January 11 – Forgiveness

January 11 – Forgiveness

Matthew 6:15

“If you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” (Matt. 6:15).

George is puzzled. His older sister, Helen, is still holding him accountable for something he did a half century ago. He doesn’t have the vaguest idea what it could have been, and she won’t tell him. That grudge has totally poisoned the relationship. And she’s considered the more spiritual of the two! Apparently, Helen has decided whatever George did is so grievous an offense that no amount of love can cover it. It’s unforgivable. What a dangerous place to be.

Forgiveness is one of the most significant ways we show love for Christ and for others, and it may be the most difficult thing you are ever asked to do. The term forgive has objective and subjective meanings. The most basic meaning is the idea of letting the guilty party off the hook, not holding him accountable, not making her pay her just dues. That’s the objective meaning of forgiveness. But to forgive also has a subjective nuance. To forgive is to let go of the inner animosity you’ve held. It’s important to identify the meaning we have in mind because one is required of us always, the other only sometimes.

We shouldn’t have animosity toward another person to begin with even if they have wronged us. God doesn’t forgive most people in the sense of pardoning; there must be payment for sin, and His Son made that payment for all of us on the cross. Even so, God doesn’t remit the guilt—forgive in the objective sense. But God never hated the person, felt vindictive, or exulted in the person’s downfall as we sometimes do. We are called to relinquish those ugly inner emotions. However, we may experience innocent emotions that are not so easily dismissed, such as hurt and fear. A woman who has been raped is not expected to feel no pain or fear of her assailant, and certainly she can’t be expected to forget what was done to her, although the ministry of the Spirit can heal the hurt and fear. But letting go of all hatred, all vengeance, all desire for the offender to pay— that we are obligated to do. Always.

I didn’t. I was the object of a five-year attack by a member of the board to which I was responsible. It was unjust and carried out in a sneaky way, but when the matter was resolved, my cause vindicated before all, I never sought revenge. In fact, I didn’t even hold it against Sal.[1] After all, he felt he was being faithful, standing for the right. That’s the problem with church fights: both sides feel they’re serving God in what they do. I recognized that and forgave in both senses—didn’t try to hold him accountable, didn’t hold animosity against him. Or did I? Several years passed. I was reading of Christ’s plea for His Father to forgive those who crucified Him, and Sal came to mind. I’d forgiven him as best I knew how, but would I ask God to forgive him? “No, Lord,” I objected, “I won’t hold him accountable, but don’t You let him off the hook. You’re for justice, right? He needs to get straightened out before someone else gets hurt.” I wrestled with God until finally I admitted my forgiveness hadn’t reached the deepest level if I were to be like Jesus. So I prayed, “It’s OK, Lord, You can let him off. To his own master he stands or falls. I trust You to do right, and I trust You to take care of the outcome.” At last, I’d forgiven. That’s the subjective sense of the word, the kind of forgiveness that’s always required of me.

Are you holding on to resentment? Who do you resent today? Confess your unwillingness to forgive and ask God to help you relinquish any animosity or desire for retribution.

[1] Of course this story is changed. Forgiveness not vengeance is our goal in growth here.

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