Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘what is forgiveness’

The Gospel of Relationships: Recovery

FORGIVEN

Whenever a relationship is damaged or derailed by conflict, reconciliation is always one’s hope.  Unfortunately, reconciliation is not always possible, but forgiveness is.  You can instantly forgive someone who has offended you- simply by practicing some empathy and grace.  Jesus didn’t wait for his tormentors to apologize; rather, he forgave them as he hung there on the cross. However, the journey to reconciliation looks something like this:

1. Confession: the offender acknowledges that a wrong has occurred.  He may attempt to explain why it happened or even why he intended no harm. Neverthe- less, he must be clear that he understands a sin has been committed or a problem has been created.  You cannot actually work on an offense that is hypothetical: “if I hurt you” or ” that you misunderstood.”

2. Repentance is more substantial than an apology, more radical than remorse.  When an offender repents of a wrong he has inflicted on a friend or loved one, he accepts responsibility and makes personal changes. Too often, an apology is offered simply to make the wrong-doer feel better.  “I’m sorry” is neither magical nor biblical. Change is the only appropriate response to behavior that has wronged or wounded another human being.

3. Restitution is the act of repaying the person I have injured.  If I damage your car, I repair it.  If I communicate something false and harmful about you, I go to the people I have told and correct the impression I gave.  Sometimes, it is impossible to repay the damage that has been done.  Once in a while, the person who has been wronged may choose to overlook the damages and move forward.  However, overlooking the damage is the choice of the person who has been injured not the person who committed the offense.  What’s more, part of the act of repayment requires the offender to wait patiently for the loved one to recover emotionally.  A repentant heart is never capable of saying, “Enough already, it’s time to move on!:”

4. Re-commitment happens when both parties are willing to make the adjustments to continue a relationship.  As you can imagine, completely recovering a broken relationship may not always be healthy or advisable.  If your friend and investment counselor embezzles your life savings, you should forgive him but you are not required to invest with him again.  If an angry spouse loses control and injures a child, the offended spouse may eventually forgive the behavior, but may never allow the other parent to be in the house with the kids again.  Re-commitment often requires a judgment call: would it be safe, healthy or prudent to restore the old ties completely?  But if it’s workable, both parties must calmly embrace the changes in attitude and action that will be required to move forward together again.

5. Reconciliation is the restoration of the former relationship.  It means the husband and wife are together again.  It means the friends are able to spend quality time together again.  It means the co-workers are able to cooperate again.  But it does not mean the offense is utterly forgotten.  Indeed, recalling what has transpired in the past is a reminder of why this relationship is so valuable; that is is worth some pain to retain this personal bond.  The past offense must not be invoked constantly or held over the other person’s head, but it may never been completely mentally erased.  God promises to do that but most humans can’t.

Reconciliation is a wonderful gift.  It can make relationships stronger than before.  It can teach insecure human beings to trust and to make allowance for the sins of others.  It is not always possible, but for people of God, it is always the goal that has been set before us.

Lift up the Cross!

The Gospel of Relationships: Reconciliation

PRODIGAL SON 05

There is a big, big difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.  Most people don’t understand this.  What’s more, this confusion explains why so many intelligent people have so much trouble forgiving people who hurt them.

As we have explained in the past, forgiveness is the act of intentionally letting go of a grudge or offense, and refusing to roast the offender over the flames of resentment deep in your heart for years to come.  Forgiveness does not wait for the offender to repent. The Lord Jesus Christ forgave the people who conspired to crucify him even as they mocked him from the safety of the mob.  Forgiveness is something I do for God and myself: refusing to waste even an ounce of my creative energies keeping someone locked in a dungeon in my mind.  I don’t have to forget the offense or pretend it doesn’t matter: I simply give up my right to feel like a victim with a grudge simmering on the back burner.

In sharp contrast, reconciliation goes far beyond forgiveness.  That’s why it requires repentance and genuine change.  To be reconciled is to restore the offender to the place he or she held previously in my life.  It means to welcome the offending spouse back home; to return to family gatherings with siblings who once excluded me; to relax and enjoy a friendship with someone who once said something unkind about me.

Here’s how the pieces fit together:  if my investment banker squanders the funds I have entrusted to his care, it would be good for me to forgive and refuse to hate.  I would still be able to testify against him and allow a jury to convict him. If he is sentenced to prison, it will protect others.  And even if he never goes to prison, I would be under no scriptural obligation to entrust my funds to him again.  Forgiveness does not require injustice or recklessness.  If the investment banker was also a good friend of mine as well, reconciliation would require that I restore him as a friend- not as my banker!

