Can We Forgive?
We have at least one thing in common: we’ve all failed someone. And each of us also knows the pain from someone’s failure toward us. In a world characterized by this kind of personal hurt, even our most significant relationships are fragile. All relationships would eventually disintegrate if not for one healing and hard reality: we are called to be people who forgive and who in turn receive forgiveness (Matt 6:14-15). If we sincerely desire a close walk with God, we already embrace the concept of forgiveness. We know that forgiveness is always the best plan--until the one who needs to do the hard forgiving is me.
Unfortunately, there are no easy steps to forgiveness. But we can be confident that what God directs us to do, He also provides the strength to accomplish. Consider the following Biblical principles when we are ready take the freeing steps of forgiveness.
First, consider God’s example. In Ephesians 4:32 Paul writes, “forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” The word “as” means that we should handle forgiveness the way God does. How has He handled forgiveness? Christ’s forgiveness is abundantly generous. He forgives willingly, leaving us free of guilt. It is not something we deserve or earn. God just gives abundantly! Out of these great riches, God asks us to share the grace He has given us with those who have failed us. That sounds really good, but how do we do it?
Next, we must realize that forgiveness is risky business. The person we forgive might fail us again … and again – perhaps even in the same area. How many times should we forgive someone? Jesus described this as the “seventy times seven “factor (Matt18:22). He said we should set no limits. Forgiveness according to Jesus is not quantitative but qualitative. It is not how many times but how well. It cannot be measured and cannot be counted. It has but one substance: sweet mercy. It is important for us to realize we have been forgiven. What a terrible price was paid for that forgiveness. What a marvelous attribute of God’s kindness that we have been forgiven. Forgiveness cannot be measured. Guilt, which is its ultimate object, cannot be measured. You can’t measure guilt so that you come up with hyper-guilt or multiplied guilt. Guilt is guilt. My guilt added to your guilt does not make more guilt, it just makes guilt. So it is with forgiveness. Forgiveness is getting rid of the guilt. Extend forgiveness as many times as needed. That is what God does. Can we do any less? Forgiveness is also costly because it is not based on feelings but compassion. It means consciousness plays a role in compassion. It means we consciously say we know we were wronged but we want to forgive the offender, because we have done wrong before. Forgiveness is not related to deservedness but mercy. Prompted by our being forgiven, the forgiven sinner will anxiously await opportunities to emulate his Masters forgiving spirit in forgiving others.
Finally, if we harbor ill-will in our heart, forgiveness gets harder and harder. The a hardened heart leads to a hardened conscience. It says we are not willing to do for others what was done for us, on a smaller basis. An unforgiving person will be lost. If you do not have an attitude of forgiveness then you cannot be forgiven and will not go to Heaven when you die. You will harbor hate when He did not harbor hate against you. Forgiveness is often neglected in lives of Christians.
Though we fail time and again--and are disappointed often by those we love--Christ forgives and restores. Let’s follow His lead.