Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Forgiveness

Forgiveness. I've been thinking alot about that word lately. We've been talking about it at church alot and I've batted it around with my friends some. I'm not sure how settled I am on what God expects from me in the arena of forgiveness. So, here are some of my random thoughts. Maybe writing them down and requesting feedback will help me find the answer. Below are some of the verses that I have been looking at and pondering in my quest.

Nehemiah 9:17
"They refused to listen, and did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and Compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; And you did not forsake them"

Matthew 18:21-22
"Then Peter came and said to Him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven'."

Colossians 3:1-17
"So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful"

Romans 12:18
"If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men"

Thinking first of God as a God of forgiveness (Neh 9:17), I am in awe of One who can continually and completely forgive me. I feel so stupid sometimes when I commit the same sins over and over. When I grieve the heart of the One who loves me so completely I am struck dumb at the thought that He continually forgives and removes my sins away from me as far as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12). As I think of all of the times the Israelites chose tangible gods over the One True God, I am amazed at the fact that He still calls them His chosen people. What a God we serve. I believe He has set the standard for how we should treat one another. As He says in Colossians 3, we are to forgive as He forgave us. Tall order.

But, does that mean that there are no consequences to the sin committed? We are to forgive...yes. But, does that mean that we are to just move forward and trust again blindly? I don't believe so. God is a God of forgiveness, but He is also a God of justice. I think on the story of David and Bathsheba (II Samuel 11-12). King David was a man after God's own heart, yet he failed miserably. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband murdered when they discovered she was pregnant. David grieved the Lord. He sought forgiveness and it was granted. But, David still had to pay the penalty for the sin he committed. God told him that because of His sin, the sword would never depart from his house and he was going to bring calamity upon him from within his own household. All of that came to pass. David had monstrous problems with his children...rape, incest, murder, mutiny. And the child that had been conceived was taken by death. David was forgiven and he was restored to a right relationship with the Lord. However, he paid the penalty for his sin. I think the same is true in our relationships. When a trust is broken, it can be forgiven, but not immediately restored. There are consequences to sin. I believe if there is forgiveness, reconciliation and restored relationships and trust are the next steps, but they do not happen over night. We are to be cautious and wise (Matt. 10:16). We are also instructed to be careful not to throw what is holy before swine so as not to be torn to pieces (Matt. 7:2). And the Proverbs are full of verses about not being a fool or trusting one. I think that it is required of us to forgive, but it's ok if we're cautious in the beginning. I think total reconciliation should be the goal, but it may not be immediate.

And finally...what do you do when you have sought reconciliation and forgiveness, and you have not been received? This one is the hardest for me. I have found that I can more easily forgive a wrong done to me than not be forgiven or to have to live in broken relationship with someone. Years ago, this prospect would have absolutely devastated me. I would have taken responsibility for every part of the problem if that meant there could be peace. I would have beaten myself up and done whatever I could to restore the relationship. However, I have learned that that is not the appropriate or loving response. By making everything "my fault", I deny the other person an opportunity for growth and responsibility. I am not loving them by just making the problem go away. I read recently that "Peace making is not 'peace faking'. Often the peacemaker is the one who says, 'Let's stop covering up. Let's deal with it" (Sande, Leadership Journal http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2004/004/). I have realized that I've done no good for anyone by just making things better. I've not made the problem go away (as evidenced by the continually arising conflict). And, I have not loved the person into repentance by requiring that they deal with what they own in the situation. I have failed us both by trying to "patch things up".

So, what do you do when someone can't or won't forgive you? What I have learned to do is practice Romans 12:18 and be certain that I am doing all I can to seek reconciliation and live at peace with that person. I continue to love them and pray for reconciliation. I continue to seek opportunities to repair the relationship. But, If my heart is clear before the Lord on all of those things, I no longer have to carry the guilt of a broken relationship. I can be as the father of the Prodigal Son who waits with open arms for the day in which the relationship can be restored. I do not enjoy broken relationship. But, I no longer let them destroy who I am and what God has called me to do. Before, I would have drown in a situation like this. I would have been unable to breathe for the burden of brokenness. But, now I can see that I can only be responsible for what I am called to own. If others have issues that I can't control, I can not carry them. I can only pray and wait, which I will continue to do.

Does anyone have any thoughts on all of this? Am I way off? I welcome correction as well as agreement on this subject. It's an area where I am beginning to dig deep and would welcome a challenge to any of these thoughts.

2 comments:

Christy said...

I had a friend email me this response to this blog...I wanted to post it here:

" I believe we see this issue in Joseph's story with his brothers. Yes, we are called to forgive, just as God forgives us. After forgiving someone, what do we do? Do we put ourselves in harms way? Do we have to have a personal relationship with someone who continues to sin against us? I do not believe that to be true. If you must be in contact with that person, continue to test their heart. Do all that you can do - pray for them, treat them with kindness and love, but hold them accountable for their actions."

I can't believe I didn't think of one of the biggest stories of forgiveness! She's right. Joseph didn't trust his brothers right away. He had forgiven them, but before he revealed himself, he tested to see if they were truly repentant. (Genesis 37-47). It's wise and loving to hold someone accountable for their actions and not remove the consequences. Without consequences, we do not learn.

As a side note...I do realize there are times when I will be the one who is not trusted immediately and must work to rebuild a relationship and prove my love. I just think this part is one of the trickiest when it comes to forgiveness...what relationships look like in the aftermath.

Christy said...

Here's another response I received via email:

"I think you're on the right track. I really believe that forgiveness is for OUR sake and not for the person that we're forgiving. We stay in bondage to that person if we can't forgive (and sometimes they aren't even aware!). I agree that we may have to be cautious but the Lord will take care of that person and there will probably always be consequences for them - we don't have to worry about those though - we're just asked to forgive and as you said - do what we can to live in peace. I always try to think about the source - i.e. would God want me to stress about this relationship? Probably not... would Satan? Probably so... Our fight is against Satan usually and not really that other person. If you let a broken relationship stand in the way of what God is callling you to do , Who wins? Satan or God?? Just remember that God is stronger - ask for His wisdom and He will give it to you"

It's so true that forgiveness releases US! There have been times where I've been angry and unable to forgive and the person in question didn't even know there was a problem! So, I wasted all of that emotional energy being upset when it didn't affect them at all. I'm finding so much more peace now in letting go of it, trying to live in peace if possible, and letting God take care of the rest. It's a world of difference!