How to really forgive and should we forget?

(This is a long post today but not nearly long enough. The subject is forgiveness which certainly can’t be thoroughly covered in one post.)

Forgiveness is such an over-used, over-applied, and misunderstood word I can hardly bear to hear it spoken. People use the word so casually anymore, it’s lost its meaning. I’m a Christian and I believe in forgiveness but I have big issues with how the word is bandied about these days.

First of all, forgiveness should be considered a serious issue. God thought it such a serious issue, he sent his son, Jesus, to die to pave the way for our forgiveness. And that way was death. So when we haphazardly and casually use the word, we ought to be ashamed. After all, God apparently spent centuries considering forgiveness and what He needed to do about it. So if it was that hard for God why shouldn’t it be for us as well?

Secondly, forgiveness should never be given easily for a serious offense. If someone has truly hurt you or someone you love, it needs to be addressed first. Before you forgive, you need to let the person know exactly what was said or done that offended you.

A blanket “I forgive you” without the offense being clearly defined, is a forgiveness that isn’t a healing kind of forgiveness. It’s shallow and doesn’t enable long-lasting healing. 

And if it’s us that needs the forgiveness, we need to be willing to listen and offer a genuine apology with the intention of not committing the same error again. If we continue with that behavior, we might still be forgiven but we can’t expect the relationship will certainly deteriorate or terminate altogether. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we keep “stepping in it”.  And a “my bad” is not an apology.

And finally, too many people like to say they forgive because they are afraid to confront.

I know way too many people like that and sometimes I’m one of them. Sometimes we say we “forgive” because we simply don’t want to confront. 

But that’s dishonest.

We say we forgive but we hold in our hurts and they end up weighing us down. Unless they are addressed and discussed, forgiveness becomes only an exercise in using the word. The perpetrator thinks they’ve been forgiven when they’ve only been dismissed. And if we’re the perpetrator we operate under the same illusion. And our behavior is held against us when we thought we were forgiven.

All you have to do is see what happens to families when someone dies and there’s a little money left over and someone doesn’t get what they thought they should. Wow. Every old hurt comes to the surface. Every little thing that was swept under the rug is shaken out from under that same rug. Wounds fester and sometimes families fall completely apart.

When Jesus forgave it was always with the condition that the behavior would change. Even when those words weren’t spoken, one only has to read all that Jesus said to know it is true. We are always held accountable. Forgiven, yes, loved, yes. Accountability, yes!!

The timing of forgiveness is crucial. If we wait too long, we will simply forget about it and the offender will never know of his need for forgiveness. If we forgive really serious offenses too quickly, we cheapen the meaning and price of forgiveness. 

Let’s also remember that every little thing that offends us doesn’t require forgiveness. I mean do you go to the Emergency Room for a minor cut when a band-aid will do?  Truth is, we might be offended too easily. That’s our problem. If you find that you’re always having to forgive others, maybe you’re just too sensitive.

And some things just aren’t that important. I mean look at Facebook. The things that people get offended over these days is just ludicrous. What happened to a sense of humor?

I hope you don’t think I’m suggesting we don’t forgive. What I am saying is that forgiveness is a serious act as demonstrated by the cost Jesus paid. We shouldn’t treat it lightly. If we say we have forgiven someone, we’d better be ready to live it out. I can’t think of any offense greater than to “fake” forgiveness. And I think it happens all the time.

  • We can choose to overlook a lot of things. That is not forgiveness.
  • We can choose to ignore a lot of things. That is not forgiveness.
  • We can choose to “go along” to “get along”. That is not forgiveness.
  • We can choose to pretend it never happened. That is not forgiveness.

So how do we know we’ve forgiven someone? I think it’s when we feel a peace within ourselves. It’s when we can genuinely wish the best for that person. It’s when the offense no longer occupies our every thought or keep us awake at night. We know we’ve forgiven when we get on with our lives. You notice I didn’t say forget. I can’t think of a scripture verse that says we have to forget and I do believe that we can remember without having it affect us negatively.

How do I know? Because I’ve had to forgive some very serious offenses over my lifetime. I can tell you today that my life is one hundred percent better because of it. Some of the forgiveness took years to accomplish. In most cases, I was not given the opportunity to discuss anything because the other party wasn’t willing to have that conversation. As I wrote in the beginning, it would have been so much more healing if we could have.

But I didn’t do it flippantly. I took my time to think it through so that when I finally uttered those words, they meant something.

Probably most people confuse forgiveness with absolution. When we forgive we don’t absolve anyone of their behavior. Only God can do that and God only does that if asked. Remember that. When we forgive, we aren’t saying we condone the offense. There might well be legal and moral consequences. People are still accountable whether forgiven or not. That includes us.

And the final thing about forgiveness is how to do when it’s so hard to do. I simply remind myself of all I’ve already been forgiven. If I got what I deserved, I probably wouldn’t be here. Most of us wouldn’t. God is that good.

I hope if you’re struggling today with this whole subject, you find this helpful. I highly recommend this book called “Forgive and Forget”, by Lewis B. Smedes, for an in-depth study of this subject.

God bless and I hope you have a good day.