Reflections On Forgiveness

How is a relationship between two people with wounded hearts, relentless insecurities, and haunting fears sustained in the darkness? It shouldn’t survive. It’s not logical. It’s not smart. And it’s certainly not safe. But neither is grace. And grace is what sustains it.

Forgiveness is a funny thing. It doesn’t take away pain. It doesn’t exchange mourning for happiness. It doesn’t deny wrongs done. It doesn’t make anything easier. But it does bring freedom. Forgiveness, like repentance, must be done continuously, and that’s something that I’ve been learning a lot lately. Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus’ shocking reply is, “Every time” (cf. Matt 18:22). How can forgiveness know no bounds? We can forgive because someone else has paid our debt, and we are free (cf Matt 18:33). We don’t owe anything anymore.

I have been wrestling with what forgiveness is on a human level—what it means, what it does. I want forgiveness to be a one-time deal; I want it to tangibly soothe the pain and clear the slate for good. I want the forgiveness I grant never to grow stale and rancid, but it does. God’s forgiveness is the only kind without an expiration date. My forgiving is only possible when I realize that someone else has paid my debt and that I don’t owe anything. I’ve been radically and completely forgiven. It’s scandalous, and it’s unfair. But it is where the heartbeat of life is found.

I’ve been learning that forgiveness means releasing someone from the obligation of owing you anything. The flesh screams, “I deserve to be repaid!” The Spirit whispers, “Jesus is enough.” The gospel tells me that Jesus is all that I need and that his finished work has secured for me everything that I could never obtain for myself. Forgiveness is only possible if everything needed is already possessed. In Christ, not only are our debts canceled, but we are given all of his riches. We have everything we need. I have everything I need. But unbelief creeps in every day. And the whole of the Christian life is, “I believe; help my unbelief!” As Jesus helps my faith grow–even a little bit–that much more is my forgiving others possible.

Compassion spurs on forgiveness when I am tempted to build up resentment. There are times when the hurt still wells up and I’d like to tell the other person what it feels like. But my hurt is not theirs to bear. And they have their own. There is only One who can bear that weight—and He has borne it totally. When I feel that way, I try to imagine what it would be like to be my offender. To be both the victim of affliction and the culprit of infliction is the vicious bite of the curse. And we are all both. And so when I try to imagine, I feel the tension in my clenched fists begin to fade. I see brokenness, which is no stranger to anyone. I see familiar fear. I see myself. I see an equal need for grace. And I pray: Lord, have mercy on both of us.

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