Earlier this spring I wrote on the difficulty one can face in forgiving others. In the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to forgive us as we forgive the sins of others. Jesus’ parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18: 23-35 sharply contrast the forgiving heart of a king (God) and the unforgiving servant (us?).
Prior to the parable Peter asked Jesus, “If my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Peter probably thought he was being generous with offering seven times. Jesus blows Peter’s generosity out of the water when he responds, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” Forgiveness is not a transaction that one tracks but a lifestyle to embrace.
Still there is much misunderstanding around the concept of forgiveness. I want to highlight three of them.
First, forgiveness does not condone a wrong action as being “okay” or good. If a co-worker steals your idea and takes credit for it, that action is wrong. Forgiving the person does not mean that what the person did is now okay. In fact, it may be necessary to confront the person and tell him or her that you were hurt by the behavior and that your trust is broken. To forgive such an act means that you will not continue to hold a grudge or resentment towards them.
Second, forgiveness does not mean that you will automatically trust the person again. If a coworker has a history of stealing ideas means that you will probably not be sharing new creative ideas with them, even if you forgive them. This is particularly true in family settings where a spouse has been abusive (emotionally, verbally or physically). You may forgive your spouse, but you may also need to separate from your spouse if the behavior has not changed.
Third, forgiveness often requires the spirit of courageous love. I live in Minnesota where we promote a culture of “being nice.” “Minnesota Nice” has many advantages ( who wants to be cooped up over a long winter with argumentative, disrespectful coworkers or family members). However Minnesota Nice can often lead to situations where people are smiling on the outside, but holding all kinds of grudges and resentments on the inside. They often discuss these resentments with everyone but the offending party. Healthy Christians will not let the resentment build and build, but rather acknowledge their internal conflict and confront the issue and/or person as needed.
Such confrontations can be done in love and mercy. The resurrected Jesus confronted Peter after his three denials when they met on the beach in John 21. I remember when a good friend confronted me over some selfish behavior that I once exhibited on a road trip. He made sure to do it in private and to give me space and time to respond.
In my next post I will explore the blessings of forgiveness.
How has forgiveness challenged or changed your life?
Lord Jesus, teach me to forgive as you forgive.