Forgiveness, a powerful force for restoring relationships, can be strangled into impotency. How we go about releasing others from the hurt they have caused us can be as important as our willingness to forgive.
Consider a young inexperienced married couple. Perhaps one day the wife becomes convinced her husband’s motivation for some action was intentionally hurtful. Maybe he failed to buy something she requested. Maybe his actions conflicted with her plans or expectations. For our purposes, the details are not important. What is significant is her refusal to forgive until he first admits his guilt.
At the same time, her husband’s frustration grows at her demand that he acknowledges how bad he has been. While she might accurately describe his behavior, she could be completely misjudging his motives.
Maybe he simply forgot. Maybe his attention was focused elsewhere or his offending actions have nothing to do with her. So he retorts, “Why should I admit to having mistreated you when I am innocent?”
Both remain adamant. Both are convinced they are right. The relationship, suffering an impasse, continues to hemorrhage.
No gender or age group is exempt from holding forgiveness hostage to confession. Jesus models another way to forgive.
While hate still seethed from their hearts and hands, Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Unlike those situations where we might be guilty of misjudging others, Jesus’ understanding was accurate. Even so, he did not demand they first acknowledge their error before he would seek their forgiveness. Love saw shackled souls. Love spoke.
Love can break the log jam of our imperfect ways of forgiving. Love motivates us to release others from their heavy burdens. When disciples reflect God’s love, they will act because of who they are, not because others are deserving.
Forgiveness does not involve a naive waving of the wand pretending nothing hurtful happened. Rather, forgiveness entails releasing someone from repaying the debt we understand they have created for themselves. Neither true love nor forgiveness enable destructive ways. Both love and forgiveness seek to lift others up to a better place.
In an ironic twist, when as frail humans we mistakenly misjudge others but we forgive them without demanding a confession, in reality we release ourselves from being culpable in damaging the relationship.
Jesus told the story about a citizen who refused to forgive his fellow citizen. The king seized that unforgiving man throwing him into jail to be tortured, until his own personal debt could be repaid. Then Jesus taught, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart'” (Matthew 18:35).
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