Five years ago almost to the day, I wrote my sixth blog post on this blog titled, “A Matter of Clarity,” after I fired my blog back up again in July 2011. I had originally started this blog a year earlier in July 2010, but I ended up deleting those beginning posts and almost deleted the blog site, too. But I didn’t delete the site, and three months after deleting those 53 posts, I began writing posts again, and now there are over 440 blog posts on this blog since I resurrected it. Who knew, eh?
In that post mentioned above I quoted a line at the end of the movie, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (2010), where one of the main characters, Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas)–who is not exactly the nicest character in the movie–tries to restore a broken relationship with his pregnant daughter, Winnie (played by Carey Mulligan), and her fiancé, Jacob (played by Shia LaBeouf). Long story short, the break was ultimately caused by betrayal and money–lots and lots of money. And at the end of the movie Gekko realizes that blood is thicker than money. In asking his daughter for forgiveness, he states, “Human beings, we gotta give them a break. We’re all mixed bags.” The movie at that point fast forwards to the ending of which is the celebration of his grandson’s (his daughter’s baby) 1st birthday party with obvious reconciliations all the way around between her and her father, and her fiancé, too.
As Gekko stated, we are all, indeed, mixed bags–from the not-so-nice to the way-too-nice and everybody in between. And we are all in need of forgiveness probably more times then we care to think about. Not only that, we all need to extend forgiveness more times then we care to think about, too. Forgiveness is defined as follows:
Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as revenge, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), pardoning (granted by a representative of society, such as a judge), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship). (Quote source here.)
Forgiveness is also one of the hardest things we give to others as so many things get in the way–our pride, our hurt, our anger, holding a grudge, thoughts of revenge, payback, personal agendas, selfishness, greed, fear, jealousy, and maybe even money–and that list goes on and on and on.
Somewhere in these 440+ blog posts I’ve written several posts on the topic of forgiveness. I don’t recall what I said but I am very much aware that forgiveness is an ongoing and a never ending process as well as an extremely hard thing to do and keep “done” (as in final and finished) in some cases. In the opening sentence of Jesus’ “Parable of the Unforgiving Servant” (Matthew 18:21-35), the first two verses state, “Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (vv. 21-22). In other words, there is no limit to the number of times we should forgive others and no time limit when we can stop forgiving them, either.
GotQuestions.org gives a more detailed explanation to what Jesus meant when he said we are to forgive others not just seven times, but “seventy-seven times” by putting it into the context of the passage in which it is found:
Jesus said we are to forgive others “seventy times seven” in response to Peter’s question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21-22). To fully understand what Jesus was saying, we must look at the context of the whole chapter, for Jesus was speaking not only about forgiving one another but about Christian character, both in and out of the church. The admonition to forgive our brother seventy times seven follows Jesus’ discourse on discipline in the church (Matthew 18:15-20), in which He lays down the rules for restoring a sinning brother.
Peter, wishing to appear especially forgiving and benevolent, asked Jesus if forgiveness was to be offered seven times. The Jewish rabbis at the time taught that forgiving someone more than three times was unnecessary, citing Amos 1:3-13 where God forgave Israel’s enemies three times, then punished them. By offering forgiveness more than double that of the Old Testament example, Peter perhaps expected extra commendation from the Lord. When Jesus responded that forgiveness should be offered four hundred and ninety times, far beyond that which Peter was proposing, it must have stunned the disciples who were listening. Although they had been with Jesus for some time, they were still thinking in the limited terms of the law, rather than in the unlimited terms of grace.
By saying we are to forgive those who sin against us seventy times seven, Jesus was not limiting forgiveness to 490 times, a number that is, for all practical purposes, beyond counting. Christians with forgiving hearts not only do not limit the number of times they forgive; they continue to forgive with as much grace the thousandth time as they do the first time. Christians are only capable of this type of forgiving spirit because the Spirit of God lives within us, and it is He who provides the ability to offer forgiveness over and over, just as God forgives us over and over.
Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant follows directly after His “seventy times seven” speech, driving home the point that if we are forgiven the enormous debt of sin against a holy God, how much more should we be eager to forgive those who sin against us, who are just as sinful as they? Paul parallels this example in Ephesians 4:32 where he admonishes us to forgive one another “even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” Clearly, forgiveness is not to be meted out in a limited fashion but is to be abundant, overflowing, and available to all, just as the measureless grace of God is poured out upon us. (Quote source here.)
So why do we find it so hard to forgive? I found an article published on “Focus on the Family” by Rose Sweet, answering that very question in a seven-part series titled, “Forgiveness and Restoration,” (Part 1 of the seven-part series related to marriage issues but it is good information for anyone struggling with forgiving others):
One reason we resist forgiving is that we don’t really understand what forgiveness is or how it works. We think we do, but we don’t.
