The Process of Forgiving
Forgiving is not easy. Forgiving means canceling a debt of justice that is rightfully owed
to you. Forgiveness means treating the offender as if they owed you nothing. That can
seem an impossible task. How to we overcome the pain they left us?
The task seems even greater once we truly understand the full scope of forgiveness.
As Louis Smedes notes in his little book
Forgive and Forget we know
that we have forgiven another person when we can honestly, from the heart, wish them
well. That costs the person who forgives. Forgiving also gives long-term benefits. And
yet the short-term pain can stifle true forgiveness. And the larger the forgiveness needed
the greater the pain.
So why forgive? Simply put, forgiving liberates us. Lack of forgiveness burdens us with
the anger, even the justified anger, of our past. It can leave us bitter, wounded and
depleted. If I am angry with another person I cannot truly treat them with full respect
and love. That will bleed over into all our other relationships. If I can truly cancel their
debt as if it never existed then I am free free to act lovingly toward all,
even the undeserving. This is, after all, how God loved
us in Jesus Christ. Paul wrote in Colossians 2:13
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature,
God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins
God, having forgiven us in Christ Jesus, treats us as if we had never sinned. He is free
to treat us as sons and daughters.
How do we come to that place where we have truly and completely released another from
such a debt? I believe that the answer lies in the words of Jesus in Luke 6:27-28.
But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those
who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
This saying by Jesus implies several principles of forgiveness.
It's important to recognize that these actions are cumulative. We don't leave the
first behind to begin the second. Rather we add the second to the first, the third to
the first and second, etc. Lets examine these actions in order:
- Pray for those who mistreat you If we can do nothing more positive
towards those we hope to forgive, we can pray for them. That last
phrase is crucial. It means to pray for their benefit. Praying for someone
does not mean praying that they treat us better or come to their senses.
It means asking God to do something good in their life.
I dont know about you, but I find myself very reluctant to pray for God to do
something good to someone who did something bad to me
especially if they
still have not repented from the wrong they did. Sometimes my first prayers (when
I am honest) sound like this: Father, I really don't like this person and
I don't really want nice things to happen to them. However you call me to pray for them,
so (through gritted teeth) please give them a good day today.. Over
time, as I continue to pray, I become more willing and more specific, actually becoming
concerned with their welfare. God, please heal Joe of the flue and give him the
strength to complete his project at work. Getting that specific prepares me for
the next step.
- Bless those who curse you Moving from talking to God alone in your
room, Jesus calls us to talk to others. Blessing them means talking well to them
(giving them your blessing) and talking well about them to others. As we
talk we come to affirm that God has placed in them some reflection of his Image.
Again, it is vital that we become specific. It is not We recognize and affirm the gifts and goodness that resides in them, despite
any harm they have done us. As we affirm their status as a creation of God, created
and valued for his purposes, we can move forward to something more active.
- Do good to those who hate you By this time our prayer life will have grown
to the point of curiosity about the other persons needs. Now that we have
reaffirmed their status as valued by God we can act on that value. We discern what would
be good for them. This is important. Doing good to others means understanding what
they perceive that they need. The issue is that we may or may not truly understand what
they need. If we do something good for them as we see it, we may
completely miss the mark. We need to ask (directly or by observing what they say
and do) what good thing we can do for them. Finally, we can strive for love.
- Love your enemies This is such a high calling. Remember that Jesus also
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for ones
To do that for your friends is powerful. To do that
for an enemy seems insurmountable, even if we think not simply as physical life, but as
dying to our self for their sake. Yet, that is the call for every follower of Christ.
For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the
death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his
By following the process we can grow toward this goal.