Last Sunday’s Bible class focused on forgiveness and how difficult it can be to give. At one point I realized that we were using the word, but I couldn’t help wondering if we all had a very clear definition of it.
What is forgiveness?
Do you know? Can you put it into words? I couldn’t at the moment. I had some thoughts but didn’t feel confident I really had it. I kept remembering a college professor who told me that I don’t really know what a word means unless I can verbalize it clearly.
When I got home I started a web search for definitions. Dictionary definitions are a good starting place, but then I wanted to check those definitions against whatever the Bible had to say about it. I’ll underline the portions that the Bible seems to agree with.
- Stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.
- Cancel a debt
- Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. … Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. (This last one is wrong, as you’ll see)
- The Greek word translated as “forgive” in the New Testament, aphiēmi, carried a wide range of meanings, including to remit (a debt), to leave (something or someone) alone, to allow (an action), to leave, to send away, to desert or abandon, and even to divorce.
- Forgiveness is intentional and voluntary. When someone forgives someone else, they let go of negative emotions, for example vengefulness. They wish their offender well.
Now what does the Bible say?
Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:37
This sounds a lot like release of anger and ill will toward someone. Let it go! Jesus is given the right to judge men’s souls by God. Judging – determining punishment for sins – is above our pay grade!
For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. Matthew 26:28
The falls right in line with cancelling or remitting a debt.
I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins. Isaiah 43:25
For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. Hebrews 8:12
As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12
I disagree completely with the part above that says forgiving does not mean forgetting. When God forgives, He forgets.
The last definition above looks to be spot on! It calls for a voluntary release of anger and vengeance. We wish our enemies well.
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. Matthew 5:44
Let me give you a personal example. There’s an individual who abandoned her own sons when they needed her the most. She slandered me to my friends at my church. She lied to and cheated a mutual friend who took one of her sons in. To top it off, she claims she was a good, attentive mother. She expressed no regrets, took no responsibility for her actions, and continued to lie and cheat until I finally cut her off.
My anger – fury, really – finally subsided. I realized I had to forgive. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all over. The sons are OK. I don’t hate her. Actually, I feel nothing now. I sincerely hope she finds her way and prayed that for her for years. I still refuse so much as the idea of ever coming into contact again, but that’s as much a matter of self-protection as anything. I simply don’t have the gas to deal with her.
Given everything above that describes forgiveness, I believe I have forgiven her. Forgiveness is releasing a debt owed. It is praying for your enemies…sincerely. Forgiveness is the right thing to do, both for our own peace of mind and for the souls of those who have wronged us. We don’t hold someone else’s debt up to God for payment.
Forgiveness is the empathetic thing to do. I’ve written elsewhere that Everybody is Somebody’s Jerk. That includes me. I need to be forgiven as much as anyone. And, as Jesus taught us to pray…
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”