People beat on me in high school. I was hit in the neck with a dime. I once earned $7 in a week in the change students threw at me. A friend of my close friend slapped me in the face at lunch. One time a football player picked up the desk behind me in class and hit me with it. Three weeks later, we had to work on a class project together. How could anyone handle such garbage? I forgave them.
What is this forgiveness? Forgiveness isn’t condoning the behavior. I can’t say it was right for people to abuse me. Forgiveness isn’t excusing the behavior. These people knew they could have treated me better; they chose not to. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting what happened. I couldn’t have forgotten these stories I just told.
Let’s look to Scripture for an answer. According to Strong’s New Concordance, ‘Forgiveness’ is rendered in the Greek New Testament as aphesis-literally “freedom.” The verbal forms literally mean, “to let go” and “to grant as a favor.” When you forgive those who do wrong, you grant a favor to them of not seeking revenge and to yourself by not letting it hurt you.
Forgiveness is a process, teaches Smedes in Forgive and Forget. The first step is to be hurt. If you’re not hurt, then you have no need to forgive someone. You can’t forgive the bullies I mentioned. The next step is to hate the action done. For many the action and the person are inseparable. I hated all these ways in which I was abused. The third step is to be healed of the hurts unjustly received. This is when you decide not to let it hurt you anymore. The final step is to restore the relationship with the one who hurt us. That’s not always possible, since people die and lose contact with us. The process can be slow. When I did the class project with this football player, we didn’t trust each other, but we completed it. A year later, we became track teammates.
Why forgive? Murphy and Hampton asked and reported their results in Forgiveness and Mercy. People forgive to escape the pain of being hurt. People forgive to preserve an old friendship with the one who hurt them. People forgive to reform the wrongdoer. That’s saying, “You hurt me, but I’m giving you another chance. Don’t disappoint me.” People forgive because they themselves need to be forgiven. They invoke the parable of the merciless servant of Matthew 18:21-35. The understanding is that God will forgive all of us for all sins, but will not put up with us refusing to forgive a few wrongs someone did to us.
Now that we understand what forgiveness is and why and how people forgive, I conclude with the challenge to say as Jesus did while hanging from the cross in Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
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