Thoughts about Forgiveness, Part I
As part of the class that I’m involved in co-teaching right now – a book study of What’s So Amazing About Grace – we’ve been exploring the concept of forgiveness. It’s been interesting to me some of the comments that have come to the surface about people’s believe or experience in forgiveness.
Some of them I disagree with (Big woopdie-do; just because I disagree with them doesn’t mean the other person is wrong. It could mean that I am wrong, but I think they are some things to consider.)
The longer the amount of time between the act which hurt me and the time in which I will forgive the person, the easier it is to forgive him.
Is that really true, all the time? Many people in class seemed to agree with this statement. It is interesting to me that many of the illustrations that Yancey uses in this chapter are stories about long term – 35 year old – grudges which split families. He even talks about a generation-long argument. I can understand that idea that sometimes a little perspective is needed calm hot anger, but I wonder if perhaps that as more time passes, the deeper the resentment takes root, becomes a part of us, and the harder it is to let it go.
Think about Joseph in the Old Testament. Comments were made in class that he had had a better life because his brothers had betrayed him (which is true) and that he had had a lifetime to “get over it” (which is also true). All of this should have made it easier to forgive his brothers, but look at this verse:
Joseph couldn’t hold himself in any longer, keeping up a front before all his attendants. He cried out, “Leave! Clear out—everyone leave!” So there was no one with Joseph when he identified himself to his brothers. But his sobbing was so violent that the Egyptians couldn’t help but hear him. (Genesis 45:1-2).This forgiveness is NOT easy for Joseph. It is wrenching.
It is easier to forgive a family member or someone close to us than it is to forgive someone who is not close.
Is it? Is it always easier? The problem involved in that logic is that the person who is emotionally close to us has more power to hurt us, and hurting us involves the betrayal of trust. An acquaintance doesn’t have that power.
Think back again to Joseph. These are his brothers, but the pain of it – the pain that he has to let go of – is huge. Would he have had this much of a problem forgiving someone who he didn’t know who had hurt him?
I can see the motivating factor in forgiving a family member – we love them. We desire for a restored relationship, but I think to assume that all of that makes it easier is not always correct.
I can’t forgive him (them) because he started it. Why should I make the first move?
I think that there might be two problems with this statement. First, and thinking again back to Joseph, he could certainly claim that his brothers had “started it.” They certainly were wrong to sell him into slavery, but was Joseph blameless? Think back to Genesis 37, and Joseph’s dreams of greatness. He did not show much sensitivity to his brothers when he told them that they would bow down to him. If Joseph had taken the attitude that “they wronged me,” and refused to forgive them for it, then he would have been standing on a rather self-righteous platform.
Secondly, and I think that this is an extremely important, but difficult concept to grasp, it doesn’t really matter at all “who started it.”
My co-teacher made a comment which I heartily agreed with and wanted to applaud. I think it is SO IMPORTANT to understand. Forgiveness, for us, has nothing to do with the person being forgiven. It doesn’t matter if the forgiven person is repentant, unrepentant, dead, alive, continuing to commit the sin, or is the one who started it. None of that matters. Forgiveness matters most to the person who is doing the forgiveness. If we put off trying to reach for the healing power of forgiveness until some external criteria is met by the person to be forgiven, then we are placing our ability to be healed in the hands of the one who wronged us. This is not a gift we are grudgingly giving to the one to be forgiven; it is a gift we are accepting from God for our own healing.
Tomorrow, what is the role of grace?