Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Forgiveness, yet again
I keep coming back to forgiveness. It seems to be a major theme on this blog.
I didn't know it was such a major theme in my life. Yet, life in a fallen world leads to hurt and pain, and hurt and pain point to our need to forgive over and over again, or as Jesus said, seventy times seven times.
Forgiveness is more between you and God than between you and the person who hurt you. When you forgive someone, you tell the Lord, "I will leave this to You." You trust Him to keep His word, "Vengeance is mine." You pray for mercy for the offender, when you can. You may need to pray for the ability to pray for mercy.
There is a mistaken notion that forgiveness means we pretend nothing bad ever happened, and we say, "It's okay; it doesn't matter; it's nothing," even though this is not the truth. And then, in this mistaken notion, life proceeds exactly as before: perfect trust and openness is instantly restored, and the birds sing in dulcet harmony under the shining sun.
In reality, when we forgive, we say, "You hurt me, but I choose to absorb it. I will not strike back at you. I will treat you with respect. I will hope and pray for your best." This is incredibly difficult to do. Honestly, I don't know how a person could do it in the absence of a relationship with God. To forgive, you need the security of knowing that the Lord loves you and will never leave you nor forsake you. You need to understand that when you absorb the hurt, it is Jesus in you, absorbing it with you, and Jesus is enough. Jesus will one day bring justice to earth and make all things right.
When we choose to forgive someone who has hurt us, it doesn't mean that we instantly trust that person implicitly. Forgiveness can be granted in a moment, but the restoration of trust can take a long time. This is the way things are. Trust is easy to break, and hard to rebuild, and just because you have forgiven doesn't mean that the restoration of the relationship is perfect and complete all at once. God forgives us, but then comes the sanctification process, which lasts a lifetime. Similarly, when you forgive someone, it means that you are opening the door to give that person a chance to work on restoring your trust. While the person is working on this restoration process, you (having forgiven him) treat him with courtesy, kindness and caution. Yes, it is wise to be careful. It is not wrong to guard your heart. Be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove.
In my personal experience, there are two things that make forgiveness much harder, even, than it is in the first place. One is when the person who hurt you does not admit that he hurt you and will not say that he is sorry. The other is when the person who hurt you will not forgive you. These are related, because in both cases, the offending party is saying, "This is your problem, not mine." Blame-shifters are hard to forgive. Unfortunately, blame-shifting is a terribly common human tactic.
It is a good thing to be able to recognize when you have been hurt, to name it and define it. The longer you have lived in a place where this did not happen, the harder it will be to do. Naming and defining a hurt is important; it is not the same as being bitter or bearing a grudge. There may be times when someone hurts you, and he doesn't admit that he did. He may say, "You are just over-reacting," or "You are ridiculously sensitive," or "You are irrational to interpret it that way." The situation will be compounded if other people join in with his voice, telling you the same things.
If you are hurt, you are hurt, rational or irrational. If someone loves you, he will care. Love is concerned with how it communicates with others. Love "bears all things," which sometimes means that a loving person bears responsibility for how someone responds to what he has done. A loving person would rather clear up a problem than live in a state of insisting that he never did anything wrong. However, everyone doesn't love you, and you still need to forgive. So if you are hurt, and whoever ought to be acknowledging the hurt and making amends is looking the other way instead, you still need to forgive. You need to take it to the Lord. If you can at least name the hurt, and talk to the Lord about it, He will help you bear it, absorb it and forgive. If you have been hurt, you will not be able to forgive until you name the hurt and take it to God, so don't be afraid to do this. God may show you, in the process, that things are not as bad as you thought, or that you had more responsibility in the beginning than you realized, but you will not open the door to this cleansing if you will not first name the hurt.
If a person comes to you and says that he is sorry, and asks for forgiveness, please forgive him. I know that this can be a thing with (for instance) abusive husbands. They sometimes come all sorry and repentant to their wives and say, "I'll never get drunk again. I'll never hit you again. I'm sorry. I promise." Here is a prime example of how forgiveness does not equal restoration of trust. You can forgive and even set parameters, hedges, conditions: "I forgive you, but I'm not going to live in a house with you until you have gone through a treatment program and we have seen a counselor on a regular basis for six months," something like that. This is not an absence of forgiveness; this is forgiveness combined with a plan to work towards restoration. This is a good thing. It can occur in less extreme situations, too.
Sometimes a person hurts you and then says, "You are a bad person for being hurt by what I did. I can't believe that you are acting like this. I am angry and disappointed in you for acting this way. I do not approve of your character, and I do not like your personality. You are not a worthy person, and I do not value you." This is incredibly difficult, but you still have to forgive. It stings, I know. I know. But you can't walk through life bent down by the grudge that is held against you. The Lord will help you. The Lord loves you. He rejoices over you with singing. He shelters you under His wings. He sent His beloved Son to die for you and bring you into fellowship with Himself. He forgives all your sins and heals you. He restores your soul. When someone hurts you and then condemns you, go to Jesus. Run to Jesus. Place the whole mess in Jesus' hands. Cast your cares on Him, for He cares for you. He will carry you through. He will handle it in perfect wisdom and power.
In this life, we are all fallen, and we all make mistakes, we all sin. There is no interpersonal relationship, ever, where one person is completely at fault and the other person is completely innocent. Only God is perfect in all His interactions with us; in our relationship with Him, each of us is completely at fault and He is completely perfect. Yet He forgives us. This is why we must always forgive one another, fellow flawed souls that we are. We have no excuse.
Ultimately, it is good for us. It releases us, makes us free, gives us peace, restores our joy.