When I have been wronged, what response should I give? This is a universal question for all people. In our own time we have seen this question answered with revenge in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East. We have read of people being shot dead after an argument. This desire to “get even” seems to be a part of the human psyche.
Christians talk a lot about forgiveness, but I am not sure they really understand what it means. Many psychiatrists and counselors have recognized the importance of forgiveness in healing mental illnesses but Christians may be very selective in who they forgive. There is an interesting story in Matthew 18:21-35,
Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” answered Jesus, “but seventy times seven, because the
Kingdom of heaven is like this.
Can I forgive and not seek revenge? I think so, but under three conditions. In Part I I want to think about what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. The problem is, we don’t forget. The question: how do we remember? We can remember the pain and feel all the emotions that went with the hurt and live it all over again. Or, we can remember the hurt has been forgiven and it’s over with.
Forgiveness is not the same as excusing. You don’t excuse what was done when you forgive someone. It is almost the opposite. We need to forgive them because we have not excused them. If we can excuse something it does not need forgiveness. There is no blame, no one was responsible, it was an accident. Much of what passes as forgiveness is actually excusing the behavior or attitude of another person.
We should never excuse intentional hurts. To excuse intentional hurt from another person is not helping them or helping your relationship with them. Never excuse them; cancel the debt and forgive them.
Forgiveness is not the same as accepting people. We accept people for what they are. They are people made in the image of God. They are people God values highly. So we accept people for who they are, but we forgive them for what they do.
I need to accept someone even though they are different than I. They may dress differently, look different or have a different background. I need to accept all this for it is part of who they are.
But I cannot and should not accept intentional wrongs that are done to me. Hurt doesn’t require acceptance; hurt requires forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not the same as tolerance. You can forgive another person for anything, but there are a lot of things you cannot You can forgive another person for anything, but there are a lot of things you cannot and should not tolerate. You do not have to tolerate what people do when you forgive them for doing it. Truth is, we can tolerate a whole lot more than we can forgive.
Some of you middle school or high school students may be bullied at school. You go home and forgive the bully. The next day he or she bullies you again and wants your lunch money as well. What you do is to forgive the bully but you tell the assistant principle to stop what is going on.
If you are in an abusive relationship you can forgive your abuser, but you don’t tolerate the abuse. You call the police. You move out. You go to counseling. But you do not tolerate the abuse.
Forgiveness is not restoration. You can forgive a person who is not the least bit sorry for what they’ve done. You can forgive them even though you do not trust them. You forgive them even if you think they might hurt you again. Forgiveness does not mean the relationship is restored to what it was before the hurt. Forgiveness does not mean that you let them right back into your life where they can hurt you again.
True restoration comes only when the level of trust is high. Forgiveness has no strings attached, but restoration requires strings attached because it could be harmful if that person does not repent or make restitution.
Part II will deal with what forgiveness is.