Thoughts on forgiveness


Isaiah’s cry, “I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5) resonates with me this morning. I have wounded others and have been wounded by others through both speech and action.

The question arises as to how to respond to the wounds. There are three possible responses to being hurt by someone.

  1. Pretend that it didn’t hurt
  2. Respond in anger
  3. Forgive

There are variations within each of these responses. For example, we can try to ignore the behavior which is also a form of pretense. This response potentially destroys any relationship that was there.

Another variation of responding in anger is to gossip about the other person in an attempt to destroy their reputation. The internet is ablaze with this form of response.

The third option is the best of the three for two reasons.

Pragmatically, it is the only one that allows for restoration of the relationship.

Theologically, Jesus tells us that our forgiving others is an indication that we realize how much we have been forgiven.

I have found it helpful to look at the root meaning of the word translated “forgive” in the New Testament. At its root, the word means to let go, to send off. In other words, to forgive is to let go of the need to retaliate or seek restitution for the offense.

As Christians, we are not only letting go of the offense but we are leaving it in God’s hands. God is better able to bring the offender to repentance and will ultimately call them to account for their behavior.

Jesus tells us that peacemakers are blessed by God (Matt 5:9). To be good at making peace requires that we be good at forgiveness. To truly forgive an offense is the best (and perhaps only) way to lasting peace.

On the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). From this, we learn that those we forgive may not be wanting forgiveness or even understand that they need forgiveness. In other words, our forgiveness does not depend upon the offender’s response.

I realize that to forgive is a difficult and messy process. The deeper the hurt, the harder it is to come to the point of forgiving the perpetrator of that hurt.

But forgiveness should be our goal.