How does forgiveness work in a world where people do dreadful things to one another? What causes some people to forgive so easily while others find it virtually impossible?
This is a complex subject but I think these principles are vital to the process.
- Forgiveness received
The Christian life begins when we seek and receive forgiveness from Jesus Christ. Though we may come to God with a great sense of need or a small sense of need the fact is that we are being forgiven for sin so deep and wide and high and long that it was sufficient to cause Christ to die.The longer we go on in the Christian life the more we realise that the forgiveness we have received from Jesus Christ is beyond measure (Matt 18:23-25).
- Injuries – great and small
Though some things that happen to us are small – like being spoken to unkindly – there are things that people experience that are profoundly damaging. Think of the child who is dreadfully abused or the person who is betrayed or who watches their family suffer at the hands of evil men. Think of the person who is unjustly imprisoned, cruelly treated and finally misrepresented. The list of evils done to people is beyond comprehension.Nevertheless the Lord Jesus Christ calls on His people to forgive “as the Lord forgave you” – in fact “If you do not forgive…your Father will not forgive’ (Col 3:13, Matt 6:15). How can we do this?
- Willing – yes and no
It is vital that we who have been sinned against (or who have a grievance deserved or undeserved against someone) say to God “your will be done”.We must begin by saying to the Lord that we are willing to forgive or at least willing to be made willing (Phil 2:13). Any Christian who decides that forgiveness is out of the question has set themselves against the God of mercy.
God is perfectly able and willing to give us the grace to be willing – and eventually – to be forgiving. He provides what He asks.
- Deciding – now and forever
It may be a process to forgive (prayer for help, wisdom to express, time for action, resolve to move on) but the Christian must go forward. It is essential if we are to honour God, repair fellowship /friendship, free our hearts, that we decide this is what we will do. We need to address ourselves remembering we have been forgiven much and that to forgive another is pleasing to God, helpful to witness and the answer to bitterness in ourselves.There comes a moment when we say “I can’t go backwards and I can’t go sideways and I can’t mark time – I am going to act as a merciful person”.
- Relationship – yes and no
Maybe the forgiveness will begin with a conversation or a card – full and free. Then it will follow with behaviour that does not keep punishing the person who has sinned against us.But there is no guarantee that the person will apologise properly, want fellowship, accept responsibility or agree to reconciliation. Never mind – you have done your part (Romans 12:18) and you have honoured your Saviour. You who have received mercy have been merciful.
I know that this subject has a thousand complexities and we find ourselves still struggling with people and ourselves. But the prayer to God “your will be done” is worth more than every alternative.
Yours in fellowship,