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Wednesday: Forgiveness — 36 Comments

  1. In my lifetime, I have seen too many marriages struggle and fail as love turns to recrimination and bitterness. Among all those marriages, two or three really stand out. I think of one couple I know where one of the partners had been caught in an adulterous relationship. Rather than heading straight for the divorce lawyer, the wronged partner forgave the other and together they rebuilt their trust and love for one another. Of course, the story is much longer than this, but more detail might identify them. Suffice it to say that in a world filled with infidelity and easy divorce, stories of forgiveness and redemption, even among Christians are often in short supply and stand out as examples to the rest of us when they occur.

    For that couple, forgiveness was something to be lived. And for the guilty party, the hardest part was to forgive themselves. True, they could not erase the past and would have to live with the scars for the rest of their lives. But their lives are a testimony that forgiveness works.

    The Lord's Prayer asks for forgiveness in these terms: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. That is tough forgiveness.

    • As a male, I interact with a lot of blokes who grew up trying to be 'tough' through drinking, swearing and fighting hard. In many cases, this has left a trail of wreckage all the way to the jail cell.

      And I often reflect, which is the true expression of 'toughness': losing control of your mouth and yourself and verbally/physically assaulting someone, or exercising self-control; holding a grudge, or giving forgiveness?

      "Tough forgiveness". I like that phrase.


  2. When you think of Jesus talking about forgiving in Matthew 18:21-22:

    "Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
    Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven."

    One may wonder how possible it is and what it is that you could forgive that many times. So, we tend to give a degree of what can be easily forgiven that many times. Then we witness stories in life like what Maurice has shared, of marital reconciliation in such embarrassing and ugly relationship, where adulterous and public humiliation was involved, we are left bewildered. Some stories are just from beyond possibilities, like Alice Mukarinda from Rwanda, who lost her hand and her baby, forgiving the one, Emanuel Ndayisaba, who committed these attrocities and becoming his friend. Stories of forgiveness from Rwanda just let us realize that there is nothing too big or little to forgive, but what does it take? Maybe that's a question we should ask ourselves.

    I don't know, but it may need great willpower to really forgive in such a degree, but I know that this is a key element in reconciliation.

    Prophet Hosea's Story with Gomer, uses him as a living parable depicting the degree of forgiveness that God has offered to humanity. We sin against Him and even desert Him every time, but comes back for us, forgives us and loves us back. Even when we didn't show love for Him; He forgives, and loves us.

    True forgiveness needs us to do the impossible; accepting the faults; coming to terms with a situation; loving your enemy; letting bygones be bygones; resetting the relationship; believing that all will be well; being positive; and moving forward. In theory, this may sound so easy, but that it about reconciliation it is a long fought journey - a lot of giving less taking.

    To be honest, this I personally, have struggled with, but I call on the Lord to give me this rare strength to wholly forgive.

    • Stanley, I suspect that will power is not enough for "that kind of forgiveness."

      I believe it takes an overwhelming sense of God's love and forgiveness towards us that fills us to overflowing with love and forgiveness towards others. I believe nothing else will do.

      What do you think?

      • Totally agree Inge! This is really one of the biggest leaps to do as a human. Without God's power it's unachievable. Needs lots and lots of humility.

        Thanks a lot for that wise directing.

  3. "Forgiveness was in His (God's) heart all the time." I believe this statement to be absolutely true. Forgiveness was in God's heart all the time because it is God's NATURE/CHARACTER to forgive (Ex 34:6,7).

    "...even if they do not deserve forgiveness..." This concept of 'deserving' is potentially problematic each time it arises. It is a human way of looking at and appraising things rather than God's 'higher ways' (Isa 55:9) which make forgiveness and restoration available to all based on grace rather than merit. [NOTE: Whether each person embraces and actually applies that which is offered on the basis of grace is a different matter.]

    If we are talking about forgiveness in the context of the spiritual domain (as per spiritual well-being), then it is grace-based that we are talking about. It would therefore be best to drop use or consideration of the word 'deserved'. We would loose nothing by dropping its consideration/use, but we would stand to gain much from doing so.

