As we continue our extended discussion of peace and relational conflict based on Andy Farmer’s book Real Peace: What we Long for and Where to Find It, we have seen that for many offenses against us, our course is to bear with one another, choosing to overlook those things as an exercise of grace and mercy. That grace and mercy comes from our renewed heart and is patterned on the grace and mercy God Himself has shown us in Christ.
But what about the offenses that we should not overlook? What about those times when we are sinned against that are too painful, too damaging to be able to bear with one another? How do we pursue peace in the face of such actions? Paul has additional words for us in Colossians 3:13. Together with bearing with one another comes forgiveness. As Paul notes, “…if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col. 3:13b, ESV)
What is forgiveness? A better start might be speaking of what forgiveness is not. It is not simply saying “I’m sorry.” It is not responding with, “That’s ok,” when it is really not. It is not appeasement. It is not personal vindication. It has no winners or losers. None of these things or anything related to them is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a holy privilege for Christians. We who have been forgiven in Christ have the privilege of offering forgiveness to and receiving forgiveness from one another. If you have sinned against someone, you need forgiveness from God and from them. If we have been sinned against, we are obligated to forgive those who sin against us.
Forgiveness is tough. In forgiveness we choose to cover the offense of another’s sin. In forgiveness, we permanently release any debt owed, never to bring it up again. Forgiveness has a cost. It is painful. It involves bearing the emotional cost of someone’s sins against us, fore-going revenge or the ability to harbor a grudge. Forgiveness is lettering the offender go free. Forgiveness means dying to being right, even in the face of another’s confession of sin.
When we pursue forgiveness from someone else, there are four things we need to prepare to say:
I was wrong.
Do you see anything that I might not be seeing?
How did this affect you?
Will you please forgive me?
In closing, let me quote Andy Farmer as he quotes Christian philosopher Cornelius Plantinga speaking about forgiveness:
Forgiveness is a journey with a definitive start, not a closure experience. To forgive, we will have to do some dying. We will have to pray our anger into the heart of God. Forgiveness is about setting certain memories out of our reach. Instead we deliberately bring to mind that which will soften our hearts toward the other. We will focus on the value of lasting relationship. Forgiveness is a form of grace that flourishes for all parties. Forgiveness does not mean setting the clock back on the relationship (as if nothing happened). It is a turning away from destruction to a new future.” (Real Peace, pg. 139)