One of the big ideas we deal with as pastors and church leaders is forgiveness. Obviously, God in Christ has forgiven those of us who have come to Him in faith and repentance. Jesus taught forgiveness and demonstrated it by forgiving the woman caught in adultery, and the thief of the cross, not to mention Peter himself who betrayed Christ.
Christ commands us to forgive, not just seven times, but seventy times seven, or an infinite number of times. So, the teaching that we should forgive is at the heart of what Jesus taught and what we believe. But I now see forgiveness as a much more complex act than I might have thought a few years ago.
Here are some questions I’m wrestling with right now:
1. How do you know when you’ve forgiven someone? Do you quit having hostile, or less-than-friendly feelings toward them? Do you re-establish the relationship? After all Jesus said leave your gift at the altar and be reconciled, and then come and offer your gift to God. What is the definition of forgiveness?
2. Can you really forgive without a response from the person who wronged you? I just finished reading The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, From The Civil Rights Movement to Today. The horror stories of beatings, assaults, murders, and indignities inflicted on African-Americans during the civil rights era is astounding. Yet, the leaders of that movement continued to say that civil rights wasn’t about being able to ride in the front of the bus, or use the “white-only” water fountain. Rather, the struggle was for reconciliation of black and white Americans.
3. How can we help our members with forgiveness issues? A better question might be, How can we model forgiveness in our own life and ministry? As I have read several books on forgiveness lately, I have been struck by my own unforgiving spirit toward a couple of situations. Having been convicted, I’m thinking through my own forgiveness plan for those areas.
If you want to read a couple of excellent books that deal with forgiveness and reconciliation on a national level, read The Beloved Community, or the book by the former Archbishop of Johannesburg, Desmond Tutu. His book, No Future Without Forgiveness, deals with the process South Africa developed to deal with the wounds of apartheid on the souls of South Africans. Both books are powerful accounts of forgiveness in action.