    Grace is often described as 'unmerited favour'. But I don't believe grace actually stops to consider/notice merit. Rather, I believe grace just extends favour because that is its inherent nature/character.

    Does this really matter? I believe it does. Matt 10:8 presents the principle of freely giving because we have freely received. There is no implication of assessment of deservedness here. This directly applies to forgiveness - offer it on the basis of grace without consideration of whether or not someone deserves it - because that is the basis upon which God has offered forgiveness to us. This is a more pure form of forgiveness that I believe reflects God's higher ways (Isa 55:9).

    "...Christ has released us from His condemnation." The view that Christ condemns us is at odds with scripture. It is sin that condemns us - not Christ (Rm 6:23; Jn 3:17; Rom 8:31-39). We do not need deliverance from condemnation by Christ/God (because there isn't any), we need remission/deliverance from the condemnation produced by sin (Matt 6:13).

    Adam and Eve, in their 'darkened' state of thinking when they 'fell', mistakenly thought/believed/perceived/assumed that it was God they needed to be afraid of and hide from (Gen 3:10). Instead, it was sin they needed to be concerned about. God did everything He could to try and help Adam see that he had nothing to fear from God because God's focus was to redeem Adam from the terminal condition Adam has just acquired (eg, Gen 3:11,15,21,22).

    But Satan has unfortunately done an effective job deceiving people down through the ages into also thinking/believing that God is the source of condemnation. As a result, like Adam and Eve, Christian's are still mistakenly attempting to have their 'sins' hidden and covered so God supposedly can't see them.

    Note that it was when Adam surrendered his attempts to try and have things hidden and covered - and instead stood 'soul-naked' in God's presence - that redemption was born. Ever since, God has been solely about trying to stop us from the "perishing" caused by sin (Jn 3:16,17; 2 Pet 3:9).

    God's ways are truely are SO much higher than our ways (Isa 55:9). I believe God is inviting us to learn to see beyond our human 'ways', and to instead begin to see that how radically different His glorious ways are! Forgiveness and grace are but two of these ways.

    • Thank you so much for these thoughts, Phil. They provide much food for thought, especially this:

      Grace is often described as 'unmerited favour'. But I don't believe grace actually stops to consider/notice merit. Rather, I believe grace just extends favour because that is its inherent nature/character...

      Does this really matter? I believe it does. Matt 10:8 presents the principle of freely giving because we have freely received. There is no implication of assessment of deservedness here ...

      ... it was when Adam surrendered his attempts to try and have things hidden and covered - and instead stood 'soul-naked' in God's presence - that redemption was born. Ever since, God has been solely about trying to stop us from the "perishing" caused by sin (Jn 3:16,17; 2 Pet 3:9).

      Truly we "see through a glass darkly" and there is much more for us to understand about the character of God.

    • I would agree that God has never offered forgiveness because any have deserved/earned it. God forgives because as sinful creatures made by Him to reflect His image, we NEED it to live, and must perish without it. He's not willing that any should perish, because "God so love(s) the world..."!

      God, by creating anything/everything has always focused on need, not merit. He gives the sun because it is NEEDED for life. The rain meets many NEEDS as it falls on the land and by many streams, returns to the sea, while watering all in it's path, only to become rain again for meeting every need wherever it falls. The air meets the NEED of every creature in whom their life is breath. The productions of the earth meet the need of all who must eat to sustain life.

      Do we forgive others as needed, or do we wait for our forgiveness to be earned? Either way, as we do to others, God must do for us.

      Has anyone considered the great benefit God derives from being forgiving? Doesn't this mean we will benefit as well by being forgiving as He is?

      • "...as we do to others, God must do for us."

        I hear people say this a lot - but no-one explains it in detail.

        Are you suggesting God operates on the tit-for-tat principle? Can you elaborate on what you see as the link between these two phrases is and how it operates?


        • Phil, do you know "the Lord's Prayer"? If so, repeat it once and find your answer. If not, find and read it once and the answer will be there.

          Also, read again the parable of the two debtors.

          I must ask you, who authored the law "eye for an eye..."?

