What is Christian Forgiveness?
We often hear the word forgiveness. We are told to forgive and that forgiveness heals. We use the word so easily, yet have we reflected on its true meaning? I imagine if we asked ten people they would give us ten different meanings. According to the Webster Collegiate Dictionary, forgiveness is the act of forgiving. Then, I looked up forgiving and it said “Willing or able to forgive and allowing room for error or weakness.” Under forgive it said, “To give up resentment, to grant relief of payment of debt, and to cease to feel resentment to another.” When I looked in a thesaurus under forgive, it said, “To wipe the slate clean, let someone off the hook, pardon, excuse, overlook.”
I believe forgiveness can be described with some of those words but it goes much deeper. In this book, I have written from a spiritual basis. Forgiveness, for me, has to come from the heart and soul. It has to be worked through and for many of us takes time. If we say we forgive someone before we actually are ready, it can make us feel more in turmoil. It gives us a feeling of guilt.
The best way I can explain forgiveness is to look at the scriptures and see how Jesus has forgiven us. There is no better example or description. I will quote a passage which shows how he forgives. I admit that this is just a drop in the bucket. As we read this passages I encourage us to think of the times Jesus has forgiven us personally. It could be through another person, prayer, song, situations, or even dance. I happen to use dance as a form of prayer. When we reflect on how we have been forgiven, it helps us to forgive ourselves and others.
Knowing how Jesus forgives has helped me to forgive. He understands my feelings and the situation. Does that means he condones all I did? No. But he also doesn’t judge it. He knows I am human and will make mistakes. Remember the woman who was caught in adultery. He forgave her sin but then said not to repeat it.
By realizing I was forgiven, I was open to the idea of forgiving others. As a toddler, two teenagers sexually abused me. They had a knife and were going to kill me. Thank God they didn’t. But for many years I was afraid I would get hurt and had a lot of inner fear. Only when I realized they must have felt emotional pain to have wanted to hurt me was I able to consider forgiving them. I didn’t know what their family life was like. When I was able to realize they had a huge problem and they might never feel peace I was able to forgive and pray for them.
There is a story in the Bible which illustrates the spiritual forgiveness of a father. What does it teach us about forgiveness? Read it with a focus on forgiveness and its meaning.
Luke, Chapter 15:11-32 (New American Bible, Saint Joseph Edition)
Then he said,” A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, “Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country and he fund himself in dire need.
I see myself in the story. Jesus has given me the inheritance of eternal life and, yes, also the cross. Sometimes I squander the life he has given me by wanting to do things my way, or forgetting to connect with Jesus, or any number of things. I need to ask myself daily if am I am squandering the love and peace he wants to give me. Am I too busy focusing on stress and challenges, instead of being mindful of his love? Am I able to see how sometimes I squander the gifts Jesus has given me? I think we all do. We can all relate to the younger son. We say to Jesus, as did the son, “Give us peace, give us eternal life.” Then life becomes difficult. We feel lost and our heart feels empty, as if we just can’t give anymore. We feel desperately in need. Or, there might be a crisis in our life. We have a deep yearning and hunger for something or someone to help us. If we have an addiction, this can be a powerful moment of truth, knowing we can’t fight addiction by ourselves. Sometimes, in fact most times, it’s at our lowest low.I continue with the story.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill on the pods on which the swine fed, but no one gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, How many of my fathers hired workers have more than enough to eat, but here am I dying from hunger.
He cries for food but no one can give him the sustenance he needs. He’s dying from hunger. But, I wonder if the story is talking about hunger for food. We may search to heal our pain and loneliness any number of ways, usually not very helpful ways. We may keep these old self-destructive ways for years, until we are almost dying inside. Eventually, we realize that we can’t go on this way. Then, we think of what we need the most. If we are able to self-analyze, we find we have a need to feel loved, and share that love, and have a sense of purpose. Hopefully, someone we respect or love leads us to Jesus in some way. We notice that people who have deep spirituality seem to be at peace. They are helping others but not judging them. Their faithfulness touches our soul. It could be any person or any situation that leads us to Jesus. Our soul reacts. It knows it has found its true home. Can you see how the younger brother remembered his father and found how life was better when he was with him? I have found the same is true for me. When I am connected to Jesus, I am much more at peace.I will continue with the story.
I shall go up to my father and I shall say to him, “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one your hired workers.” So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off his father caught sight of him and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son to embrace him and kissed him. His son said to his father,” Father I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.”
But his father ordered his serveents, “Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fatted calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life again; he was lost and has now been found.” Then the celebration began.
Sometimes it can be very hard to say we’re sorry and have messed up. This is especially true with something spiritual. We may have started our spiritual journey with enthusiasm and faith, then life happened and we found ourselves following out own path instead of following Jesus. We might even find it hard to come to Jesus and say what we have done. He knows it already, but it’s good for us to say it and acknowledge it. Perhaps we relapsed with something we are addicted to, or it could be any number of things. We may feel guilty and ashamed and wonder if Jesus can ever forgive us. After all, we started so well and were going to do whatever we needed to do to follow him and now we feel like we have failed.
Notice, in the story of the prodigal son, what the father does. While he was still far off his father saw him and was filled with compassion and ran to him. Ran to him! The father didn’t even ask any questions. He embraced his son and kissed him.
I believe that is what Jesus does for us. What an incredible story of forgiveness! Not only does he embraces his son, but celebrates! His son has returned! Jesus does the same for us. I think he is so excited when we know we have messed up and come back to him. We come back home, in a sense.
Should we be like the father and forgive in this way? Perhaps some people can. Many of us, though, have strong feelings when we are hurt. Forgiveness is realizing we are all like the prodigal son at times. But we are all beloved brothers and sisters of God. If we belief this strongly we will find it much easier to forgive.
However, forgiveness is not letting someone walk all over us. That is not what Jesus has in mind. We need to learn the spiritual and psychological tools for dealing with someone who may be abusive. We can live life with forgiveness while at the same time respecting our own life.
Forgiveness is remembering how we have been forgiven by Jesus. Usually we experience this by coming to him in prayer but like this story Jesus might run to us before we even have a chance to speak. By that I mean Jesus might work through another person, inspiring them to forgive us even before we explain how bad we feel. Yet in the story, the son still said how he felt even after the father embraced him. Like the son, I think we do need to express our sadness in hurting someone and let them know we acknowledge the pain we must have caused. When we do, I have an image of Jesus embracing us, just as the father did with the prodigal son. Following is a prayer which may express this in a clear way.
My trust and
hope is given to Jesus.
My soul rests
in his outstretched arms.
My heart beats with
the warmth of his love.
Where else can I
go when the storms of life come?
Where else will I
find everlasting peace?
Yes, Jesus is my
rock and comfort.
He whispers come to me
for I will give you rest.
He is waiting for us to come to him, surrendering all our feelings. He knows what we need. I have never found any peace or compassion that compares to Jesus forgiving me.
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