Forgiveness that leads to life
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult acts of obedience that Christians are called to do. Yet without forgiveness there would be no salvation or Christianity.
God’s forgiveness of human sin through the sacrifice of Jesus is the basis of salvation and abundant life and liberation that we receive in Christ. “I have come that they may have life, life in abundance.” John 10:10 (ESV)
In our human interactions, forgiveness is the basis of thriving relationships. Without it, life would be difficult for we know that just as others harm us, we also cause harm to them and are in need of forgiveness.
Even when we acknowledge and understand the necessity and benefits of forgiveness in our relationship with God and at a human level, we still struggle to forgive and live in forgiveness. One of the reasons maybe misunderstanding of the nature and practice of forgiveness. With lack of understanding, fear becomes the reason for forgiveness, particularly fear of not being forgiven by God.
This leads to pretending that the pain, anger, and desire to revenge do not exist and that ‘everything is ok’ The denial of these emotions often lead to spiritualization of suffering and responding with ‘easy’ forgiveness as a sign that one is following Christ by accepting suffering and forgiving perpetrators without requiring repentance.
Women have been encouraged to forgive violent partners as in doing so, they are praised for following the Bible in being ‘submissive’ and following the example of Jesus who forgave those who crucified him. In these circumstances, forgiveness is no longer a life-giving, healing virtue that reflects the abundant life that is the fruit of salvation, but sadly reflects the opposite- namely a practice that perpetuates suffering and destroys life.
How then do we reclaim the life-giving, healing nature of forgiveness that is expressed in salvation through Christ? First when we are insulted, violated, or harmed in any way we experience emotions such as anger, hurt and a desire to revenge. These emotions emerge naturally and are important because they alert us to the reality that a wrong has been done to us that requires our response.
Interestingly the dictionary definition of forgiveness is to give up anger and revenge against a person who wronged us. Since these emotions are potentially destructive if not handled properly, the temptation is to pretend that one does not feel them or to suppress them and prevent their expression. The psalms of lament are helpful because they are unafraid to name and process strong negative emotions. Because of this honest, unpretentious relationship with God, faith is strengthened. Psalms 55 is a lament which begins with a cry to God to listen’ Give heed to my prayer’ and then there is a complaint, a call for vengeance and it concludes with a simple act of faith ‘but I will trust in you’ (v.26b).
Secondly, face the person responsible for harm where possible. In confronting the person responsible for the harm, reconciliation may or may not happen. Regardless of the outcome, the call to forgive remains the same because in the act of forgiving there is freedom to choose whether reconciliation is the best way forward. Where there is a history of repeated offenses or refusal to acknowledge harm or repent, reconciliation may not be possible and forgiveness without reconciliation would be the wisest choice. Discernment driven by the Holy Spirit will guide in seeking a solution that promotes life and well-being.
Lastly restoration can be a visible sign of sincere repentance, particularly where what has been damaged can be restored. The story of Zacchaeus’ repentance and salvation (Luke 19:1-10), Zacchaeus in response to Jesus’ unconditional acceptance and love, showed his repentance by promising to restore more than what he had stolen from people. Hearing this, Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Jesus did not dictate to Zacchaeus, but the initiative came when he was overcomes with the forgiveness and love of God. When we are forgiven, we can take the initiative of restoring what was lost, particularly intangible assets such as trust, friendship, and love. And we can act concretely to restore losses.
In conclusion, granting and receiving forgiveness in human relationships needs to reflect the life-giving healing and generosity of God who models and embodies true forgiveness.
Excerpt from African Women Devotional Bible