          Do you wish for any "quotes" as well? (some always do, so that's why I ask.)

          • I am familiar with the Lord's Prayer and the parable of the two debtors. My question was whether you could elaborate on what you see as the link between us forgiving (or not) others and God forgiving (or not) us and how it operates? If you don't want to answer that question, that is ok. Just let me know you don't want to answer it.

            Who authored the law an "eye for an eye"? God/Jesus did in the OT - and then updated it in the NT.

            Quotes are optional.


          • (Good morning Phil, sorry for the delay, busy packing a house we have put up for sale, so time is premium at the moment...)

            First, how was "eye for an eye" updated? Was the first installment faulty? Or...was the first installment being misapplied in daily living? Jesus addressed practical daily living, not the judicial application of the just law given to teach the vital point of "reaping what you have sown". Jesus corrected the misapplication, but did not "update" the "law". Had He updated one "jot or tittle" of the law, then He would be proved a liar and suspect for the entire law would He not?

            By being unforgiving, we place ourselves in the position of being unforgivable due to being impenitent. God offers forgiveness which is received on the condition of repentance. Repentance does not EARN forgiveness, but repentance is how we RECEIVE forgiveness. Impenitence is rejection of God's grace.

          • It seems to me, Robert, that "an eye for an eye" was a matter of God adapting his instructions to the level of the people with whom He was dealing. When Christ came to demonstrate the character of God in person, He did, indeed, "update" that law to on that more closely reflects the character of God.

            God deals with us in our weakness and according to our culture. He does not ask more of us than we can handle at the time. At the same time, the Holy Spirit is working with individuals at all times and in all cultures and leading them individually to a better understanding of His character. Some of those who listen and follow will be among the redeemed who have never heard the name of Jesus even while they were saved by His death and His life.

          • Inge, does your understanding conclude that society may no longer serve justice on any convicted of a crime? This principle(eye for an eye), if revoked would naturally remove all judgment against crime wouldn't it?

            The original was for dealing with violations brought for justice to the law by the appointed magistrates, but was not meant to teach individuals to be unforgiving in their daily intercourse with one another. Jesus was teaching the principle of the law that will take place in the sanctified life, yet did not remove justice from society when offenses were committed and guilty parties were brought to the law for justice after no other means of settlement could be found.

            God will never clear the guilty(Ex 34:7) unless they repent and fulfill any restitution required by His law.

            Also, by your explanation, Jesus' statement of "not one jot or tittle" being removed from the law would now be false. Would you agree?

      • No Bob, I have not "considered the great benefit God derives from being forgiving"

        You also write

        Doesn't this mean we will benefit as well by being forgiving as He is?

        You appear to be appealing to the human tendency to get something in return for doing something. I'm not convinced that God operates that way. He offers us grace which we can only accept or reject. In His plan, we do not get by doing something - whether it is forgiving or obeying.

        That's not to say that there is no benefit to being in harmony with God's Law of Love. But forgiving or obeying in order to gain benefit somehow seems to miss the mark of the teachings of Jesus.

        • Inge, do you feel no benefit yourself by being forgiving toward those who offend you? Jesus purchased our forgiveness "for the joy that was set before Him". What does that mean to you?

  4. Absolutely I agree with the principle of forgiveness however in practice it needs to be noted that it does not require us to expose ourselves to physical, mental or emotional harm a second time if it is not possible to restore a relationship.

  5. After 19 years of marriage a husband punched his wife repeatedly in the face in a jealous rage due to a gross misunderstanding. This has never happened before. He is contrite and getting counseling. She's not afraid it will happen again but feels betrayed, disrespected and doesnt know how to forgive him. How do I advise her?

    • You say "she doesn't know how to forgive him?". I think to forgive is a choice we make to let go. There is no method or procedure to follow. She is refusing to let go and this will kill her slowly but surely.She must let go, suffer the pain once and for all and God will heal her wounds.

    • The help for this unfortunate woman lies with the teachings of Jesus.

      While we were sinners, while we were His enemies, God forgave us. This is exampled best by Jesus prayer on behalf of those who were in the act of crucifying Him.