Most of us assume that if we forgive our offenders, they are let off the hook — scott-free — and get to go about their merry ways while we unfairly suffer from their actions. We also may think that we have to be friendly with them again, or go back to the old relationship. While God commands us to forgive others, he never told us to keep trusting those who violated our trust or even to like being around those who hurt us.
The first step to understanding forgiveness is learning what it is and isn’t. The next step is giving yourself permission to forgive and forget, letting go of the bitterness while remembering very clearly your rights to healthy boundaries.
- Forgiveness is not letting the offender off the hook. We can and should still hold others accountable for their actions or lack of actions.
- Forgiveness is returning to God the right to take care of justice. By refusing to transfer the right to exact punishment or revenge, we are telling God we don’t trust him to take care of matters.
- Forgiveness is not letting the offense recur again and again. We don’t have to tolerate, nor should we keep ourselves open to, lack of respect or any form of abuse.
- Forgiveness does not mean we have to revert to being the victim. Forgiving is not saying, “What you did was okay, so go ahead and walk all over me.” Nor is it playing the martyr, enjoying the performance of forgiving people because it perpetuates our victim role.
- Forgiveness is not the same as reconciling. We can forgive someone even if we never can get along with him again.
- Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It might take some time to work through our emotional problems before we can truly forgive. As soon as we can, we should decide to forgive, but it probably is not going to happen right after a tragic divorce. That’s okay.
- We have to forgive every time. If we find ourselves constantly forgiving, though, we might need to take a look at the dance we are doing with the other person that sets us up to be continually hurt, attacked, or abused.
- Forgetting does not mean denying reality or ignoring repeated offenses. Some people are obnoxious, mean-spirited, apathetic, or unreliable. They never will change. We need to change the way we respond to them and quit expecting them to be different.
- Forgiveness is not based on others’ actions but on our attitude. People will continue to hurt us through life. We either can look outward at them or stay stuck and angry, or we can begin to keep our minds on our loving relationship with God, knowing and trusting in what is good.
- If they don’t repent, we still have to forgive. Even if they never ask, we need to forgive. We should memorize and repeat over and over: Forgiveness is about our attitude, not their action.
- We don’t always have to tell them we have forgiven them. Self-righteously announcing our gracious forgiveness to someone who has not asked to be forgiven may be a manipulation to make them feel guilty. It also is a form of pride.
- Withholding forgiveness is a refusal to let go of perceived power. We can feel powerful when the offender is in need of forgiveness and only we can give it. We may fear going back to being powerless if we forgive.
- We might have to forgive more than the divorce. Post-divorce problems related to money, the kids, and schedules might result in the need to forgive again and to seek forgiveness ourselves.
- We might forgive too quickly to avoid pain or to manipulate the situation. Forgiveness releases pain and frees us from focusing on the other person. Too often when we’re in the midst of the turmoil after a divorce, we desperately look for a quick fix to make it all go away. Some women want to “hurry up” and forgive so the pain will end, or so they can get along with the other person. We have to be careful not to simply cover our wounds and retard the healing process.
- We might be pressured into false forgiveness before we are ready. When we feel obligated or we forgive just so others will still like us, accept us, or not think badly of us, it’s not true forgiveness — it’s a performance to avoid rejection. Give yourself permission to do it right. Maybe all you can offer today is, “I want to forgive you, but right now I’m struggling emotionally. I promise I will work on it.”
- Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. It’s normal for memories to be triggered in the future. When thoughts of past hurts occur, it’s what we do with them that counts. When we find ourselves focusing on a past offense, we can learn to say, “Thank you, God, for this reminder of how important forgiveness is.”
- Forgiveness starts with a mental decision. The emotional part of forgiveness is finally being able to let go of the resentment. Emotional healing may or may not follow quickly after we forgive. (Quote source and links to all seven parts in the series is available here.)
(1) Forgiving Others: Forgiveness is a process that can be painful at times and may seem unending. But whatever our pain, whatever our situation, we cannot afford to hold on to an unforgiving spirit.
(2) Freely Forgiven: When we do not realize how the Lord’s mercy applies to our daily lives, the result is bondage. But God wants you to be free.
(3) Myths About Forgiving: One stumbling block to forgiving others is wrong information that has entered our theology, so let’s take a look at some common misconceptions about forgiveness.
(4) Forgiveness and Consequences: We can view our scars as monuments to God’s grace, or as ongoing punishment.
(5) Is There a Limit to God’s Forgiveness?: No person is so deep in sin, so ingrained in a wicked lifestyle, or so steeped in evil that he or she cannot be saved.
I appreciate the definition of forgiveness stated above in this post: “Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as revenge, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.” And as Jesus stated in Matthew 5:44-46: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”
I’ll end this post with a reminder from the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:31-32: Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. . . .
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted . . .
Forgiving one another . . .
As God in Christ forgave you. . . .
YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by Matthew West: