Saturday, July 1, 2017


Luke 17:1-4 “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.  It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.  So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.  Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (NIV).

At the expense of sounding arrogant, forgiveness has never been all that hard for me (at least in most circumstances).  I think it might be because I always believe people can change and be better.  Honestly, that's sort of weird, since I am decidedly not an optimist.

Now, forgetting?  That’s another thing altogether, but we should probably take great care in remembering that the notion of ‘forgive and forget’ is not actually found in Scripture.  Huge sigh of relief for detail oriented people who remember everything

I think we need to make a distinction between forgiveness and healing (related to pain, suffering, mourning, grief, etc.).  Too often, I feel that we approach wounded people by insisting that they forgive those who have harmed them.  That is biblical after all, right?  But we also project these unreal expectations on forgiveness.  In so doing, we perpetuate cycles of abuse.

Let me tell you what forgiveness is not:

Forgiveness is not forgetting the offense and moving on without taking the necessary time to heal.

Forgiveness is not indiscriminately returning to how the relationship was before the offense.

Forgiveness is not allowing yourself to continue to be abused in any way or justifying abusive actions by another.

Forgiveness is not blaming yourself, as opposed to the offender, for what happened.

All of this is incredibly difficult to flesh out, because as followers of Jesus, we also frequently cite passages of Scripture about losing our lives and participating in the death of Christ, which often includes being persecuted in some way, but please hear me clearly… none of this means that you have to participate in unhealthy relationships that violate who you are as a human being, created Imago Dei. 

I think we have done a miserable job of helping victims to work through their pain, as we blanketly state that forgiveness will restore all things.  Maybe we can roll with this from an eschatological viewpoint, but let’s be real, friends… most hurting people are more concerned with how they might survive the next few minutes than the end of the world as we know it!  We have to stop making these things congruent, because they’re just not…

Webster’s definition of forgiveness is “the act of forgiving” (ahem… super helpful).

Webster’s definition of forgiving is “willing or able to forgive” (there’s something to work with there).

Webster’s definition of forgive is “to give up resentment of or claim to requital.”

Nowhere… in any of this… do I see forgiveness defined as offering yourself to someone who will hurt you over and over again, without boundaries or consequence.  Nowhere.  We have to stop telling people that forgiveness means sucking it up, putting yourself in danger, and moving on!

If I were to define forgiveness, I would say it is the moment at which you reach a point where you no longer hope the one who has harmed you will be run over by a truck or struck down by lightning.  Admittedly, even this can be a process, depending on the offense.  And that’s OK.  Interestingly, the biblical definition from Luke (above) also allows for rebuke and requires the offender to be repentant.  Do we even talk about that?  We don’t?  Right…

I think Jesus gives us an example of forgiveness that neither demands nor receives such repentance when, as he is dying, he says, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV).  So, I’m not necessarily saying we must hold out for an apology, and, in fact, I have certainly offered forgiveness to others, myself, who have hurt me deeply and never bothered to care.  But… we have to stop shaming victims into this kind of obligation, because even if it is freeing to stop praying for that thunderstorm to hit; there is so much more work to be done than this.  Forgiving someone who does not deserve it is not a magical band-aid that removes all pain… And it certainly doesn’t remove scars.

What I’m trying to say is that we should stop lying… and we should also stop discrediting and humiliating victims.  Forgiveness is important, but it comes with guidelines and often with really long timeframes.  Perhaps we could stand in the gap while our brothers and sisters are allowed the space they need for legitimate healing to occur.

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