|EXPLORING CHRISTIANITY - FORGIVENESS||
LIFE AFTER DEATHChristianity's Hope & Challenge.
What forgiveness is not
The most important question to establish first is: What is forgive-ness? In order to answer this question, it is necessary to clear the ground of false substitutes and wrong ideas of forgiveness. I would suggest three things that forgiveness is not:
Forgiveness is not forgetting
In the New Testament, in speaking of his ambitions in life, Paul says, "I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead...so that I can win the prize of being called to heaven" (Philippians 3:13,14). Does this mean that Paul is putting out of his mind all that has gone before? No, it doesn't. There are some things the Bible says very clearly that we should never forget (read Deuteronomy, chapters 4 to 12 for some examples). However, more importantly, the biblical word "forget" in this context does not mean to "put out of one's mind". It has the meaning of "letting go". It means that we are not going to allow the experiences of the past to dominate our future and to prevent us from becoming all that God has planned we should become. There may well be memories we are unable to put out of mind, but we choose not to allow them to control our attitudes and behaviour in the future, even toward those who may be responsible for those memories.
Lisa Goertz lost her family in the Jewish holocaust in Germany. Before escaping from Germany herself, she became a Christian as the result of seeing a vision of Jesus, a fellow Jew, suffering on the cross for the sins of humanity. In her book, I Stepped into Freedom, she says:
Slowly I walk on, carrying my sins daily to the Cross, then returning to struggle along my life's path, on which the slanting rays of a setting sun already cast a shadow. I still weep when I think of a tall blond man who was my husband. My heart still aches with longing for a slim lovely girl, for a small sunny haired boy. My thoughts turn mournfully to my mother and my brother buried somewhere in an unknown grave in what is now to me a foreign country. I know that only God Himself "will wipe away all tears" when I see my Lord in glory. But there is no bitterness or hatred in my heart; one cannot live with bitterness and hatred. There is the peace of God in me and a reflection of His divine love which makes me love my fellow-men whether they are black or yellow or white, whether they are Jews or Christians, whether they belong to this denomination or that. They are God's family, my sisters and brothers.
No. Forgiveness is not forgetting.
Forgiveness is not avoidance
Forgiveness is not making light of something we find hurtful. Being the imperfect people we are, there are constantly things that happen between us and others that are minor irritations. We can ignore these. However, when the hurt is real, it is not helpful to say "It doesn't matter", or to make light of something that is basically wrong. That is being dishonest. Where a relationship is spoiled, something more is necessary.
Dwight Small, in Design for Christian Marriage, says:
Forgiveness is not merely a soft attitude toward a harsh fact; forgiveness is the vital action of love, seeking to restore the harmony that has been shattered.
Forgiveness is not excusing
Forgiveness is not denying that the one who has caused the hurt is responsible for their actions. There is a place for making allowances for people's behaviour. However, there is a tendency today to err too much in that direction. It is true that some people are more "sinned against" than sinning, but to deny responsibility for the choices we make is to lessen our dignity as human beings. We are beings created in the image of God who calls us to account for our moral choices. Invariably we mess things up, but if we are to grow we must accept responsibility for our own part in that process.
C. S. Lewis, in Fernseeds and Elephants, says:
If one was really not to blame, then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposite.
What forgiveness is not