Forgiveness is…

What are we doing when we forgive someone?

To forgive is a decision to release or set someone free that has done wrong to us. It is canceling the debt we are owed by them.

Lewis Smedes suggested that three things happen when we forgive another person:

1) We rediscover the humanity of the person who hurt us.

When we are hurt we can find ourselves defining the person who hurt us by what they did to us.  When we forgive we’re reminded that the person who hurt us isn’t just defined by what they did to us.  They are no different than us –  a sinner – a person who experiences failure – someone with weaknesses.

2) We surrender our right to get even.

When I’m hurt I want to lash out and settle the score.  But when we forgive we take the person who hurt us off our hook and place them on God’s hook.

3) We begin to renew our feelings about the person who did us wrong.

It may take some time, but when we forgive we begin to pray that God would bless the person who hurt us.  We begin to wish them well (even if partially mean it.)  This is sure sign that forgiveness is freeing us.

I resist forgiving because I don’t want to give up my right to get even.  I don’t want to let them go because I feel powerful when I hold something over another person.  I avoid forgiveness because I forget that the person who hurt me needs it just as much as I do.

But, the truth of forgiveness is found in a quote by Corrie Ten Boom, a Holocaust survivor, who said,“Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free, and to realize the prisoner was you.”

Forgiveness leads to freedom.  For the person who hurt you and ultimately you.

Have you ever forgiven someone and actually wished them well?

Oops, I thought I was generous.

Peter is one of Jesus’ students.  He has seen Jesus in action and he has seen Jesus’ posture of mercy and service with his own eyes.  He feels inspired to be more generous with forgiveness and so he thought he’d tell Jesus his radical thinking.  (Maybe Jesus would be amazed at his growing mercy and generosity!)

Peter: “Jesus, I’ve been thinking about how often we should forgive someone.  I know that the traditional view is to forgive someone three times.  But, should we forgive seven times?”  (Jesus is going to be impressed.  Seven times.  That is double what everyone else is saying plus one more.  I am so generous and forgiving!)

Jesus: “Seven?  No, try seventy times seven!”

Peter: “Oh… okay.”  (I guess I wasn’t so generous with my forgiveness after all.)

Jesus (knowing what Peter was thinking): “I forgive you.”

They both laugh.

– Based on Matthew 18:21-22

Three strikes and you are out!  Keeping track of forgiveness is tempting.  Jesus challenges us with the notion that forgiveness is not scarce and should be applied generously.  Maybe the question shouldn’t be: “How often we should forgive?” But rather, “How often do we want to be free?”

Who do I need to forgive today?

I like Neil Anderson’s formula for forgiveness:

“God, I choose to forgive _________, even though they _________, that made me feel _________.  Bless them today.”

Set someone free today and discover that you are the one freed.