extending forgiveness

We’re discussing forgiveness at church this Sunday. I guess forgiveness is the theme one way or another every Sunday, but this week we’re looking at the necessity of extending forgiveness.

Why is it necessary to forgive others?

Being at church, I would expect nothing short of a good ‘ol fashioned Sunday school answer. “Because Jesus forgave me…”

True. But when faced with a hurt, betrayal or wrong that has cut you to your very core, we all know we’re going to need a little oomph behind that Sunday school answer.

So here’s some thoughts on forgiveness…

In “The Art of Forgiving” Lewis B. Smedes describes three stages of forgiving. While everyone’s story and circumstances are different, we all walk through the same basic process.

We rediscover the humanity of the person who hurt us. We filter the image of our villain through the gauze of our wounded memories, and in the process we alter his reality. We shrink him to the size  of what he did to us; he becomes the wrong he did. As we start on the miracle of forgiving, we begin to see our enemy through a cleaner lens. We begin to see the real person, a botched self, no doubt, a hodgepodge of meanness and decency, lies and truths, good and evil that not even the shadows of his soul can wholly hide.

We surrender our right to get even. We want our enemy to suffer, yes, but we also want him to know that he is suffering only because of what he did to us… As we move along a step or two on the path of forgiving, we hold the right to vengeance in our two hands, take one last longing look at it, and let it spill to the ground like a handful of water. With good riddance. But take care. When you give up vengeance, make sure you are not giving up on justice… Vengeance is personal satisfaction. Justice is moral accounting.

We revise our feelings toward the person we forgive. The feeling of good will is likely to be weak and hesitant at the start, and we are almost bound to backslide into malice along the way. But if we feel any stirrings of benevolence inside us, any hint that it will be all right with us if some modest bit of good fortune comes our enemy’s way, we can be sure that we are teamed with God in a modest miracle of healing.

A wise woman once told me, “Forgiveness is the best thing you can do for yourself.”

And she’s right. The act of forgiving is a work inside your heart, no one else’s. It is no small miracle of God stirring your soul, and you deciding to choose it. It’s about healing you, and out of that can sometimes come the healing of others. Forgiveness does not make you weak, it does not negate the hurt nor does it obligate you to go back for more. It does point us to Christ to wholly depend on him to own the pain, to say no to hate and bitterness and to heal. It’s freedom, in a way.

John Eldredge writes in “Wild at Heart“…

“As someone has said, ‘forgiveness is setting a prisoner free and then discovering that prisoner was you’…Now you must understand: Forgiveness is a choice. It is not a feeling, but an act of will. As Neil Anderson has written, ‘Don’t wait to forgive until you feel like forgiving; you will never get there. Feelings take time to heal after the choice to forgive is made.’ We allow God to bring the hurt up from our past…we acknowledge that it hurt, that it mattered, and we choose to extend forgiveness to our father. This is not saying, ‘ It didn’t really matter,’ it’s not saying, ‘I probably deserved part of it anyway.’ Forgiveness says, ‘It was wrong, it mattered, and I release you.’ And we ask God to father us and to tell us our true name.”

The beauty of this forgiving process is that God has done the very same thing with me. He rediscovered my humanity and went to the cross in spite of it. In his mercy, he surrendered his right to get even, and he wishes me well.

“But he, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them; And he often restrained his anger and did not arouse all his wrath. Thus he remembered they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not return.” Psalm 78:38-39

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