Seven Ways to Avoid Forgiveness
Forgiveness is hard. Just ask my kids. As my wife and I are daily teaching them to reconcile with mom and dad, one another, and others—for hitting, biting, lying, failing to obey, not showing love, etc—we have learned some words are harder to say than others. For instance, saying “I’m sorry” or “He started it” seem to come naturally. But, “Please forgive me for ___________ (fill in sin here)” … come much more slowly. They’ll use a thousand different words before they’ll use forgiveness language. I think like all of us my children realize there’s something weighty about forgiveness. Something happens when we request forgiveness which can be avoided when we seek other means of responding to sin and conflict.
The avoidance of forgiveness is detrimental to our whole person—mind, body, and soul. Recent research out of American Psychological Association shows that when forgiveness increases in an individual’s life, stress decreases. While this may seem obvious, it’s noteworthy that we’re made to live at peace with each other. Therefore the challenge and even battle of seeking reconciliation is worthy of our collective pursuit.
So what exactly is forgiveness? Why do we find it so difficult to employ?
LOVE AND JUSTICE
Jesus is the Great High Priest. As such he displays his faithfulness to his Father and affection for humanity by dying for our sins (salvation) and presiding over our spiritual formation (sanctification). In both cases Jesus takes our sin seriously by taking our sin on himself.
Writing to Roman Christians Paul put it this way …
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Jesus is both just and loving. Love and justice are the two primary ingredients of forgiveness. Love animates the matter by leading both the one who has sinned and the one who has been sinned against to consider and embrace grace. Justice holds each accountable, demanding that sin be acknowledged, confessed, repented of, and paid for.
Regretfully we fail to trust and obey Jesus the Great High Priest in the midst of sin. Our failure to believe is evidenced by our failure to forgiven. We either lack love or justice—sometimes both. And when we leave one or the other behind we make up alternatives to forgiveness which accomplish little else but more pain and deeper offense. I think there are at least seven ways we avoid forgiveness—three lack justice, four lack love.
Instead of forgiving we dismiss justice by …
Forgetting. Believing we are loving someone well we can be temped to act like an offense is a thought which can be buried in time. In trying to simply forget we trust that time is a greater physician and healer than Jesus. The truth is, time has never healed a wound because time doesn’t produce justice.
Dismissing. Another way we fail to embrace justice is by acting as if the offense is not that big of a deal. But doing so ignores the evil, pain, and brokenness of sin as well as the costliness of grace.
Burying. When we can’t forget or dismiss something we just bury it. In many respects this is a result of taking the full blame for something that of which we are not fully guilty. But in owning something completely we taken on what we can not bear and we are tempted to grow bitter and hold grudges.
Instead of forgiving we neglect love by …
Blaming. Anger often can overtake us when we have been wronged and are in pain. Therefore instead of extending grace we point the finger and desire the guilty person to feel the full weight of pain that we do.
Begrudging. Holding a grudge presumes personal perfection. We have to be perfect if we demand perfection from others and hold their mistakes, sin, and foolishness over their heads.
Revenging. Perhaps the most damaging denial of love comes is seeking revenge. This is a desire fueled by the belief that justice is only served when the guilty experience the same pain as the one who has been offended. But evil is not redemptive. So when we return evil for evil it only worsens pain and increases relational tension and separation.
Emoting. This might as well be called “Tweeting”. Instead of embrace love and justice, something we just rant. In this we believe releasing emotional—in whatever forum. However in only using emotive language we do not confront the problem caused by sin in the first place we merely air our feelings.
WHAT IT IS TO FORGIVE
To be sure there are hints of virtue in many of the alternatives. It is good to share our feelings. It is appropriate to long for justice to be served. It is understandable when it takes time to uncover and understand the impact of an offense. It can be helpful to dismiss minor grievances. However forgiveness always provides a much more robust, healthy, and gospel-informed response.
Forgiveness is when we take action in response to sin. It is the work of acknowledging the injustice of sin and yet also seeking to graciously reconcile the relationship. When sin is articulated and forgiveness has been requested then the one who has been sinned against can extend both justice and love.
Justice is achieved when the offense and cost of the offense are clear. Love is achieved when the one sinned against agrees to pay the price of the sin. That’s what forgiveness ultimately comes down to … the one who has been sinned against agreeing to take on the pain and price of the sin of another. While the guilty must acknowledge that this grace has taken place.
Herein forgiveness becomes the unique offspring of love and justice.