A Close-Up Look at Forgiveness
The Pain of Not Forgiving ...
it hurts to hold on to pain. Physical pain and ailments can be manifested through mental bondage. That is, you can all hold on so very tightly to pain from the past that it can become a physical malady. And once that happens, it can become nearly impossible to even imagine forgiving the person who once wronged you.
Holding on to hurt is like being inside a dark pit, but knowing there's a beautiful blue sky above that you cannot see, enjoy, or benefit from. Enter forgiveness. No matter how gravely you have been harmed by something someone else did or said, when you look at forgiveness as a gift that frees the one who gives it, it should become much easier to see its benefits, blessings, and rewards.
I don’t look as forgiveness as obligating you to erase from your memory the wrong that was done to you, because that is not really humanly possible. But I do believe it obligates you to let go of it by moving past the anger, and by not holding the transgression against the person who wronged you. Why so? Because in order to hold something against someone else, you must hold it. And holding on makes you a hoarder, a voluntary victim of the transgression, for as long as you hold on to it. Not letting go of the negative emotions associated with a wrong committed against you effectively harnesses you to the wrong. It becomes a shackle keeping you from moving forward with your life as the person you were meant to be.
If you find that you are still holding on to anger and negativity when you thought you had forgiven someone, maybe you haven't. If you find yourself holding on to grudges, blame, resentment, and more, then you must ask yourself if you have truly forgiven the transgression.
Living With "Unforgiveness"
It can be like having a sun in your world that is darkened by a total eclipse that never seems to end. Unforgiveness is a type of darkness, with forgiveness being the only thing that can bring an end to days with no light from the sun.
When we ask God for forgiveness, He forgives and He forgets. He forgives our sins, then He forgets them by not holding them against us, and all He asks from us, in return, is that we go and sin no more. But as sin-natured humans, it’s not that easy for us. Even after forgiving someone, you can one day realize you're still holding on to bits and pieces of negative emotions associated with the past transgression. And it may be even later before you realize that until you forgive the perpetrator, withholding forgiveness is going to cause negative emotions to hover over your life like a cloud of darkness. That is one of the topics of Matthew 18:21-22, when Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” Jesus responded, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”
The response Jesus provided, I believe, means you and I must forgive until it doesn’t hurt anymore to do it. Because how could it hurt to forgive unless you’re still holding on to pain associated with the transgression? Does that mean that forgiveness sets you up to allow someone to continue to use or mistreat you, just because you released them and you from the wrongs of the past? I believe the answer has to be “No.” Forgiveness allows you to release from your own mind feelings and emotions that, if you were to hold onto them, would cause you to sin. How? By harboring anger over something that happened in the past; something which no amount of anger or pain is ever going to change.
Okay, so if we are to forgive each other “until seventy times seven,” does that mean we have to get ready for a lifetime of forgiving the same person for the same offense? Again, I believe the answer has to be “No.” Not if the person requesting forgiveness is repentant. When someone wrongs you, in order for them to be forgiven by God, the Bible says they must repent or turn away from sin. This, I feel, is one of the most important aspects of forgiveness; one that is often overlooked. Forgiveness allows the forgiver to play a part in the process of redemption. We normally recognize that repentance has begun when we receive a request for forgiveness from the wrongdoer. The request says the sin or wrong has been acknowledged, and that the wrongdoer is promising not to do it again.
A Debt Owed, a Debt Forgiven
For the sake of example, let’s create at an imaginary situation involving the forgiveness of a monetary debt. Let’s say someone, we’ll name her “Faith,” has run up a phenomenal charge-card bill at a department store. Her account goes into collections because she cannot afford to pay the high monthly installments on the revolving credit balance. She explains her financial situation to the store owners, expressing her regret that she is unable to pay her bill. Then, for some reason, the store decides to forgive the debt of twenty of its credit-card customers, and Faith’s account is selected for forgiveness. The act of forgiveness then frees Faith from ever having to repay the debt. She is now free of it, for good and forever, and the store can never go back on its promise to never require her to repay that particular debt. She is released.
Does that mean she is now free to go shopping in the same store, and once again begin charging more merchandise than she can afford on her card? Or should the store revoke her credit card along with forgiving the debt? Just because they forgave the debt does not mean they should forget her misuse of the credit they originally gave to her. To do so would open the store up to more debt they’d likely never collect. It would not make much sense for the store to extend credit to her once again, until Faith could prove to them that she has become credit worthy. Even though her old debt was forgiven, it would be up to the store to decide whether or not they would ever want to issue another credit account to her. The store would be within its rights to withhold credit from her, and whether or not they would grant it to her again would most likely be based on Faith’s ability to prove her credit worthiness.
Faith owed the debt. She owed the store, but was not able to re-pay her debt. She was granted forgiveness for her wrongdoing against the store, and her debt was forgiven. After it was forgiven, she no longer owed that debt. But did that somehow change Faith into someone credit worthy with this same store?
Not necessarily. The store is under no obligation to extend new credit to Faith, just because they chose to forgive her debt. Just as the store made a decision to forgive the debt, Faith needs to make a decision to change her spending and budgeting habits. She needs to stop spending beyond what she is able to pay. Once she can demonstrate that she is credit worthy, and more trust worthy, the store might choose to give her another chance. If the store has a policy allowing debt-forgiven customers to rebuild their credit worthiness, then the store would actually be playing a part in the credit “redemption” of a customer.
Releasing Debt for “Not Guilty” Verdict
Forgiveness is not easy, but it’s something Christians must do. After granting forgiveness, God considers you and me to be “not guilty” of wrongs we've committed in the past, and He asks us to offer the same kind of loving verdict to those who have wronged us. Remember that to release someone from owing you is to also release yourself from holding on to anger through grudges, resentment, bitterness and blame.
Now. If someone commits a heinous crime that affects you and your family, forgiving them (after dealing with the hurt and the pain, once the offending behavior is over) does not mean they should not be judged and sentenced in a court of law. Being in a position to forgive someone does not make you their judge nor their jury. No matter what, those found to be guilty in a court of law of crimes against others should still have to pay appropriate penalties for their crimes. But this should have nothing at all to do with your ability to forgive them. And remember, forgiving someone releases you. It does not excuse any offense or any crime, and it is not a stamp of approval for the offender. Rather, it is a demonstration of your faith and your trust in a forgiving God.
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. -Ephesians 4:26-27
The soul-freeing empowerment of forgiveness is yours and mine only because God loves us, even though we are flawed, and even though we commit sins against Him. It is important to remember that we all sin and come short of the glory of God, and we all need forgiveness. Just like you, your neighbors, friends, acquaintances—people you know and those you don’t know, all are flawed, all commit sins, and all need forgiveness. And it is because God offers us forgiveness that we can continue to love people even after they commit sins against us. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it is necessary, in time, to let go of anger and resentment. If you do not forgive, and if you decide to hold on to anger and resentment for a long time, it could end up causing you to harbor inside you bitterness that fuels an unforgiving heart and an unforgiving spirit. And these can open the door for the ultimate enemy to enter into your life and your spirit.
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19
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