I hate Math. I have always told myself that some brains are wired for numbers better than others, which means I can give myself a pass. Math is for other people who are naturally better at it. We tell ourselves the same delusional things about discipleship. If I'm not naturally good at something, it must not be for me. Like forgiveness. Forgiveness is hard, so it must not be for me. Nice try.
Nothing ruins our relationship with God quite like our sins and mistakes. God wants to fix what is wrong in our relationship and put our mistakes behind us because God wants to be with us. Forgiveness is the willingness to get over the anger and resentment and to cancel the grudge and punishment. It is the process by which our past becomes irrelevant to our future. Anger drives two people farther away from each other and resentment keeps them apart. We have to choose to let go of both the anger and the resentment in order to come back together. Forgiveness is letting go. Why is it so important to us? There are several reasons.
Forgiveness releases us. First, forgiveness is not just letting the other person off the hook. It is a release and a healing to us. We are free from carrying the burden of the hurt. We can free our mind from rehearsing the countless wrongs we've endured. We can stop rehearsing all the angry things we want to say when we see that person next. We can stop looking in the rear view mirror all the time and be free to live again in the here and now. By carrying the grudge, we are giving another person power over us. We are allowing them to control our happiness. Forgiving releases us from carrying the weight of anger, bitterness and resentment. Proverbs 6:27 asks "Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?" We are burned by the fire of anger we want to throw at someone else. For our own sake, it is time to put out the fire.
Forgiveness requires God's help. Second, forgiveness is not easy to do without staying close to God. It is a God sized task that is often too big for us to accomplish on our own. By attempting it, we draw on God's grace and power and grow closer to God in the process. We will need that grace and power every moment of every day. Prayer becomes even more of a lifeline to us. The best way to keep that help coming is to stay fully connected to God all day long.
We forgive to be forgiven. Lastly, and maybe the most importantly, God will not forgive us if we refuse to forgive other people. Jesus couldn't say it any more clearly when he said:
"If you are willing to forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you."
If you want to be forgiven, then forgive someone else. Our peace comes from giving peace to someone else. Remember the Golden Rule? Treat others the way you want to be treated. Pretty clever of God to tie our wellbeing to the wellbeing of others. It's a pretty good incentive, isn't it? It is good news that we can have all the forgiveness we want from God, and we know exactly how to receive it: Confessing our sins to God and asking for forgiveness while at the same time forgiving someone else. Never ask for forgiveness in prayer without also telling God who you are forgiving as well. Now the hard part.
How to Forgive
Understanding why forgiveness is important is easier than actually forgiving. When we take seriously everything we have learned so far and add it all together, forgiveness becomes inevitable. And yes, we are actually going to do math to see what steps we must take to come up with forgiveness.
The Chain of Forgiveness
Humility + Grace + Love + Obedience + Sacrifice = Forgiveness
A chain reaction is a series of events set in motion by an initial step. Push over the first domino and as it falls it knocks over the second, which in turn knocks the third. Forgiveness is a chain reaction in which we commit fully to the first link in the chain (humility) which makes grace possible, and so on. That is a long equation! No wonder forgiveness is so difficult. Let's take each necessary step on their own before we add them up.
Humility is always the first step.
If we struggle with humility, forgiveness will be impossible. Pride gets in the way. We begin to forgive by meditating on humility first. We consider others as more important than ourselves. Meditate upon humility.
Grace is humility in action.
Grace is treating others better than they deserve. Enemies deserve punishment and pain, but that keeps the cycle of conflict going. Choose to treat the offender better than they deserve. Meditate upon Grace.
Love is Grace applied in a million different specific ways.
It is treating other people with kindness, patience, compassion, and respect. Meditate upon Love.
Forgiveness is not just a matter of whether we feel like it or not, it is a crucial matter of obeying the will of God. Meditate upon obedience.
Sacrifice requires giving something up.
When we bury the hatchet, we both put something in the hole. We give up our insistence on being right. We give up our desire to punish. We give up our desire for revenge. We give up our insistence that God judge between us and prove once and for all that we are righteous and our opponent is evil. Sacrifice is being willing to lose so that we all might win.
This is why forgiveness is difficult for us. Too often we try to jump from hurt to forgiveness in one giant step and fall short. We have to do it all or it won't work.
Notice what is not included in this equation: Justice. Justice is ensuring that everyone gets what they deserve, like punishment for the offender and vindication for the victim. Justice is the resolution of the problem and will certainly make forgiveness easier, but it is not required. Why? Imagine the adult survivor of childhood abuse, or a survivor of rape. The abuser may never EVER apologize or repent. They may never even be caught to stand trial. Depending on the abuser to finally do the right thing before we can be free gives that person way too much control over our wellbeing. They could, in theory, continue to victimize us forever. Jesus makes our past pain irrelevant to our future wellbeing, Apologies may never come. Justice may never be served, but we are still free to lay that burden down and move on.
Forgiveness is a process that must be taken step by step. Take your time. Take the steps. Do the math. It may not be easy, but it is worth the effort. It all adds up to peace in the end.