Forgiveness is an act of faith; when we forgive, we are affirming our belief that God can repair what is broken and heal what has been hurt.
as retold by Deborah
Jesus told his disciples, “Stumbles and failings are sure to occur, but it will be far worse for those who bring them about! It would be better to be outfitted with a cement overcoat and tossed into the river than to cause those I love to lose their way.
If another is going astray, you must speak out, and if that person repents, you must forgive. And if someone wrongs you seven times a day, and comes back seven times and says, ‘I’m sorry for what I have done and promise to change my ways,’ you must forgive.”
“Seriously?” the apostles said, “You really expect us to believe that?”
In response the Lord said, “If you had just a grain of faith, you could tell this mulberry tree, ‘Pull yourself up out of the ground and jump into the ocean,’ and it would do it.
It’s no wonder that the apostles ask Jesus to give them more faith after hearing his teaching on forgiveness. He has just told them that even if somebody has stepped all over you seven times in a row, you’re supposed to forgive that same person yet again. It’s hard enough to forgive a person who has wronged us even once, but seven times? That’s…. well, that’s hard to believe.
In our current culture folks are liable to get their knickers in a twist if they even suspect they’ve been slighted in the least — if they think they’ve been “disrespected.” Shouting matches, road rage, fist fights, stabbings, shootings, and all-round ill feelings are the inevitable result.
Imagine how different life would be if we were all a bit more lenient, a bit more gentle in spirit. Imagine if we were less on the lookout for insults and a bit more willing to “forgive and forget.”
But forgiveness is hard work. It is much easier to take umbrage; to be puffed up with anger or outrage or righteous indignation — and enjoy all of the lovely benefits those stances bring to us.
When we are “more sinned against than sinning,” we warrant sympathy and pity. People feel sorry for us. When we’ve been wronged, we are deserving of kind treatment and in need of special handling.
When we chose to forgive, though, the party’s over. We give up the power to moan and groan and fuss; there is no longer any cause to complain or convince others of how right we are. When we forgive, we let all that go and get on with our life. It’s much easier to cling to the role of victim than it is to claim the hero’s path.
Jesus tells his followers that we are to forgive “those who repent.” Like forgiveness, repentance isn’t easy; it is far more than just saying you’re sorry.
It is a process beginning with the recognition of wrong-doing, regretting what was done, admitting responsibility (apologizing), followed by a determination to stop doing what is hurtful (reform), and finally, an effort to make restitution to any and all who have been harmed.
Those 5 R’s (recognition, regret, responsibility, reform, and restitution) provide the framework for restoring damaged relationships: our relationships with one another, and our relationship with God. And we must always remember that it is a process. Rare is the repentance that is effected overnight, or completed in a twinkling. Change takes time, and coming to terms with our sins and shortcomings — admitting when we are wrong, even to ourselves — can be very difficult indeed.
When we forgive, we release the other from our anger, our resentment, and our desire for revenge. We also free ourselves from the burden of those emotions that weigh on our minds and drag down our spirits. Forgiveness breaks the chains that link us to the hurts we have received, releasing us from our connection to those who have harmed us.
Forgiveness is not approval. We are not giving permission for the harm to be repeated, or diminishing the suffering it caused. Forgiveness does not accept what happened as reasonable or good — it is an acceptance of another’s claim to regret a wrong-doing which he does not intend to repeat. Even if the evidence is against it.
Forgiveness is the triumph of faith over experience.
Perhaps that is why forgiveness is so difficult. Altogether too often we’ve seen how futile and pointless it can seem. We’ve been misled, cheated, and deceived by repeat offenders: insincere apologies with no trace of regret, promised reforms that are never carried out, old habits triumph, vicious and hurtful behavior continuing, unabated.
And so we find ourselves standing alongside those first apostles, “Lord Christ, if you really want me to forgive over and over again, I’m going to need a lot more faith.”
We want to see wrongs righted, the innocent and the good protected, and evildoers reformed — not allowed to run amok, free from all consequences! We long for justice and righteousness; that’s the kind of kingdom Jesus tells his followers we are to work for.
What of the victims? What about the needs of those who have suffered from the actions of those unreformed, unrepentant wrong-doers?
Jesus specified forgiveness of those who have repented. Unfortunately, there are a lot of folks who say they have — but haven’t. We have no way of evaluating the sincerity of those who claim to be sorry and must, therefore, take them at their word. What happens next is up to them; they are still responsible for what they have done. Forgiveness isn’t permission or approval, it does not ignore the need for redress or restitution. There’s still need for “Clean up on Aisle 5.”
But sometimes what’s done is done. That jar is broken. That event is over. That door has closed. Some hurts cannot be healed, some fences can not be mended, some bridges are beyond repair; there are entrenched opinions, broken spirits, and lives that have ended. In such cases restoration awaits the world to come.
And that brings us back to what forgiveness can do for us: the blessings it brings to who forgive.
When we forgive, we lay down the grudge we are carrying, we release ourselves from that heavy, aching need to see “justice served” (according to our own understanding). When we forgive, we can no longer assume the victim’s role: pitiful, enfeebled and helpless; nor behave like an outraged, bloodthirsty mafioso, yearning to even the score.
When we forgive, the past cannot hold us hostage; we are no longer ensnared by others’ acts of wickedness, and we are freed from our own anger and resentment.
Forgiveness is a good thing. It is good for the world, it is good for all those who fail and fall short, offering us a second chance (and a third, and a fourth, and so on….), and it is good for those who forgive. It can heal and restore us, whether or not we’ve received an apology.
Above all else, forgiveness is a good thing because it is we are supposed to do; it is what we are called to do. Forgiveness is part of our job description as Christians.
Jesus told the apostles, “When you’ve done as you’ve been taught, say, ‘We are merely servants; we’ve just done what we were supposed to do!’”
~ Luke 17:10
All that we do is to be done in Jesus’ name. Our forgiveness and our repentance, our compassion, our generosity, our kindness, our love — all our actions represent Christ to a world that can know Him in no other way. We cannot claim to be noble or insightful or particularly holy; the credit goes to our Lord.
Jesus the Christ is our teacher, our healer, our guide, our friend. His Way leads to peace and joy and abundant blessings in this life and the next. May our faith in Him increase!
May Christ's mercy and healing grace abound,
When have you asked for forgiveness? What happened?
When have you been asked for forgiveness? What happened?