Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Pastoralia: Why Forgive?

People sin against us lots of times. And there are those times when some of them come to us, repentant, asking that we forgive them. Some of the times it's easy to forgive. Other times it's a bit more challenging, but still doable. But there are those times when it just seems impossible. What that person did to us feels unforgivable. It's those times that I want to talk about.

So, what do you do in one of those situations? What do you tell yourself when your repentant offender stands in front of you asking for your forgiveness for the horrid thing he did to you? There are several possibilities.

One is to simply refuse to forgive. You consider what this person did to you. You conclude that forgiveness is just not possible. The sin was too great. There was too much damage done. So, you refuse, and it seems right to do this. I hope that something feels wrong here. And I hope that it feels wrong because you know what Jesus taught.
If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him. Luke 17
Well, that seems pretty clear. And it doesn't sound like Jesus meant us to forgive just the easy cases. Jesus commands us to forgive.

So, should we forgive because we're commanded to? Well, yes, but… If you leave it at that, you won't be able to do it. You won't be able to forgive, not really. When Christian living is just a matter of obeying commands, we may do the right thing, but our hearts won't be engaged. We won't mean it. Our behavior will look fine, but our hearts will hoard all sorts of evil. And that's what the Pharisees were about.

So, you need more than just a rule to motivate you to forgive. And that leads to this. You need to love the other person - yes, that person who sinned so horribly against you. You need to love that person. To love someone is to act for that person's good. And what your offender needs, the good that you can do for him, is to grant your forgiveness. He is the neighbor Jesus calls you to love.

Now, you need to be careful here. None of this means that you are supposed to minimize the evil that that person did against you. Absolutely not! To do that would be to lie. What he did was horrible. Forgiveness is not about sweeping it all under the rug. It's not about acting as if it didn't happen. It did happen, and it caused great hurt. The second thing is that granting forgiveness doesn't mean that the relationship that you had with this person is sort of reset so that it's all just like it was before he sinned against you. No. Damage was done, and it needs to be recognized as such. And part of that is the two of you working through all the hurt. Asking for and granting forgiveness isn't trying to make believe nothing happened. Forgiveness is recognizing that something really did happen. But it's also promising that the offence that occurred isn't going to be an obstacle in the relationship so that you can work through all of that hurt.

So, forgiveness is both of you acknowledging the evil that occurred as well as the forgiver promising the forgiven that that evil will be put aside, though not forgotten, so that a healthy relationship can be restored.

How is it possible for any of us to forgive like this, especially when it has to do with 'unforgivable' offenses? Consider this:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4
God forgives our 'unforgivable' offenses. He does that because He loves us. In doing this He does not minimize the evil of our sin, but He does want to work through the damage from that sin. He wants to restore the relationship. So, He promises that the evil we did won't be an obstacle between us. He forgives our sin.

It's as the Spirit impresses the grace of this forgiveness upon our souls that we find ourselves forgiving others. We work at forgiving others because we understand better what it means that we have been forgiven. 

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