The Season "Forgiving"
The Season "Forgiving"
What’s wrong with me? Why is my performance rating so low? Why can’t I lose weight? Why does this keep happening? These are questions that we often hear, and have asked myself at times, when we are going through hard times, especially in our personal or work lives. These questions are usually asked when we are confronted with an unpleasant situation, conflict or, as often happens, we hear something unpleasant or untruthful about ourselves. Yet, at other times they can be a form of self-condemnation. We punish ourselves for some real, or perceived, failure or short-coming. We carry the burden of guilt, shame or disappointment. Oddly enough, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it is a perfect time to tackle these questions.
What if I told you that Jesus came to relieve these burdens? What if I told you that there is a gift that you can give that costs you nothing but will enrich your life greatly? I probably have your attention. The gift that God gave us, and which we can give to ourselves and others, is “forgiveness.”
It is impossible to separate Jesus from the act of forgiveness. The mission of Jesus’ life is explained in Luke 19:10 (NLV): “For the Son of Man came to look for and to save from the punishment of sin those who are lost.” He accomplished this by teaching about forgiveness and repentance. He did so that we could be reconciled with God. However, Jesus also warned us of the consequences of failing to forgive:
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).
“The act of forgiving does not come easy for most of us. Our natural instinct is to recoil in self-protection when we've been injured. We don't naturally overflow with mercy, grace, and understanding when we've been wronged (www.thoughtco.com).” I think most of us want to forgive when we are wronged, but we don’t know how or aren’t taught how to forgive.
How many times have you been forgiven, or forgiven for something, only to bring up the issue during the next conflict? Dr. Stephen Marmar, Prager University, explains that forgiveness is a complex concept. He explains that forgiveness exists in three forms and that the correct type of forgiveness needs to be applied depending on the situation:
1.Exoneration – This type of forgiveness is what is meant by “wiping the slate clean.” Dr. Marmar explains that this form of forgiveness is “restoring the relationship to its full state of innocence.”
2.Forbearance – This type of forgiveness is exemplified by the phrase “forgive but don’t forget.” We may “partially” forgive but keep an eye on the individuals involved. The relationship matters but has not been restored to its full state of innocence. It is possible, over time, for this type of relationship to be repaired or restored, especially if there is no reoccurrence of the wrong.
3.Release – This is “letting go.” It does not require anything from anyone. In fact, even if the other party involved can’t, or won’t, acknowledge the wrong, it is possible to exercise release. The beneficiary of this form of forgiveness is “you.” This is the kind of release we should exercise instead of exercising “self-condemnation.”
Our problem is that we don’t always exercise the right form of forgiveness. Luckily, God only exercises one form of forgiveness, “exoneration”, but it has a requirement. Rabbi Alan Lurie (Huffingtonpost.com, November 2011) says, “the ultimate purpose of forgiveness is the healing of a relationship. This healing occurs only when the offender repents and demonstrates remorse and the offended one grants a pardon and demonstrates loving acceptance.” Rabbi Lurie further states that repentance requires that we begin with the admission that a mistake was made, confess the mistake and apologize, repair the damage, and finally, don’t repeat the mistake again.
How do we know which form of forgiveness we should apply? I believe forgiveness will align to the nature of our relationship with the others. We are more willing to forgive those that we have a close relationship with such as a spouse, child or close friend. In these kind of relationships, we are more willing to use exoneration, especially if accompanied by true repentance. While we can choose to exercise forbearance and release, there is no such latitude in exoneration. Luke 17:3 (NIV) says ““If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.”
I must confess that viewing forgiveness in this manner has been eye-opening. I realized that I didn’t forgive (exoneration), but preferred “forbearance”. When wronged I expressed forgiveness or accepted an apology but I usually “remember.” For example, I remember withholding an important assignment for someone because they “let me down.”
I was forced to ask, what if God forgave me the way that I forgive others? I probably wouldn’t like the outcome. Jesus states that asking for God’s forgiveness for one’s own sins, all the while withholding forgiveness from someone else, is not only bizarre but hypocritical. We cannot possibly walk with God in true fellowship if we refuse to forgive others (www.gotquestions.org).”
When I viewed forgiveness as a gift from God, it made me think of the concept of “paying it forward.” When you pay it forward, you do something nice for someone else. While this concept may have only become popular in the past two decades, it was originated by Jesus’ sacrifice more than 2000 years ago.
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior, we should remember His gift to us is “forgiveness.” Remember, you can pay it forward; it’s the season “forgiving.” Let’s commit ourselves to exercise and give it freely to others and to ourselves. Others may feel better, but so will you.