Tuesday, August 23, 2011

5.3.2009 Forgiven

Being married, and being in ministry, the issue of forgiveness comes up quite frequently.  Some big questions I wrestle with are -
  • can you truly forgive someone if they have (a) not acknowledged that they have wronged you and/or (b) if they have not asked you to forgive them?
  • what is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation?  can you have one without the other?
  • can you forgive someone but still expect punishment/retribution/justice for the wrong they have committed? 
As I mentioned in my last post, I find it relatively easy to forgive and forget.  I would like to think that this is because I am a "good Christian" but honestly, it's more selfishly motivated.  Holding a grudge hurts me much more than it affects the one who wronged me, especially if that person isn't aware or hasn't admitted to doing so (which seems to be the case most of the time).  By continually reliving the hurt they've caused me, I am choosing to live in my pain, to wallow in discontentment, and to fester disappointment.  That's the kind of stuff that can kill a marriage, or a friendship, or a partnership, so I'm not wasting my time on it.

This means, therefore, that I believe it is possible to truly forgive someone even if they have not admitted their misconduct or asked for your forgiveness.  Forgiveness is letting go of your right to stay mad.  Forgiveness squeezes out the venom of bitterness so that the wound can be healed in your heart. 

Because forgiving does not always lead to reconciling, or, more accurately, to restoring.  Sometimes a destructive act makes it impossible to trust again.  Sometimes, the person does not change their behavior or it is dangerous to continue in relationship.  Sometimes, the person who hurt us has died before we could make amends.  In these cases, the situation is left unresolved but the forgiveness can still take place.  However, I firmly believe that whenever the offending party has admitted their wrong, has demonstrated resolve to change, and has sought forgiveness, it is the responsibility of the 'victim' to pursue reconciliation and restoration.  Yes, I really do mean that.

And, even in the best of cases, there are still consequences for our actions.  Trust takes infinitely longer to regain than the moment it took to lose.  I can forgive an injustice but I won't soon give you the authority or opportunity to repeat such a crime.  I can commit to restoring a relationship while living in the aftermath of an affair. 

The important point, to me, is that I don't always (perhaps, ever?) have the ability to enforce justice for what has been done against me.  Of course, I can end a partnership, walk away from my marriage, ignore my friend - but I suffer from that, too.  Retaliation is not a clear response.  And if I truly want to heal, to be at peace, with what has happened, then rather than escape the situation or inflict punishment on my offender, I actually must press into the circumstance, the relationship, the reality, and find forgiveness.

Because, after all, I have done my share of wounding.  It is easy to think that I haven't gone as far or hurt as deep as what has been done to me, but it's a matter of perception.  Pain is real to the one experiencing it, and I cannot judge the spectrum of my hurt compared to that of another.  If I truly knew, day to day, the ways I've disappointed my friends, failed my family, been insensitive to the needy -- if I could only see the extent of the harm I inflict on the world, then I would clearly see my need for forgiveness.

The one who has been forgiven much, loves much.

I have been forgiven.  This, then, is my power, my responsibility, my privilege, to forgive.      

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