      His parable of the two debtors, one who owed the King ten thousand bags of gold, and the othet one who owed the King's debtor 100 silver coins, toghether with the Lord's Prayer (forgive us as we forgive others) teaches an important lesson. We are to forgive as freely as we ourselves wish to be forgiven. Forgive others as if your life depended on it, because it does.

      Your friend needs to first speak with God and unburden her heart to Him, holding nothing back. Speak to Him of the depth of betrayal, of how in innocence and love and trust was broken. God knows this story well. He has first hand experience with love and trust being repaid with hate and hurt and blame. There is no one on earth who can share with her the grief and sorrow like He can. She is His beloved daughter, and every blow to her He feels as done to Himself.

      Get her to spend time each day in studying the life of Jesus, especially the closing scenes as He willingly took the path to the cross in our place. Study His life of love and kindness, gentleness and mercy, cruelly repaid.

      In doing this she will renew her appreciation of the excessive abundance of Gods love. How freely and how unmerited His love and forgiveness truely is.

      Even more importantly, identify with those that put His son on the cross.

      There is a song that says much of this so very well, and I would but say it badly if I were to paraphrase it, so I include them here:

      How deep the Father's love for us,
      How vast beyond all measure
      That He should give His only Son
      And make a wretch His treasure.

      How great the pain of searing loss.
      The Father turns His face away,
      As wounds which mar the chosen One
      Bring many sons to glory.

      Behold the Man upon the cross.
      My sin upon His shoulder.
      Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
      Call out among the scoffers.

      It was my sin that held Him there
      Until it was accomplished.
      His dying breath has brought me life.
      I know that it is finished.

      I will not boast in anything:
      No gifts, no power, no wisdom,
      But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
      His death and resurrection.

      Why should I gain from His reward?
      I cannot give an answer,
      But this I know with all my heart:
      His wounds have paid my ransom.

      "Ashamed I hear my voice call out among the scoffers." These are words that touch me deeply and reminds me of my true condition, and show the depth of my debt to God.

      It is only when she has truely grasped the width and height and depth of His love that she will be able to start forgiving him for deep and personal hurt. It is His love that that in turn teaches us to love others. It is His love that that cleans our hearts of hurt and anger, that fills our hearts till it overflows to those around us. There is no other way.

      Her husband has obviously accepted his failing and his guilt else he would not be doing his counselling. It is to her that it now falls to strengthen his good steps, encourage him in the good traits that he does possess. These all will help him gain control over his emotions. But most importantly of all, share her faith and love of God with her husband.

      It is only God who can heal and create a new heart within. If she loves her husband she will want to help him, because his actions are counted as if done personally to God himself. God will work with her in this task, for as much as God loves her, He also loves him.

      You may wonder if she is the injured party, why she has to be the one who expends such effort in the reconciliation. It is because she will never be able to truely forgive him, until she has been truely forgiven herself. She has to work hard to lead her husband to the cross too, because it is only there that he will receive the forgiveness that is so desperately needed. It is only there that he will get the lasting cure, which is a new heart.

      Like has been too often mentioned already, forgiving is one thing, forgetting is another. But again in this, there are wonderful words of love written in song which say it better.

      Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.

      For her these are the best words of advice that I can offer. To everyone else who reads these words, please pray for her strength and guidance, and for God to work on her husband's heart as she reaches out to him to rebuild trust, but most importantly, love.

    • Just as an observation; are you sure that you need to advise her. Sometimes words get in the way of compassion. A sympathetic listener is often all the advice that is needed. And a caution: a man, giving advice to a woman in distress is putting himself in a very risky situation.

    • Hi Charles.

      Some important questions if you want to assist (rather than advise) your friend.

      1) Have they reached a point where they actually want to forgive, or where they believe they need to forgive - as opposed to feeling, or perhaps being told, they ‘should’ forgive? It takes time to get to this point and can’t be rushed or it compromises the strength of forgiveness.

