WHY FORGIVENESS IS SO WIDELY MISUNDERSTOOD (#1 in a series)
It is virtually axiomatic that if you do not forgive, you will never have peace. To not forgive is to judge, which means you are assuming spiritual authority over others that God has not delegated to you. As Romans 2 explains when we judge we are self-seeking which results in “…wrath, anger, trouble and distress”. Thus, forgiveness of those in the sufferer’s life of those who have hurt them is a necessity.
In my book The Walk Applied, I discuss in depth how we tend to assume or expect that others should act in a given way. Yet, there is really precious little justification for believing that. The only true expectation you can really have is sinful behavior. Obviously, there are many nice people who do act in ways that are civil and pleasing. We encounter people like this all the time. Because we like it when people are nice to us, we gravitate to that. But when people do not treat us in a way we expect, we typically respond with various levels of offense or anger. When someone has wronged you, their insensitivity can propagate the notion that “they owe me”. In essence, to not forgive means you have assigned an “emotional debt” to them. We expect to somehow be “paid back” as in an apology, at a minimum. In truth, there is no such thing as an emotional debt. What’s done is done. We cannot undo what has happened. I may be able to pay to have my friend’s car fixed if I damaged it (an appropriate remedy, of course) but it does not change what happened. In all likelihood, my friend would consider it a “debt” that I must repay until I ensure the car is fixed. They quite reasonably expect that I will apologize for what I did, not to mention paying at least the deductible.
TRUE FORGIVENESS: ONE AND DONE
First and foremost, forgiveness is a one-time legal action and declaration that you are no longer judging that person for what they did or did not do. True forgiveness occurs when you sincerely and completely release someone (living or dead) from any real or imagined emotional debt or liability towards you. It’s also conscious, ongoing choice and a refusal on your part to entertain any further angry or hurtful thoughts about the person(s). This is no way implies that you completely forget the situation or what happened, or that you proceed as if it never happened, although that is hopefully a true consequence of forgiveness. True forgiveness should mean expressed or implied release of all anger or animosity, however justified, towards them. Obviously, that is not going to be the case in many instances. The hurt and the anger are simply too much and too overwhelming; the grief and the negative emotions rule the day. After all, we’re only human and reality and common sense tell us we will experience this.
FORGIVENESS AND JUDGEMENT
We repeat: To not forgive someone is to judge them. Only God and those he appoints are to judge. To not forgive and judge is to place yourself in spiritual authority over them. Since we are all sinners, we occupy the same place before Jesus.
“You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'" So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.” (Rom 14:10-13)
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Rom 2:1)
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
NEXT TIME: #2: "Proactive Forgiveness"
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N. Patrick Marica contributes incisive Christian commentary on this blog on a regular basis. He has been the Director of Godly Training Ministries since 1993. He has his MA from Liberty University in Marriage and Family Therapy. He is the author of the new book: "The Walk Applied". He has been married to Kathy since 1985. They have 2 adult daughters and an extraordinary son-in-law.
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