Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Understanding Biblical Forgiveness

          What are we to do when we experience persistent resentment toward others who have wronged us in some way? Anger is generally not an easy emotion to control and soothe. We have all been treated unfairly and unkindly at some point in time. Ridicule, mockery, and slander are things common to human experience. Sometimes people say and do things without intending to offend; others provoke intentionally. But what does it mean to offer forgiveness? Is it a necessary option? If forgiveness is possible, then it is important that we be reconciled with our family, friends, and even neighbors. Are we in an unwarranted way holding past grievances committed against us? Have we ourselves offended others? If we do not forgive, then that will cause further harm.

          The biblical definition of forgiveness means to not count an evil action against a guilty party. It means to not plot revenge against the offending person. It means to not hold any record of debt. Forgiveness involves the restoration of a person from banishment. It is an act of love and kindness. It is not deserved or earned. Forgiveness is an act of the will and done deliberately. Forgiveness of another person necessarily denotes a change in heart toward him. It involves not dwelling on our past situations. Furthermore, the forgiveness offered by God involves Him erasing our debt of transgressions committed against Him (1 John 1:7-9). The forgiveness that he offers is distinct from human forgiveness in that it involves the cleansing of our souls from sin.

          Contempt and hostility run contrary to forgiveness. They entail holding past misdeeds against the offending party and demand repayment in some way. Contempt and hostility insist on being right and having their own way at all costs. None of this is compatible with a forgiving heart. However, it does not require that we condone what has been said or done to us. Measures may still need to be taken, depending on certain variables. Cutting ties may certainly be a necessary safety precaution. Forgiveness is not incompatible with disciplinary action. We should strive for peace and resolution, if possible. Human forgiveness is conditional, namely in that wrongdoers should openly repent of their misdeeds (Luke 17:3-4). We can also overlook another person's misbehavior. To forgive means to cease showing malice or resentment toward another person for a mistake or offense.

          Unjustly withholding forgiveness to whom it is due can have drastic repercussions on both personal relationships and civilization on a large scale. If we allow anger to continually scorch our hearts, then we will only act bitterly and harm the people around us. It can take us to dark places that we never intended to go. It is wrong to not strive to live peacefully with other people (Ephesians 4:31-32; Hebrews 12:14-15). In fact, unchecked anger in and of itself is a defilement of our souls. A contentious relationship cannot successfully thrive because it closes the gates of compromise and shuts off any influx of reason. Consequently, situations are rendered unworkable. Conflict resolution cannot be made when no one listens to each other. An unforgiving heart will only hold on to its own subjective perception of reality, no matter how absurd. It is for this reason that opposing sides of an argument misrepresent each other. Forgiveness can be a simple solution with profound reverberations for the better in our lives.

          What if a man is unable to forgive himself for previously committed wrongs against others? For starters, self-forgiveness is not necessary. Forgiveness looks beyond itself and tries to console others. What ultimately matters is that we accept the forgiveness of God as provided through Jesus Christ. How we feel is irrelevant in this context. We should repent of our sins against God and each other. We should choose to forgive others, as God has chosen to forgive us for our trespasses against Him. It is not healthy for us to allow our emotions to prevent us from moving forward with our lives. We can assist the people who are struggling with the concept of forgiveness by simply making ourselves available listeners to those afflicted and by showing them gentleness. Forgiveness comes from the heart (Matthew 18:35). We should be inclined to forgive because God Himself has forgiven us. He will withhold mercy from people at the Final Judgment who did not themselves show mercy to others in this life.

          Forgiveness springs forth from love, which constitutes the foundation of Christianity. Forgiveness is the very root of the gospel. It is because Jesus Christ gave Himself up for our sins that God is able to reconcile us to Him. It is because of mercy that friendships can be restored. It is because of forgiveness that we are able to live well and die peacefully. Hatred is contrary to the principles of the gospel. If left unchecked, anger ruins our sanity. We must repent from the heart of our sins, and offer forgiveness to those who have offended us in some way and also repented. The withholding of forgiveness is a tragedy.

1 comment:

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I've been teaching this meaning of forgiveness for years and years! But too often I hear, "well I can forgive but I can't forget." We choose to forget when we choose to forgive.