There are so many misconceptions about what forgiveness is and what forgiveness is not that I thought I would lay it out in this month’s newsletter. A couple of weeks ago in the Adult Sunday School class we had an in depth discussion about forgiveness. We looked at specific Scriptures and then we watched a short 10-minute video clip from Mark Driscoll who is the pastor of Mars Hills Church in Seattle, Washington. (You can view the clip at http://bit.ly/o25BJp)
Mark offered some very insightful teaching about what forgiveness is and several people in the Sunday School class asked me to summarize and republish his teaching.
1. Forgiveness is not approving or diminishing sin. It’s not saying, “It’s OK, nobody’s perfect… everybody makes mistakes… its no big deal.” The fact of the matter is that it IS a big deal! It’s SO BIG that God died for it! So don’t dishonor the cross of Jesus and approve or diminish something that required the death of Christ.
2. Forgiveness is not enabling sin. You see this sometimes with wives who misunderstand submission. For example, the Bible teaches that the husband is the head of the house and that he is suppose to lead which isn’t a problem if he leads by lovingly following Jesus, but what if he’s not following Jesus? The wife shouldn’t follow him because her ultimate allegiance is to Jesus. The truth is that you can forgive someone without enabling their sin and participating in it. You can have a family or friend that is an addict… you can forgive them without enabling them. Forgiveness is not enabling. Forgiveness can even include confronting and rebuking.
3. Forgiveness is not denying a wrongdoing.
“It didn’t happen… I forgot all about it… I just moved on… I didn’t let it affect me.” That’s not true. Forgiveness is not the denial of a wrongdoing. It’s not denying that you were sinned against.
4. Forgiveness is not waiting for an apology. A lot of people won’t forgive till the other person apologizes. “I will forgive them as soon as they say they are sorry.” The fact of the matter is that some people are never going to apologize. Some people will continue in their rebellious and foolish life course. Some people will be stubborn and self-righteous and they will never confess or admit. Some people will move away and you’ll never speak with them again. Some people may even die before they ever articulate repentance. So you what do you do? You forgive them before they apologize.
5. Forgiveness is not forgetting. This is one of the great Christian myths. “Were suppose to forgive and forget.” NO YOU DON’T! You can’t forgive and forget! You can’t! If you were raped, molested, abandoned, beaten, abused, cheated on, betrayed, lied about… forget it? You can’t forget it. It’s impossible. Some will appeal to Scriptural passages such as Jeremiah 31:34 that says, “God will remember their sin no more,” and they’ll say, “SEE, God doesn’t remember our sin.” But God DOES remember our sin. He’s omniscient. He’s all knowing. He forgets nothing. He knows everything. So what does it mean when it says, “God will remember their sin no more?” It means that God chooses not to interact with us based upon what we’ve done, but to instead interact with us based on what Christ has done. It means that He chooses to see us as new creations and He chooses to work for a new future. It means that at the forefront of God’s thinking is not all of the sin that we’ve committed, but all the work that Jesus has done. Forgiveness is not a matter of forgetting, but it is a matter of releasing.
6. Forgiveness is not ceasing to feel the pain.
Just because your hurt doesn’t mean that you’ve failed to forgive. It still hurts! Some of you have had horrible things done to you. Horrible things! It would be so cruel for me to say, “Well, if you’ve forgiven them then you shouldn’t hurt anymore.” That simply is not true. Sure it hurts. We don’t hear in the Bible that all the tears are wiped from our eyes until the resurrection of the dead and the final unveiling of the kingdom. It means people are crying all the way to Jesus. It still hurts. It’s OK for it to bother you.
7. Forgiveness is not a one-time event.
Forgiveness is both a one-time event and a process because sometimes they keep sinning so you need to keep forgiving or sometimes you forgive them but there are emotional moments where it feels fresh. For example, a husband commits adultery. The wife can forgive him and the husband can earnestly repent and seek Biblical counseling and they can work things out. But there still could be times that the husband might innocently be talking to another woman at church and just the mere sight of him talking to another woman might trigger her to feel all of that betrayal again. She needs to forgive him again for what he did in the past. Sometimes forgiveness is something that is regularly required.
8. Forgiveness is not neglecting justice.
You can forgive a person and call the police and have them arrested. You can forgive someone and testify against them in court. “Well I thought you forgave me?” “I did, but you’ve committed a crime… you’ve broken the law and so these are the consequences.” You can forgive and pursue justice.
9. Forgiveness is not trusting.
“My dad molested me and he’s sorry… so should I let him babysit my kids?” Answer: NO WAY! “My husband hit me, but he said he’s sorry… should we just pick up where we left off and keep going?” Answer: NO WAY! Trust is built slowly and it’s lost quickly. If someone sins against you grievously then trust has to be rebuilt slowly over time. Some people can be trusted with time. Other people should never be trusted because the risk is simply too high. This is particularly true with children.
10.Forgiveness is not reconciliation.
It’s not that you become friends again and hang out together. It takes one person to repent and it takes one person to forgive; and it takes two people to reconcile. In Romans 12 Paul writes, “In as much as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Here’s what he’s saying… do your best, but you can’t be at peace with everyone.
So what IS forgiveness? A definition for forgiveness could be — giving up my right to hurt you, for hurting me. Gary Smalley writes, “The original definition of forgiveness actually means that you untie or release someone.” As long as you remain bitter and unforgiving, you’re tied to that person with emotional knots. So being untied involves a conscious and deliberate release of the offender through an act of forgiveness… and important though difficult part of releasing someone is giving up the expectation that the person will eventually see the error of his or her ways and take the initiative to make things right with you.”
The bottom line is that we need to forgive. Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. After being forgiven such a great debt, how can we not also forgive?