      2) If/when they are at this point, then it is vital to know what the specific barrier is that is presently stopping them. This barrier is there for a reason and must be identified and responded to before it will genuinely dissolve. To identify a barrier, invite your friend to answer the question, “what are you frightened/concerned would happen if you were to forgive X?” If they respond that they aren’t frightened/concerned about anything, then ask “what do you feel is standing in the way of forgiving X at the moment? If your friend is open to it, pray with them asking God to reveal what the specific barrier is - and allow sufficient time for this to happen. Sometimes a person will know sooner, and sometimes they need to sit with the question for a while to discover the answer.

      What to offer after that depends upon the person first being ready and genuinely wanting to forgive, and knowing what is currently standing in their way.

      • Phil and to all: Is there a time when forgiveness doesnt mean taking back someone? I'm not speaking specifically to this situation. But if a person refuses to be reconciled(continue in relationship) even though they have genuinely forgiven the person, does this means it's not true forgiveness?

        • Hi Nikki

          Forgiveness and reconciliation are separate matters. Consequently, there are instances where forgiveness does not mean taking back someone. This most typically occurs where the impacts of the offence have been too damaging to the offended one, or where the offender remains an 'unsafe' person.

          Sometimes too there is the necessity of time for healing.

          As to your question regarding whether or not a person has truely forgiven, only God can know that for sure.

          Those are my thoughts... perhaps others have some thoughts too.

  6. The question asked and passages cited leave sinners with much to consider. I have learned personally from certain passages the nature of God's forgiveness. For example: Psalm 103:3,8-11, and Isaiah 43:25. In Ps 103:17,18 and Romans 3:25, 26 there are clear conditions set forth in how to benefit from God's gracious offer of forgiveness toward sinners. Lastly, the standard of our forgiveness by God is ironically set by us, as Jesus teaches in His model prayer(Matt 6:12).

    I think these passages leave us with a clear understanding of God's forgiveness, how we should forgive, and how we may expect to be forgiven.

  7. The one thing that I'm always disappointed in with these lessons, sermons and discussions on forgiveness is that most of the time nobody addresses how to deal with someone who never admits they did anything wrong and continues to repeat the behavior. It's always stated that we are to forgive and be reconciled. So, always continue to be abused because we are required to forgive? Practical application on how to forgive but deal with an unrepentant person just isn't dealt with. The only place I've ever seen good advice on this matter was in the book "The Shack".

    • Hi Debbie

      Sadly, you are correct when you note that it is all to frequently stated within 'church' circles that we are to forgive and be reconciled as a blanket statement. Way too much abuse has been perpetuated within 'church' environments because of the misunderstanding, 'ignorance', reluctance or perhaps even refusal to approach the matter more responsibly. Paul's description of the potential limits to reconciliation in Rom 12:18 is often overlooked. Maybe part of the problem is a concern what people will think if the 'church' were to admit it too has 'dirty linen'.

      Practical application of how to forgive and deal with an unrepentant person:

      1) Forgive them on your part, not because you 'should' or because you 'have to', but because you choose to knowing it is the healthiest thing you can do - hence why Jesus did (Lk 23:34).

      2) Take appropriate steps to deal with the impacts/implications/etc of the offender's behaviour as a separate matter. This is the healthiest thing that can be done for all parties concerned. How to do this depends upon the specifics of the situation, but where - for example - a person is unrepentant about abuse, this can involve taking out restraining orders or pressing charges, etc. The main thing is that offered forgiveness does not wipe out the need for also taking appropriate responses. What these appropriate responses are, again, depends on the particular situation.

      Some might quote Rom 2:4 as a point against enacting appropriate consequences - but that would be a misapplication of the verse based on a misbelief about kindness. Kindness, arising from self-renouncing love, is not about making things easy for another, but of acting in their best interests. It is not in anyone's best interests to, for example, enable an abuser to continue to abuse. KEY POINT: Self-renouncing love avoids inflicting HARM on another, but does not avoid the risk of HURT where hurt is a necessary part of the pathway to non-harm. A simple example/analogy is removing a splinter: Removing the splinter in your child's finger will likely be painful. But if you were to avoid the child experiencing pain (HURT), then you risk infection setting in which can then become systemically toxic to the body - that would be HARM.

