What Forgiveness is and Isn’t

I used to have the idea forgiveness meant  forgetting something bad happened.  Then I changed my mind and decided it must be about understanding why the other person did what they did when it hurt me.  As I got older, I learned neither of those things worked all the time.  Yet, I knew mental health professionals tell us its healthier to forgive.  Well, what is forgiveness then, and how can I do it?

I am a Christian, and ultimately the answer to my question is rooted in my faith in Jesus Christ.  There are three things about Him that I think are appropriate to the subject of forgiveness.  First, Jesus taught something no other faith teaches.  That is, God forgives, and God’s forgiveness is available to whomever recognizes their need for His forgiveness and seeks it.  There is no price to be paid by the seeker, because God paid the price Himself when He walked the earth as the man Jesus Christ, and died for the sins of the world.  This is a great mystery, and in my human mind I can’t begin to understand it.  It was done before all the angels and demons of the universe, and none could dispute that justice was served.  For our part, justice is served to us with love, grace and mercy.

The second thing Jesus taught is that because I myself am forgiven everything, I must forgive someone who owes me much less than I owed God.  Justice is God’s because He is the creator, and He himself IS justice.  He will see that justice is served to those who wrong me…and He may well serve that justice with the same love, mercy and grace he showed me.  Can I accept that? He desires repentance of all people, including my wrongdoer, and me.  Can I trust Him to work in that other person’s life, and not demand they “pay” in some way for what they did to me? What do I want anyway, vengeance?  Do I want to see someone else experiencing hurt as I’ve been hurt.  What does that say about me? 

The easiest way to rid oneself of the emotion of vengefulness is to do the opposite.  I can pray for my wrongdoer.  Jesus told us to do that.  I can also do good to that person.  Jesus told us to do that, too.  When I do good to anyone, I will have more positive feelings toward them.  When I do good to someone who has been mean toward me, it is so unexpected, it will make them wonder what is going on.  It may also bring them to repent and seek the forgiveness of God, and that is the ultimate outcome.



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