Forgiveness Is Not A Simple Act

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.

9 thoughts on “Forgiveness Is Not A Simple Act”

  1. Hi, I read your blog on forgiveness and wanted to tell you a little about my forgivness story. I am an adoptee (coincidentally South African, which you mention in your blog post) who only learned about her adoption in her mid-thirties. I had a lot of forgiving to do – of my adoptive parents for not telling me about my adoption, and of my birth mother for giving me away in the first place and leaving me with a lifetime of adoption baggage to deal with. I wrote a book about my journey. Perhaps you would like to read it and add it to your list?
    God bless

  2. Chuck,

    Found your blog after seeing it quoted in Outreach magazine. Your post on forgiveness is great. I’m working on a three-part series on it, starting this Sunday.

    1. Brian, thanks for your kind comment. I’d be interested in seeing how you deal with the concept of forgiveness. Will you post the series to your blog?

  3. I know in my own life that forgiveness is about wanting what is best for the offender. The focus shifts from me to them…my defensive/offensive stance has no leg to stand on and God finds an avenue thru me to love them…in the process, I am healed and maybe they are too. I think the crux of this is in realizing that in Christ, we’re eternally safe…

  4. Somewhere, I heard a theologian define forgiveness as allowing yourself to be open to new possibilities with the one who has wronged you. I wish I could remember who he was. By that definition:

    1. You know you have forgiven that person when you can re-engage them.

    2. You can forgive a person even if they have not acknowledged they have wronged you. It’s obviously easier to forgive someone if they express contrition.

    3. We help others to forgive by teaching them that imperfection is not the same as sin.

  5. My fiance left me without giving me reasons. I am finding it diff’t to accept him back after he’s asked me to. Does it mean i’ve not forgiven him?

    1. Forgiveness is not a one-time action. After your boy friend left you without giving you reasons, your response is very normal to be cautious about jumping back into this relationship. Forgiveness is a process based on rebuilding trust. Both of you need to have a candid discussion, maybe several, about why he left and why he now wants to come back. Before forgiving can take place, some attempt at understanding and reconnection must happen. Let me know how this goes.

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