strange thing about this. The person I described that I forgive well, and the person that I have a hard time forgiving at all. They are the same person.
This is because forgiveness is a process. It is a choice. It is something that we choose to do. It is something that we act upon. It does not mean that our feelings of anger and resentment go away. It means that we have chosen to release that person from the debt that they owe to us due to their behavior.
And forgiveness is something we cannot do without God’s grace. Which brings us to our discussion of God’s forgiveness.