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Making Sense of Life's Messes

What Is Forgiveness, Really?

forgiveness1 What Is Forgiveness, Really?

All too often, I believe those in the church are trying to redefine forgiveness or alter its definition.

“Oh yah, I forgave them long time ago. I just won’t forget.”
“Strike one, shame on you. Strike two, shame on me….right?”
“Look, I forgave her the first five times she made the same decision, at this point, I’m done forgiving.”
“We’ve forgiven each other and moved our separate ways, it’s peaceful now.”
“I forgave him in my heart, but have zero desire to talk to him about it. I did what was right.”

…sound familiar?

To me even writing those words is exhausting. In the process of convincing ourselves we’ve forgiven others, we’re living in a dual state of reality where others are never really forgiven—they’re forgotten, ignored, avoided, glanced over, and/or subconsciously belittled in comparison with self. A self we’re convinced has truly forgiven others.

But…they’re everything but forgiven.

Here’s where I think Christians are flawed in this area…we don’t truly understand the sacrifice made in the name of forgiveness on the cross. Jesus had a million and one reasons He could have said no. He could have seen our faults and decided it wasn’t worth it…but He didn’t.

Christ was beaten, torn open, spat on, cursed at, crowned with thorns, and hung by His hands and feet—nailed to a cross.

And…under what universe does that sound like forgiving but not forgetting?

Forgiveness IS NOT pretty. Forgiveness IS NOT easy. Forgiveness HURTS before it frees.

Also, consider—when was the last time you asked forgiveness of someone else? If it takes more than two seconds of thought, and a mind rattled to remembering a deep tearful “I’m sorry” on the playground at the age of six, it’s just too long.

Remember the other side of the fence?

Chances are, those who you feel have wronged you, feel wronged themselves. There’s a reason for cliché sayings like “there’s two sides to every story,” because there really is. And whether or not you can and/or are willing to see it—its there.

So, firstly, my challenge to you is this: forgive in your heart. Work on YOU. Remember WHY we forgive, what was given as a sacrifice for your forgiveness. Remember the grace you wake up with every day—that you don’t deserve in a million years. Remember that you wrong Christ daily, yet He chooses to forgive you before you can even work up the guts to ask. [And, aren’t you glad Jesus forgives, without keeping record of the ways you’ve wronged Him?]

Secondly, remember that forgiveness doesn’t mean to remember the wrong caused against you—it means to let go of it. No harbored ill feelings towards anyone, no avoidance of the “wrong-doer,” etcetera. If you claim to have forgiven, then do just that—let it go.

Thirdly, patiently and relentlessly pursue those who feel wronged by you. The key to anyone accepting forgiveness is seeing change in the one asking of it.  Try to make amends with the person who can’t seem to forgive you…until the day you die, if need be. All you can control is you. But, if you’re truly seeking forgiveness, you’ll wait as long as it takes to be forgiven.

If you believe that the only one capable of forgiving like that is Christ, please don’t use that as your reason to avoid true forgiveness. I’ve heard it said too often that “Well, I’m not Christ, and I’m not perfect. I’m human. I just cannot seem to forgive so-and-so for such-and-such.” But, rather than try and persuade you further, I’ll leave you with this.

A man. Not God. But a man who claimed to serve God, lived his life full of forgiveness until the day it ultimately lead to his death:

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him…

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.  Acts 7:54-60


Take a moment and think…How do you define true forgiveness?

  • A. Yamina Collins

    Great article. You really hit the nail on the head. Thanks for sharing. I am amazed at how far away from understanding forgiveness I am. I have had SOME success at it, talking to people I was angry with so that I could deliberately not avoid them. But there are others where I haven’t practiced this…by the way, I love your twitter post about being determined “to die empty.” THAT is so Christ-like; dying emptied of this world I mean (I assume that’s what you meant). By the way, if you ever want to share some of your posts on my lit blog. I would love it. Yes, it’s a literary blog, but I am a christian and I have a litfaith section and I love stuff like this. Take care.

    In Him.
    Yamina Collins