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Forgiveness is Hard, but Essentialby Duane Mabee on January 18, 2023
Jesus taught us to ask God to forgive us in the same way we forgive other people. But what does it mean to forgive? Forgiving will always be hard, but sometimes our understanding of what it means to forgive makes it impossible.
Some think forgiving means forgetting the offense and acting like nothing ever happened. That isn’t humanly possible. We cannot erase evil treatment from our minds, nor would it be wise or safe to do so. Some think of forgiveness as automatically restoring the relationship to what it was prior to the offense. Again, that is an unreasonable expectation. Forgiveness opens the door to restoration, but it doesn’t automatically grant it.
Forgiveness means to voluntarily set the offender free from the debt they owe you. It is to give up the right to revenge.
Jesus taught that sin creates a debt to the one sinned against. That’s why He taught us to pray, "forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors”. That sin creates a debt is easy to understand in the financial realm. If someone steals your laptop, they create a debt to you for the amount of the laptop and its contents. You have a legal right to expect restoration. However, if you forgive them, you cancel your right to make them pay. The debt, however, doesn’t magically evaporate. You are still out the amount of the laptop and its contents. The same thing is true in every other area of sin, though it’s not as obvious. If someone steals your reputation, you don’t get it back just because you forgive. Forgiveness can be very expensive to the forgiver.
Forgiveness also must be given voluntarily. No one ever deserves to be forgiven and no one can demand forgiveness. It must be voluntarily offered by the offended party. Those who intentionally sin against someone saying “they’ll just have to forgive me” show that they don’t understand forgiveness and they are not repentant.
So why forgive? Because Jesus forgave you of much more than you will ever be required to forgive. Forgiveness always flows out of an understanding of our own need for forgiveness and our reception of forgiveness. We forgive because it pleases God when we act toward others the way He acted toward us. We should also forgive because it sets us and the offender free. Until we forgive, we are trapped in bitterness and a desire for revenge. Finally, we forgive because it opens us up to a deeper relationship with Jesus. Unforgiveness blocks our experience of His love and separates us from Him.
Forgiving is hard – very hard – but it is absolutely essential.