The familiar story of the prodigal son, in Luke 15, is about forgiveness, but true reconciliation is not possible even in the parable.  Granted, the father has already forgiven the lad by the time he returns home; and the repentant young man does indeed receive a cordial welcome.  But don’t miss an important fact: he can never again be an heir.  As observed in Luke 15:31, he has already squandered his share of the inheritance.  What remains belongs to the older brother.

Reconciliation must restore the original relationship; hence, it’s not always possible. Forgiveness means only that I refuse to play the victim any longer; that I release all my rage and resentment against someone who has behaved badly. Forgiveness is good for my blood pressure and for my spiritual health: it frees God to continue forgiving me.

Next time, we’ll look at the steps to reconciliation.  In the meantime, lift up the cross!

The Gospel of Relationships: Forgiveness

FORGIVENESS

Facebook, Twitter and text-messaging are not the biggest threat to personal, face-to-face relationships in the 21st Century.  Granted, social media are surely artificial and distracting, but the larger problem Americans face in regard to love and friendship is ignorance.  We have met the enemy, and it is us.  Here in the USA in 2014 we are painfully uneducated in the most basic laws of relationship.

For instance, many Americans seem to think that forgiveness means doing a favor for someone who has wronged you.  In fact, forgiving someone who has offended you is mostly about doing yourself a favor- especially when you have no authority in the matter, and the offender is blissfully unaware of what’s going on in your mind. Angry people tend to forget that our rage is not magically transmitted over the miles to people who have hurt us in the past.  I may be stewing over past injuries every day, but that callous cad who hurt me is most likely moving forward with his destructive life. Revenge by mental telepathy is the stuff of voodoo and legend.  In real life, concentrating that intensely on someone you hate just creates headaches, high blood pressure, misery and stress for you and your inner circle- no one else.

In this age of tolerance, we quite commonly assume that forgiving someone who has hurt you requires that you excuse bad behavior.  That’s not true, either.  You can forgive someone even as you believe his behavior was negligent, criminal, or profoundly evil.  You can forgive someone who committed a crime against you even as the state presses forward with prosecution.  To forgive someone is not to absolve him of wrong doing.

Simply put, forgiveness is the act of releasing an offender from the dungeon of your heart.  When I forgive someone, I choose to let go of my anger and my desire for revenge, which may well be eating me alive, and leave that person’s fate in the hands of God or others.  Maintaining and feeding this grudge is stealing my joy and damaging my faith in God.  In fact, it keeps me mentally tied to a painful chapter in my life I should have closed many years ago. Forgiveness breaks the chains of bitterness which trap you in the past. It strips off the blindfold of rage and allows you to finally see the possibilities in your life today. You’d be surprised how many adults continue to nurture toxic emotions for parents who abandoned them as children, taking some small comfort in the fact that a negative relationship is better than none at all. In fact, there is no relationship, and accepting the reality would be much healthier.

One final thought: forgiveness does not demand reconciliation.  Jesus forgave the people who ordered his crucifixion.  We have no evidence that very many of those angry souls were ever reconciled to Christ.  That’s a different law of relationship, and we’ll consider that in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, let’s embody the Gospel: Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

And lift up the Cross!

Take No Captives

MESSAGE IN THE SKY

Sunday’s sermon was all about forgiveness and reconciliation.  As followers of Christ, you and I are under orders to forgive first- even before the people who have offended us apologize.  In scripture, Jesus prays that the Father will forgive the people killing him and the others mocking him even though the murder and mayhem are still underway, and no one has said “I’m sorry.”  It may be proper etiquette to wait for an apology, but it’s not Christ-like.  Forgiveness is our default setting.

Saints offer grace because it was extended to us first.  We forgive first in hopes that the kindness of God will lead others to repentance.  It’s not grace with an asterisk.  It’s not “I forgive you, but…”  Like the father of the prodigal son, we have already applied forgiveness to the offenses of others long before we spot them on the horizon, running in our direction to make peace.  We have forgiven them before they utter a word.  It simply takes too much energy to live with an open wound.

After the sermon was finished, we sang that wonderful lyric from O Great God. The song begins, “O Great God of highest heaven, occupy my lowly heart.”  As we sang those words together, one single, vivid image filled my mind.

I could imagine myself inviting the Christ into my life.  “Come in, Lord, and make yourself at home.”  I could see myself guiding him through the living room, the den, and into the kitchen, even opening the refrigerator door.  Then I would show him the bedrooms and the garage.  And finally, I would take him down into the basement of my heart and show him the dungeon.

“Lord, I have to say how ashamed I am that I ever built a prison here.  But I wanted you to see that I have unlocked the door to this cell, and I have set my captives free. Lord Jesus, please occupy this dark sad place as well, and transform it to a worship center.”  That’s all I could think about on Sunday, and it’s still on my mind today.

Lift up the Cross!

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