What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is not always easy.
At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered,
to forgive the one that inflicted it.
And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.
(Marianne Williamson)

What is Forgiveness?

When you've forgiven, is everything just lost and forgotten? Like a memory wiped off, the incident and the feelings that go with are never to return?

The offense and hurt never happened? No traumatic, hurtful event took place? There's no history because no such thing took place? Is that what forgiveness is?

Each of us deals with pain and offenses in different ways and in our own unique ways. At times, our journeys sort of connect and merge with others. At other times, we may handle the hurt in ways that are uncommon with other people.

It may even seem like we're the only one who's facing that kind of experience and the way we resolve things may come off as strange for others around us.

Across age groups, genders, and cultures, forgiveness is not always simple, singular, or one-dimensional. Forgiveness requires different things from different people.

There is no set time period for forgiveness to take full effect. There is no set circumstance that warrants forgiveness and no set circumstance that frees a person from the choice to forgive.

But, instead of talking about the variations or 'exclusions', let's talk about what's common. Let's notice what is forgiveness really like (and not).

Forgiveness is not about forgetting.

If people can just forget, then forgiveness will be nothing special. Anyone can forgive.

But, what makes forgiveness such a high-value commodity is because it often requires a great deal of capacity, readiness, and willingness to forgive someone, especially when the hurt is too much or when there's no going back to the way things were.

You may still live and wrestle with the memory long after you've forgiven someone. Should you feel guilty for it? Is that wrong? The answer is not so simple. It could be a "Yes." And it could be a "No."

The question is, what does it do to you? What changes whenever the memory comes back? Are you better or worse for remembering?

Simple, one-off offenses can be forgotten. Deep hurts tend to linger longer if not forever. Nevertheless, forgiveness has nothing to do with forgetting. You can forgive while remembering. You can choose to forgive while staying mindful of the offense.

Forgiveness is about abandoning resentment and/or vengeance.

What is forgiveness? When you forgive someone, you release feelings of resentment or desires and plans to avenge or take revenge. Some big words have just been mentioned and let's look into those.
  • Resentment - is intense bitterness towards someone who's wronged you.
  • Avengement- is the desire to mete justice or to punish wrongdoing.
  • Revenge - is the desire to retaliate or inflict harm.
To those who've become victims and casualties of crime, forgiveness may be a hard message to preach about. I mean, it's only natural and justified for these victims and families of victims to have resentment, to want to avenge, or take revenge.

I don't know if I can be the better person if I'm put in their position. I pray to be. It's not impossible but it can be very difficult. We know that those in Christ have received God's grace and mercy.

And with the Holy Spirit at work in our hearts and lives, we can respond as God would desire us to. Stories of grace, mercy, and forgiveness still happen today. And, it's like a breath of fresh air when media covers those instances.

Here are some of those stories:
If they found Christ's strength to respond with forgiveness, I have hope that I can do the same to those who hurt me.

Forgiveness is not about cowardice nor tolerating wrong.

What is forgiveness NOT? It's not about refusing or being afraid to confront evil, crime, or wrongdoing. Sin, error, or offense should be called out for what it is, when it is committed. That goes in your life and in people you come across with. Scriptures teach this in many places:
If you are in a friendship or intimate relationship with someone who makes a habit of doing wrong, causing pain and even physical harm, you need to break free from that destructive and unhealthy relationship.

Make a stand. Call out the offender. Leave the relationship, especially if there is no effort to change.

Forgiveness is about ENtrusting & yielding to God.

I realize that any time I find it hard to forgive, the 2 most obvious reasons are because I'm struggling with yieldedness and I haven't entrusted the situation and myself to Him. The Dictionary defines entrust as:
  • to assign the responsibility of doing something over to someone
  • to put into someone else's care or protection
What trusting 'over' are we talking about here. It's trust that He will make sense of this all. Trust that even when I won't ever understand, I know He will cause this painful thing to work out for good in my life. Trust that He will bring justice.

Trust that when justice fails, I know He hasn't forgotten me. Trust that my Father has seen from beginning to end, and in His wisdom and grace, I'll reach the end of my ordeal and be better for it.

Forgiveness is about living your faith.

Forgiveness is about being a genuine Christian. Our Christianity, our faith, it's all made possible through the sacrifice and forgiveness God has extended to us.

In his book, "The Weight of Glory" C.S. Lewis puts it simply yet strikingly: "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you."

Forgiveness can be really hard but if you extend it out of an understanding and realization that you yourself were (and are continually) also forgiven though completely unworthy, you find no reasonable response and recourse but to forgive others as well.

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells us to be forgiving. It's the passage where you find the popular line "Forgive 70 times 7.'" It also talks about the unforgiving servant. He owed his master a great debt of which he was forgiven and his great debt was canceled.

Yet from that experience, the servant found no urging to forgive someone else who owed him money (which was a smaller amount compared to what he used to owe his master).

Ephesians 4:32 encourages us to do unto others what has been mercifully done for us. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Baptist pastor, Martin Luther King, Jr.; the youngest man to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize says this about forgiveness:
"We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.
He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.
There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.
When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."

[Former] Bishop of Lesotho and General Secretary of SACC, Desmond Tutu, gave a vivid explanation on what forgiveness is:
"Because forgiveness is like this:
a room can be dark because you have closed the windows,
you've closed the curtains.
But the sun is shining outside,
and the air is fresh outside.
In order to get that fresh air,
you have to get up and open the window
and draw the curtains apart."

Both believers and non-believers of God, many of them, see the importance and need to forgive. While both types disagree in opinion of God and the Bible, both agree that forgiveness is a virtue that the world needs more of today.

If you've been deeply pained by someone, it may be a long road to forgiveness and freedom from resentment and vengeful feelings. Hopefully still, you'll set yourself on that path, for the one to benefit the most, is you.

This is a work-in-progress piece. The mind brings up different facets to this topic and experience of forgiveness; the feelings around it, what it takes to forgive, etc. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.


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