Thursday, April 30, 2015

Why Do We Forgive?

Forgiveness is something we often struggle with. It doesn't come easily in many situations. The whole idea of it can sound so wrong to our ears.

We usually feel that it's easier to just refuse to forgive the other person. To either hold onto the hurt, or try to pretend it didn't happen and it didn't hurt. The problem is that refusing to forgive is actually more harmful to us than we realize.

I've sometimes wondered if part of my struggle with forgiveness is because of a misunderstanding of what it is based on words commonly associated with it as a kid. I have no idea where I learned it from, but somewhere along the line, the standard response when someone said they were sorry and I needed to forgive them became "that's okay."

Those words never felt right. But, I knew I had to say something and they were the only words I knew to say. The words "that's okay" always seemed to downplay the incident - make it seem less significant.

Somewhere along the way, this changed my thinking about what it meant to forgive someone. I came to associate it with making the situation and how I felt about it less important. I began to see it as saying the hurt I felt didn't matter. And that made it more difficult to forgive.

Except that was a wrong understanding of forgiveness.

Scripture teaches the importance of forgiveness. We're told over and over that we need to forgive. Jesus says it is so important that we should make things right with someone before we worship. Matthew 5:23-24 says:
"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to theml then come and offer your gift."
Unforgiveness prevents us from being able to worship God. When we become aware of a someone we need to forgive, Jesus' words in Matthew 5 teach us that we should deal with that right away.

So, if forgiveness is so important, even when it's so difficult, there must be something more about it than thinking it downplays the significance of a hurt. In fact, that is a misunderstanding of what it's about.

Forgiveness is about releasing the other person from having a hold in our lives any longer. It's not saying that what happened is okay. That's not what we're asked to do. It's about allowing God to bring His healing to our hurt rather than waiting for the person who hurt us to enough of the right things to make it right - something they will likely never do.

Forgiveness isn't saying that what happened wasn't important and didn't hurt. It is acknowledging that it happened and it hurt and then allowing God to heal the hurt. That is why we forgive.

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