To Forgive And Forget
By Eli Stutzman
March 1, 2008
Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.
-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952
When the Nickel Mines schoolhouse shooting occurred last year, there was a lot of talk about the quickness of the Lancaster Amish to forgive. Forgiving quickly is much better than taking a lot of time.
Matthew 5:25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
I wish I could say that it always happens that way among us. But if the perpetrator stays among us and the law has let him off, the whole scenario changes. We feel uneasy whenever we meet with him. Eye contact is avoided. To be honest, we are a little afraid of him. Will he do it again? Is it wise to pretend it never happened? But we know that we need to forgive!
When we are wronged, very often a trust is broken. We can extend a certain amount of trust to strangers whom we have never met. But when trust between friends is broken, it takes a lot more effort to restore that trust than even a stranger needs to work at. Nobody has an obligation to forgive immediately, but according to scripture, you cling to your rights at your own peril when you choose not to forgive.
Matthew 6:14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
And you cannot make someone trust another person by simply ordering it done. Rebuilding trust always takes time and effort, sometimes more time than people are willing to invest. Furthermore, it is quite possible that trust will never be as full as it was before. Therefore, trust and forgiveness are separate issues. To trust someone after they have hurt you without a proper and heartfelt confession and apology plus a way to prevent a reoccurrence is to enable them to offend again. That would increase the hurt to an unbearable level. Yes, I can forgive but I can't possibly allow it to happen again. Forgiveness does not always restore full relationship instantly. You will have to earn it.
When we are wronged, we are owed something. Like a debt, we have the right to collect. When we feel pain inflicted by another person, either in body or in soul, we have a right to justice. It is only natural to want the other person to feel what we have felt. This impulse is called revenge. The outcome is often more revenge and hatred of each other. In all the stories from the Old Testament forgiveness is rare. But we who are Christians live in the days of the New Testament. Forgiveness is a concept that was not well known in the Old testament times. It was an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth under the Law of Moses. That is what we call justice. Do you want justice or mercy? If I want mercy to continue to be extended to me, then I need to extend mercy.
It is obvious that all forgiveness is not the same. True forgiveness says there has to be a confession of wronging. Admitting under pressure that you are guilty is not the same as confession. It is admission and nothing more. However, that is often all that you will get. In such a case we have to move on and forgive to the point where we won't poison our own souls. Carrying a grudge will not only harm the mind, but our bodies can suffer as well.
See JAMES 5:14, 15, 16 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
I have heard of incidents where prayer for healing of the body did not take place until forgiveness was given to someone else. This kind of forgiveness involves a choice to not seek revenge or redress any more. It does not under any circumstances mean we forget. It is simply choosing to not live in the attitude of bitterness. Sometimes the other party has died and we cannot involve them at all.
So what happens when we forgive someone who hasn't properly asked? Remember, carrying the right to redress is like a weight around your neck and you have the other person on a hook. When we hand our debtors over to God, it's kind of like handing off a debt to a collection agency. That may not be the best example, but the idea is that someone else is going to do the collecting. The debtor does not owe you now, but owes his debt to the Lord. Should God decide to collect, then we are free of the task. If God chooses to instead forgive the person, He is able to deal with any consequences.
The highest form of forgiveness is when the guilty party chooses to take full ownership of the pain and reaches out and offers more than you asked for. To take ownership is to say to something the effect "It's not your fault at all, the hurt you felt was caused by me and I am truly sorry". It includes an attempt to restore a relationship with you. It places value on your feelings and person. Lame statements such as "If I hurt you, I am sorry" at this time won't help. The hurt party has already said that they were offended and that statement questions whether they were really hurt or are pretending. That will never restore a relationship. Only truly caring for another person's feelings will get the job done. Whether we admit it or not, feelings drive us all. God made us that way.
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