What Does It Mean To Forgive?

True story. A pastor on my staff discovered that a close friend of their family had sexually molested her 10-year-old granddaughter repeatedly over many years.

The courtroom trial was both public and horrible. The child herself had to testify. As far as I know, the man is still in prison for his crimes.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FORGIVE?
We forgive the human being. God alone forgives the sin. When we forgive someone, we do not in ANY way try to excuse what happened – or to minimize the hurt received – or somehow to convince ourselves that maybe it was not all that bad. No, it probably was all that bad.

However, CHOOSING to forgive (that word “choose” is important) means we let the person go. We let them go of OUR continuing judgment against them. We choose to let God be their judge. We let go of our vengeance. We let them off our hook.

My pastor friend was finally able to forgive the abuser. I am not sure her husband ever did.

Choosing to forgive though means, we give up our own retribution. We entrust punishment to our judicial system, or if that fails, to the hand of God himself. God says in his Bible, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay.”

WHY DO WE CHOOSE TO FORGIVE?
We forgive others as an act of obedience to Jesus Christ. He has forgiven us our MANY sins. Therefore, we must also forgive. In fact, Jesus taught that we must forgive – or our own sins will not be forgiven (Matthew 6:15).

We also forgive in order that our own souls may be healed. One reason Jesus taught that we are not to sit in judgment on others is because we are not equipped to handle it. Not just because we never know the complete truth about someone else – but our souls cannot stand up under the weight of sitting in judgment on others.

As a pastor for many years now, I have seen with my own eyes the physical and mental torment of those who refuse to forgive. We have a healing ministry at our church. Prior to almost ANY prayer for healing, we gently encourage the person receiving prayer to forgive those who have injured them. Often, just that act of forgiving brings the healing they seek.

HOW DO WE FORGIVE? WHAT IS THE PROCESS?
We choose to forgive. It is an act of our will, usually IN SPITE OF the feelings of outrage inside us. It is an act of obedience and it can be a painful one, depending on the offense.

Some things done to people are unimaginable. It may be that prayer for inner healing, deliverance from evil, as well as professional therapy is needed before the choice to forgive can be made.

However, we must not confuse the CHOICE to forgive with FEELING our way to forgiveness. Feelings will eventually follow our thoughts and choices. But, if we let our feelings lead as to when and if we will forgive, we may never do so.

How do you forgive? Say out loud with intention, “LORD JESUS, FOR YOUR SAKE, I FORGIVE __________________ AND I LET HIM GO.”

That is it.

Then as often as the remembrance of that person resurfaces, together with the familiar feelings of injury and outrage, say it again. And again. The first day you may have to say it 500 times. The next day only 300 times. The following day, maybe just 50. And so on. You get the picture.

LIMIT ACCESS BY THE OFFENDER?
A young woman asked to meet with me. She told me about her physically abusive father and the years of abuse she received at his hand. Now that she was married and had children, her father wanted to be involved in her life again.

She asked me, “I have forgiven my dad, but I just don’t want him in my life anymore. Does God require that I let him back in?” I told her ‘no.”

God does not expect us to return to the scene of abuse if there is ANY question of it happening again. Nevertheless, we must forgive.

THE FINAL STAGE OF FORGIVENESS.
Perhaps it is best the offender should never be seen or communicated with again. Even so, having made that initial choice to forgive, the healing love of Christ will EVENTUALLY soften us to the point where we ask God, with freedom and joy, to forgive the offender as well.

May it be so, Lord! Amen.