Understanding Forgiveness

As I have already explained there are fundamental principles with forgiveness that it is important that we understand, if we are to forgive. There is not the time or space to deal with these in any great depth nor do I claim this work is complete, however I hope that it will convey a working knowledge.

What does "to forgive" mean? Vines Dictionary says "to send forth, send away, to remit or forgive a debt or sin" and again "to bestow a favour unconditionally, is used of the act of forgiveness whether divine or human" and again " denotes a dismissal, release, it is used of the remission of sins". Well then, when we forgive we send away, loose or release the 'sin' that is or can harm the relationship. The punishment or penalty is remitted, that is cancelled in the act of forgiveness, this is not just the debt of the sinner but also the penalty of unforgiveness. This is why forgiving people is healthy and health giving. Let us look at the principles that we help us understand forgiveness.

  1. God is God we are not! We often judge ourselves more harshly than we should, yes our aim is to be like Jesus (i.e. perfect) but in my experience I have met no one who remotely matches up to him. We may well want to forgive people but we need God's help to do it. In fact, just as we love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). We can forgive because we have been forgiven. The Gospel of Matthew (7:21-35) tells the story of a man who could not forgive even though he had been forgiven a great debt. The consequences were enormous for the man, the result was prison and torture. Without God's forgiveness we cannot easily forgive and can remain in a "stuck place" torturing ourselves with resentments and hatreds..
  2. Forgiveness is a fact! God's forgiveness is a fact received by faith that affects our feelings. Our forgiveness is also a fact, it happened in a point of time, when we forgave and spoke out our forgiveness (speaking out our forgiveness is important whether in prayer or over the person concerned). When our feelings point us back to the hurt or transgression against us, we must allow, even encourage, our faith to point to the fact that we forgave (released away from us) at that time past.
  3. Forgiveness is not forgetfulness! Forgiveness is often portrayed as forgetfulness in Christian circles but it is not. A friend had a bad cut on his hand that would not heal, we found that he was continually re-opening the wound so as not to forget. However had he allowed the wound to heal immediately he would still have a scar to remind him of the wound. The emotional or actual wound may be as small as some slight, like not being greeted at church, or as damaging as rape or abuse. As we forgive a healing takes place but the scar or memory is still there but now it does not hurt or restrict. Time is a great healer it is often said, however the healing of time can leave a scar that restricts our freedom and anyway if I broke my leg I wouldn't sit around waiting for it to heal. As forgiven people we have the power to be pro-active in our healing process.
  4. Forgiveness is not licence! As Christians we must learn to love (agape) the sinner but hate the sin. When a person continues in their sin we must still love (agape) them but hate the sin. Agape a biblical greek word for love is described by William Barclay as "unconquerable benevolence", unconquerable in the sense that it is not deterred or determined by the actions of the recipient. while benevolence is from the Latin "bene volo" to well wish, to want the best for someone. Jesus never expected or asked us to love everyone in the same way, the Greek Biblical word Philia describes the love for our closes friend our nearest and dearest. Forgiveness, therefore is an act of unconditional love, it is not dependent on the person, their attitudes, or their behaviour. It is important to remember that when love excludes the sinner it has become legalism and when love condones the sin it has become licence. Our forgiveness of others should not and is not conditional upon them, but something we are empowered to determine.
  5. Forgiveness is liberty! I have spoken of people being in a stuck place, restricted in their ability to be themselves with God and others, they become spectators of life rather than participators in the fulness of life. The burden of guilt with its accompanying shame or the burden of hurt with its companions anger and frustation, must be lifted if we are to experience freedom. The two necessarily are dealt with separately

    First Guilt - We need to seek God's forgiveness, to come to the cross and receive forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ. We do this by repentance, that is turning from our sin to God and recieveing Jesus into our life as Saviour and Lord, in recognition that he took the penalty of our sin and that he is God the Son. As Chrsitians we still need to confess our sin and in so doing release our feelings of guilt, 1 John 1:9 says "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness".

    Second Hurt - Whether this is perceived or actual is of no matter, we must forgive and release, send away that wounding hurt from us. We have a pattern to deal with two people who have had a row, perhaps one was 99% in the wrong and the other 1% in the wrong. It still means that both parties are in the wrong and need to apologise, ask for and receive forgiveness. This is the formula of words we encourage 1st person "I'm sorry, I love you please forgive me". 2nd person "I forgive you". The two then change roles. This has certainly worked in reducing frictions in our household.

Be encouraged to forgive anything you holding on to, so that you may be free. Unforgiveness is a bit like a method I heard of for catching monkeys. A fruit is placed in a secured basket with an opening just big enough for the monkey to insert his hand but when he grabs the fruit he cannot remove his hand and is caught. He is in a stuck place. If only he released the fruit he would regain his freedom. Let us ensure we release forgiveness, because we want to follow the teachings of Jesus, not easy to do when your in a stuck place.

Introduction to Forgiveness | Releasing Forgiveness | FAQ about Forgiveness