Crafting a new definition of forgiveness


Debbie commented today, after looking at all the books on my desk, “Do you know you have 31 books on forgiveness?” Actually, I didn’t but she’s pretty close.  I’m working on a writing project about forgiveness.  In the process, I am trying to craft a new definition for forgiveness, which is harder than you might think.

I’m interested in a definition of forgiveness that can be applied in pastoral ministry in the local church.  In other words, I’m looking for a definition of forgiveness that pastors can share with their members to encourage them to practice “forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

I am advocating for a new definition of forgiveness that:

  • Takes into account the idea of forgiveness as a process;
  • Produces an effect that is recognizable, so that a person can determine if they are acting in a forgiving manner;
  • Values the broken relationship;
  • Is useful both in situations where the offender has asked for forgiveness, and in situations where he has not done so;
  • Seeks reconciliation as the final goal of forgiving acts;
  • Attends to the psychological and spiritual health of the offended;
  • Deals with the problems of memory and emotions in the forgiving process; and,
  • Can be practically applied in local church ministry to assist and encourage the forgiving process.

What definition of forgiveness meets all of these criteria, and is clear enough to be helpful to pastors in their local church ministry?  Any thoughts?  Fire away in the comments.  Thanks.

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7 Comments

  1. I have to admit that what you are proposing is no small task! I’ve been in ministry for many years and I’m still struggling with a concise definition of forgiveness. I have many ideas and many experiences. I know when forgiveness is NOT given (emotional/”gut” idea). And, of course, we have many resources in scripture to draw from. But, forgiveness is ultimately at the core of our soteriology. If we don’t understand forgiveness, we can never understand the cross. A statement like that leads me to believe we can never deeply understand forgiveness. After all, who can know the depth of love for which Jesus died? We can only accept it. Thank you Jesus!

  2. I go to a counselor for abuse from my childhood. For years I had convinced myself that I had forgiven my mother, although I hadn’t forgotten. Very poignantly my counselor informed me that you cannot forgive a person until they’re aware of what they have done to hurt or harm you in some way.

    A new definition for forgiveness is a two way street. It has to be a mutual endeavor, or one person still suffers from the pain the act that needs forgiveness has caused. Although I am very ready to forgive my mother for the bruises, pain and neglect she caused in my youth, I have to wait until she is ready to acknowledge, accept and have accountability for her actions.

  3. Based on what happened in my life over 35 years ago, forgiveness is the balm that confirms the fact, my sins are forgiven. Until I had realized the power of forgiveness which enabled me to truly forgive others, the words in the Bible were just that, words.

  4. In my book, Revolutionary Forgiveness, I define it in terms of a person. A forgiving person is one who, out of a profound sense of being personally forgiven a great debt by God, is quick to ask forgiveness from another, who repudiates anger, bitterness and a desire for4 revenge to initiate a loving approach to whoever may have hurt him or her, and who offers o freely forgive and forget the injury caused, with the hope that reconciliation may be achieved. (p. 147) In the book I deal with all the questions around forgiveness, look at biblical teaching, and real life examples.

  5. Chuck

    As a fellow small church pastor I enjoy your blog…good stuff. One of my mentors, Jerry Cook, wrote a book in the late 70’s called Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. Jerry’s definition of forgiveness, and the one I use in my own ministry, is: Choosing not to punish. Not entering into a punitive lifestyle; emotionally, mentally or physically. It is simple but it works. His sister definitions for Love and Acceptance are: 1) Choosing to act in the other’s highest good and 2) Freeing the other person from the need to perform or conform to earn my love and attention.

    Kee up the blog.

    Blessings
    Bond

  6. Hi Chuck,

    Not a pastor myself, but very interested in the question you are exploring. A layman’s understanding is probably not what you’re going for, but here is where I land on this one.

    Forgiveness cannot be accurately or meaningfully defined until, or unless, there is first a biblical understanding of the definition of love. Both love and forgiveness flow from a decision to be committed regardless of any contributing factors or subsequent circumstances. That said, my definition of forgiveness would be “love anyway”. After all, that is what Jesus did for us.

    God bless you and your ministry.

    Kevin

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