Forgiveness has been on my heart’s brain for a while. At least the past month. And I’ve been trying to figure out why. Why forgiveness is consistently on my thoughts, heart, and soul, and what I’m supposed to do about it. The more it’s become the forefront of my thoughts, the more I’ve realized that forgiveness is the oil that keeps the gears of this world moving. Without forgiveness, there would be no reconciliations, no movement forward, and most importantly, no capacity to love.
And that got me thinking: as humans, what is our responsibility in forgiveness?
Turns out, a whole lot of nothing and a little bit of everything.
(Don’t worry, I’ll explain that in a bit. Give me a second).
Jesus was the Original Forgiver, and the Best One at That
Forgiveness is one of the core themes of the bible. Jesus forgives people countless times in the Bible. Not only did he forgive without precondition, he forgave frequently and willingly. And, of course, the reason Jesus had to die was for us, as sinful humans, to be forgiven of our sins and then to be allowed into eternity with a God greater than we could ever imagine. Jesus is who we should mirror when it comes to forgiveness (and, well, everything else too). When asked by Peter how many times we should forgive someone, Jesus was straightforward with his answer:
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”
– Matthew 18:22 [NLT] –
In this vein, Jesus wasn’t asking Peter to do math, and then come to the conclusion that you should forgive someone 490 times (I’m pretty sure that math is right). He was saying that we shouldn’t even keep track of how many times we forgive someone, we should just forgive, forgive, forgive, and if given the opportunity, forgive again.
Releasing Pain Starts with Forgiveness
God pushes it even further, in terms of our capacity as lowly humans of this world. Not only are we, as Christ-followers, called to forgive, but we are also called to love the ones who wrong us. I realize that’s hard. People do some terrible things, either directly to us, or directly to the ones we love, or the places we love, or the things we love. And I know, for me, when someone wrongs my loved ones, I have a harder time forgiving them than if the wrong was committed against me. It took me a long time to come to the conclusion that
Forgiveness doesn’t condone the action done against you,
Forgiveness releases the actions’ hold on you.
Let me unpack this just a bit.
For years, I thought that forgiving someone meant that I was okay with what they did, and that that was the only way to move on. So for a long time, I held grudges. I held the negative emotions and aggressions associated with my hurt feelings in my heart. And that’s where they stayed, packed away. For a long time. And it was only when I started inviting Jesus into my hurt that I realized that I couldn’t separate the pain that was packed so deep in my heart from the love and hope that God was so desperately trying to fill me with.
There’s no room for Jesus in a Heart Packed with Hurt
And it was in that realization that I knew the only way to be filled with Jesus was to be drained of the hurt, which can only come from forgiveness. Which lead me to the conclusion that forgiving someone doesn’t reignite the pain they brought to your life, but allows you to lead with love both to them, and to the world. Paul talks about this in Romans. He discusses how we need to leave the judgment to God rather than us, and to feed our enemies and give them something to drink when they are thirsty (para. Romans 12:20). He finishes this particular thought with
“Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.”
– Romans 12:21 [NLT] –
Evil is the pain packed up in your heart, and the good is the forgiveness you can provide that releases it. And that good leads to more good, and more good, and more good. Which brings me back to my first point. Without forgiveness, our capacity to love is diminished, and we harden. The world needs the love that can bloom from forgiveness to keep going, keep the gears churning, and to bring God’s Kingdom to this earth, as it is in heaven.
So, what is Our Responsibility with Forgiveness?
Like I said before: a whole lot of nothing and a little bit of everything. We were freely given, by the grace of God, the capacity to love and forgive. So in essence, the hard part is done: Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and for our salvation. If we can model our forgiveness to others based on that one act, it should be a no-brainer each time to forgive someone. We don’t have to do anything- except in everything, make the decision to forgive. And by inviting God into our hearts and circumstances, that decision will get easier each time as it will, in turn, chip away at the hardness of your heart. Forgiveness is like riding a bike with training wheels- it gets easier the more you do it, and you can rely on God to help you continue without falling.
One Last Thing
Romans 3:23 says
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” [NLT]
Because of this, who are we not to forgive? We all sin, we all make mistakes, we all need forgiveness. And God grants it freely, each time we come to the cross. So if we are trying to live like Christ, we might have the best success in modeling this standard to all. This isn’t easy — let me be clear. But when we partner with Jesus >> be the vessel, we have a larger capacity to forgive, by focusing on multiplying kindness, not hate.
partner with Jesus >> be the vessel