Faith: Choose forgiveness to set yourself free
C.S. Lewis observed, “Forgiveness is a beautiful word, until you have something to forgive.”
How true is that statement? The issue of forgiveness touches each of us every day. Occasionally, it’s a major crisis that forces us to choose between forgiveness and unforgiveness (i.e. an unfaithful spouse, an unwanted divorce, an unfair termination from your job, sexual abuse you experienced as a child, a slanderous rumor that has cost you your reputation). But most of the time it is lesser offenses that we must deal with (i.e. being overlooked by a friend, a fight with our spouse).
Regardless of the size of the offense, forgiveness is not usually the preferred response. One of the reasons people have a hard time forgiving is they don’t understand what forgiveness is and what it isn’t.
A survey by Barna Research Group conducted clearly illustrates the depth of misunderstanding that surrounds the subject of forgiveness.
How would you respond to the following questions from the survey? Rate each statement as an “accurate” or an “inaccurate” description of forgiveness.
- You cannot honestly forgive someone unless that person shows some remorse for what they did. (62% agreed)
- If you really forgive someone, you would want that person to be released from the consequences of their actions. (60% agreed)
- If you genuinely forgive someone, you should rebuild your relationship with that person. (73% agreed)
The biblical perspective is that each of these statements is wrong. A failure to understand the true nature of forgiveness leads to prolonged bitterness, illegitimate fears and unnecessary guilt, and prevents us from receiving and granting life’s most important gift.
Another reason we can’t forgive many times is not that we can’t forgive, it’s that we think we shouldn’t have to forgive! After all, if we are the victim, why should we have to do something that is uncomfortable for us? Why should our offender be allowed to get off scot-free?
Many people believe that by forgiving, we are denying the severity of an offense — like saying that what our offender did wrong doesn’t really matter. Now, even those same people would probably agree that some offenses are so petty we should overlook them — a forgotten birthday, an interrupted sentence, an unreturned phone call.
But what about major offenses? They shouldn’t be overlooked, should they? Is it possible to even treat every offense the same way?
It isn’t humanly comprehensible that something as serious as childhood sexual abuse could be compared to something as trivial as a sarcastic remark from a coworker. How could God possibly expect us to treat them the same?
Forgiveness does not trivialize our pain, it allows us a beginning place to start healing from our pain.
There are four reasons why we think we shouldn’t forgive:
1. Forgiveness denies the seriousness of sin.
2. Forgiveness lets people off the hook too easily.
3. Forgiveness places too much responsibility on the victim.
4. Forgiveness is unfair.
I wish I had time to breakdown each one of the reasons why we think we shouldn’t have to forgive, but here are four reasons why we should forgive:
1. Forgiveness is often the only way to settle a debt.
2. Forgiveness frees us to get on with our life and begin to heal.
3. Forgiveness is an antidote to needless suffering.
4. Forgiveness will grant us forgiveness from our savior.
With every offense comes a choice. We can hold on to it and become bitter, or we can release it and become better.
Forgiveness is one of the hardest choices you will have to make in this life, but it will be the choice that either sets you free or keeps you bound. Choose forgiveness today.
Tony Bohrer is the pastor at Lighthouse of Craig.
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