We are called to forgive. Sometimes that is an easy thing to do. The injury wasn’t great; we sustained no permanent loss. Life was not altered in any negative way.
But certainly there are circumstances where the call to forgive presents a challenge.
Life was taken. A spouse was stolen away. A child was abducted. You were abused. You were falsely accused and fired from a job. These injuries linger. They are filed away deep into our memory banks, and begin to intertwine themselves with normal life. Life is, in fact, altered.
And yet, the call to forgive lingers. And with it sometimes some falsehoods also linger.
We hear these things, repeat them to ourselves or have them repeated to us, we hear them in songs, or see them acted out in a movie. And they become real, and true and inviolable.
Let’s take a careful look at a few:
Falsehood 1: “I cannot forgive because I cannot forget what happened.”
This false statement assumes that, if forgiveness truely has taken place, we will not remember the injury any more. The truth, however, is that the only time the human mind forgets something is when it’s malfunctioning. We are made to remember… everything. That doesn’t mean we can immediately call a name, or a place, or a memory back to conscious thought immediately. But it’s in the file room… somewhere. For the Christian, remembering an injury and the reality that we have forgiven it stands as a reminder of the power of the Gospel.
Falsehood 2: “I cannot forgive because I don’t ever communicate with the person who hurt me.”
The truth is, forgiveness only takes one person: You. You may no longer have a relationship with the person who offended or hurt you. That is no matter. We are commanded only to forgive, not to reconcile. Now reconciliation would be an ideal ending, but the truth is some people will not reconcile with us… and some relationships should not be restored again… and some people we need to forgive aren’t even alive.
We must forgive to set OURSELVES free, but the only way that can happen is to set the other person free from our debt collection activities. We cannot hold on to the injury they did to us and find the freedom we need to move forward. Forgiveness only takes one person. You.
Falsehood 3: “I cannot forgive because they never asked me to forgive them.”
There is no necessity in a person coming to you begging your forgiveness as a prerequisite to forgiveness. While that may happen, the mandate and command to forgive overrules even the offending party being aware they have hurt you. Our desire to collect a debt we feel they owe us is what drives this last falsehood. We want them to feel embarrassed, to feel shame, to feel some of the pain that we felt. But if that’s how we truly feel, then we have not yet forgiven. They don’t need to ask you for your forgiveness to be offered.
With that, it is also worth noting that you are not required to tell them you forgave. As stated above, some people who need your forgiveness can’t ask since they’re dead. Others are persons you may not even know how to contact. While the day may come that you will face them, telling them what you’ve decided to do in forgiving them is not mandatory for true forgiveness to be offered.
The truth is, we will be injured in life. The test of forgiveness will be a test all of us will at one time or another (maybe multiple times) have to face and pass. But each time we do, the grace that fills your heart will spill out more easily…
…and you’ll know you are free.
“Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
Our Father in heaven, we have been forgiven so much by You. Our debt to You was far greater than anything we could pay, even if we spent an eternity trying. But with the blood of Jesus, You washed us clean, made us pure, and created a new heart within. Thank You for the cross, for Your Son who died as our sacrifice there, and for the full and free forgiveness You now offer us. Through Christ who is our Savior we pray, Amen.