Forgiveness

 Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…

This is the part of the Lord’s prayer that I struggle with most. What exactly is forgiveness? I am not talking about God’s forgiveness towards man. That is Divine. I am talking about forgiveness on a human level, between people, specifically, friend to friend, or is it foe?

I am told, “you have to forgive, or else God will not forgive you. It is the Christian thing to do.”

I have read what it is not: forgiveness is not reconciliation, forgiveness is not forgetting, forgiveness is not excusing the other, etc.

I have also read what it is: (1) “Forgiveness is a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”[1] (2) “Forgiveness requires nothing from the person we’re forgiving. They don’t even have to know we are forgiving them”[2]. Basically, forgiveness is for your own good, it is unilateral.

It all sounds good in theory, but why is it that after I thought I have released this person in my heart, this niggling feeling keeps coming back and I am left stewing in the hurt? Just like a mouse on a wheel, around and around it goes, and yet doesn’t go anywhere. This idea of forgiveness being unilateral just does not work for me. What’s the point of me forgiving the wrongdoer in my heart if that wrongdoer does not want to acknowledge his fault? What good does unilateral forgiveness do for the wrongdoer? It is like talking to the air.

I was struggling with this issue for some time. Then “M” (Mediator) stepped in. M knows both me and the other person, “O” (Other) and the problems between us. M found the time to speak to both of us. Through much conversation, counsel and prayer, both O and I finally met and had a heart-to-heart talk. Was there forgiveness? Yes. Forgiveness was offered. O apologised, all with M’s help.

Forgiveness and repentance go together. To bridge this chasm between me and O, both of us needed a mediator/counsellor. I needed to process the events leading to the friction with an independent third party (“M”) to see the matter from O’s point of view. And to consider whether my assessment of the matter was true and fair, how to move on, and how to protect myself in the future. O needed M to advise, diffuse the conflict and mediate. We both needed M to assist in the process of forgiveness, acknowledgment of misunderstandings and repentance. The friendship is being rebuilt, brick by brick. Old shaky/false preconceptions and expectations will have to be dismantled to make way for the new, based on truth.

The Gospel of Jesus is a gospel of forgiveness but on the other hand it is also a gospel of repentance. Jesus is the perfect example of a mediator. On the cross, Jesus pleaded with the Father to forgive us, for we, who are sinners, do not know what we are doing[3]. Yet, His mission was also a call for sinners to repentance[4] toward God.

As I was nursing my pain, I imagined Jesus asking me, “Tammy could you try to forgive O? She doesn’t know what she is doing.” Could I say “no” to the Lord? Yet it also cooled my spirit to know that Jesus was also not letting O off the hook. He was also calling O to repentance. In real terms, M was standing in the shoes of Jesus as she spoke to both me and O with the same voice of Love.

However, life is not so simple. Human relationships are complex. What if the wrongdoer says that he has done no wrong to the victim? “I have done no wrong, I am right and justified. You deserve it,” the perpetrator cries. His heart is hard and unrelenting.  There is no repentance. Then, perhaps there is no necessity for forgiveness[5] for the perpetrator. Forgiveness in the form of acceptance, letting go and moving on, is unilateral for the victim. The matter vis-à-vis the victim and perpetrator, could be resolved by law. The inner hurt and pain, released to God, with the help of others.

Forgiveness means different things to different people. Some people may say they have forgiven but if the name of the wrongdoer is ever mentioned, or some situation brought up, something inside is triggered and all the raw negative emotions of anger, guilt, self-pity, remorse, indignation come spewing out; together with demands for an apology which is not forthcoming. The hurt and pain is real. Forgiveness takes time. We all need God’s grace and intervention, help from a pastor, friends, family, a mediator. Perhaps, the source of the angst could be linked to physical and psychological illness. There is no shame in seeking professional help.

Some other brave souls, by God’s grace, have learned the power of forgiveness and how to let go and move on. Like one sister shared with me, other people’s responses are beyond her control, she can only control herself. For her, forgiveness is unilateral – the wrongdoers have not yet come to their senses to see the hurt they have caused her and her loved ones. Forgiveness is offered freely from her heart, liberating and setting herself free. Yet, she still prays and carries the hope for repentance, restoration and reconciliation for everyone affected.

Forgiveness and repentance are like a fruit on a life-giving tree: two sides of the same fruit hanging on a branch of love. This life-giving tree has truth and justice as its roots. Without truth and justice, this tree has no roots, it cannot grow. It will simply collapse. Mercy waters this life-giving tree, this tree-of-life. Mercy comes from heavenly showers (a Divine gift of Grace) and irrigates human hearts. The world is to be blessed through human hearts.


[1] Greater Good Magazine

[2] Knowing Jesus Ministry

[3] Luke 23:34

[4] Luke 5:32

[5] Since God withholds forgiveness, can we? GotQuestions.org; Should I offer forgiveness without repentance. Question.org

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