Some injuries are hardly noticeable, and forgiving them is barely an issue. Others go so deep our soul doesn’t know how to even begin processing the pain, the grief, and the rage. It’s this latter that is the costly kind. Jesus both made the way for us and placed the requirement and glory of forgiveness on us when, on the cross, he spoke the words, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”
What does such forgiveness look like? How do we walk it out in a way that is real and realistic? I think it starts with a single decision that initiates a long series of similar decisions, acts of the will that in time sink into the emotions. That first decision might be worded something like this: “If it were in my power to send that person to hell, I would not do so.” That may be about the best we can do to begin with, but it is enough for God to work with, and we place it in his hands. We tell our Father, “I choose to forgive this person. I feel nothing but anger and the desire to make him (her) hurt the way he’s hurt me. But I am more than my feelings; I am your child, and hatred and bitterness are not my heritage. Love and freedom are, and I will walk in your heart–for I myself am loved by you.”
We make this choice again, and again, and again, as often as is necessary, through the days, and weeks, and months, and quite possibly the years. We talk to God about it. He is in it with us, and he is pleased with us that we choose his character over fleshly vindictiveness, which seeks to draw us into its perpetual black hole. There is no peace in that hole.
But forgiveness–that becomes a trysting place where we meet with the One who knows and loves and esteems us beyond what we can imagine. And in his presence comes “the peace that passes understanding.”
Forgiveness of deep injustices is not easy and it is not quick. Many Christians will be quick to tell us that we need to forgive, as if they’re revealing some great wisdom we don’t already know. Ignore these advice givers; they know the formula but not the answer. What we need isn’t glib advice; it’s wise friends who will walk with us in the Spirit of our Lord as we pay the cost of forgiveness. Encouraged and strengthened by such true, godly confidants, we struggle and pray through toward the day when our anger gives way to seeing the person who wounded us with different eyes, and the seeing ushers in compassion, and the compassion brings release for our soul.
What Forgiveness Is Not
Now, here is what forgiveness does NOT look like: It is not something that requires us to place ourselves back within striking distance of the person who hurt us.
It is good to forgive the dog that bit us; it is foolish to try to pet him. It is we who have changed, not the dog, and forgiveness is not naivete. There is no need for us to get bit again.
But what if the person who treated us wickedly really has changed? After all, God does transform hearts.
Very true. Real change will show in that person’s willingness to earn our trust over time. He (she) will not insist that we trust him, and he will not use forgiveness or our walk with God to manipulate us. Rather, he will demonstrate humility and a respect for where we are at, and understand that restoration of relationship is a great gift, not a cheap trinket that we must supply on demand. We are not so obligated.
Forgiveness is a change that occurs in us.
Restoration requires a change in the other person.