      All 'sin' carries inherent consequences - even though some consequences may seem delayed in their manifestation (eg smoking cigarettes, unhealthy eating, watching porn in secret and not getting caught). And the natural tendency of the 'sinful' heart is to want to try and evade those consequences - to 'have one's cake and eat it too'. While this is desired by the 'sinner', it is not in their best interests because it is leading them further and further down a path of 'steal, kill and destroy' (Jn 10:10). This is why even God releases the 'unrepentant' (Rm 1:18,21) to the consequences of their behaviour (Rm 1:24,26,28) in an effort to increase the chances that they will reach a point where they 'wake up' to what they are doing and the impacts that has upon all parties concerned.

      The main point is that forgiveness and reconciliation are two distinct matters and should not automatically be lumped in together as if they were one and the same thing.

      If there is anything I have said that bother's you, or that you feel is not yet adequately addressed, let me know so I can expand or clarify.

      • Thank you, Phil. This is very good advice. I appreciate it. My husband and I, and other members of our family, are all dealing with this person and what they have done (lying, betraying confidence, spreading rumors). We both know the need to forgive, and want to. Our problem is that when the name comes up, it affects us the same way; we bristle at the persons name and the thought of maybe having to be in their presence gives us a sick feeling. Over the years I have noticed that this kind of feeling happens when it involves unresolved issues and an unrepentant person.

        • For what its worth...

          I live next door to someone who has serious issues and who, through a chain of unwarranted circumstances about 5 years back, threatened to kill my wife and harm my daughter. This conditioned a strong response in me such that I seriously hated this person and, in the absence of being able to pursue socially acceptable options, genuinely contemplated options for retribution (and worse) because of the ongoing trauma he was causing to innocent people I love and to put an end to the risk of him making good on his threat at some point.

          One day, some years later, I woke up to (or more likey the Holy Spirit woke me up to) what I was generating in my head and instead realised that Jesus died for him just as much as for me. So I started intentionally reminding myself of that each time I saw my neighbour - and still do to this day.

          And I realise that over time, choosing to see my neighbor in this light has also correlated with me forgiving him from my heart for what he has done. This has made the 'bristling' feeling go down (not go away though) and changed my attitude towards my neighbour - as long as I remember to see him this way. But it is something I need to keep maintaining - and will likely need to until the day I sell up and move away. I don't feel 'warm and fuzzy' towards him, and I don't trust him because there is no evidence there has been a change in his disposition, but I don't have the animosity inside me that I used to have towards him. (PS: My wife and daughter no longer live here, so that has eliminated the threat of harm to them).

          I only mention this so you can know I can (somewhat) relate to what you are experiencing and the benefits I have experienced from consciously and intentionally choosing to forgive through reminding myself that my neighbour is just as much a child of God as I am.

  8. "....doesn't know how to forgive him". She is on the right track since she wants to forgive. Her timidity, due to the betrayal, needs to be arrested through the work of the Holy Spirit - she has to come to terms with that. Her reaction is a normal human behavior, but can be changed only by seeking the Spirit's help - easier said than done. His act of seeking reconciliation will be a massive help for her. The lesson pointed out that God's forgiveness is already there, but we have to grasp it since we want to make good the relationship.
    So the bottom line is for her, forgive him and yes, to take her time in rebuilding the trust that he has to help to reestablish. It will be tough but her heart is already in the right place, she just has to take it slow.

  9. I look at forgiveness from the viewpoint of “love.” God’s standard of love is different and higher than human standard. Jesus demonstrated his love on behalf of human race in a pragmatic and loving way as it relates forgivenes, the same is expected of God’s children (you/me) as we journey through the path of life. Agape is the word used to describe God’s love, that’s why Jesus was able to make statements such as “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you Matt 5:44.” When we see people through the prism of God’s eyes it makes it easy for us to forgive those have wrongly hurt us. Love looks beyond defects and imperfections, love cares, forgives, encourage, comfort, favorable and faultless.

  10. Forgiveness is more about you being release from the chains of the adversary, and injoying the agape love that allows you and me to enjoy life with one another in christ.


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