August 18, 1992
Forgiveness is perhaps the most marvelous grace — yet also the most misunderstood. Whenever someone says “I forgive, but I will never forget” or “How can I forgive... it will just happen again” or “No problem, it was nothing,” they have not fully realized the reality of forgiveness.
First, forgiveness does not require to never again recall that you were offended. While the Psalmist pleads “Do not remember the sins of my youth nor my transgressions; according to Your mercy remember me for Your goodness’ sake, O LORD” (Psalms 25:7) and God says “I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25), the Bible makes it clear that God does not simply forget things.
“Remember” can mean call to mind with the intention of acting upon those thoughts in an appropriate way. Since sin against God deserves judgment, the psalmist asks God to “forget” his sins by showing mercy rather than wrath.
Second, biblical forgiveness is not based on whether or not the offender repeats what has been done. If that were the case, God could never forgive any of us. Christians are well aware of how the sins we struggle to never do are the very sins we tend to repeat. If God gave only one or even three chances, we would never experience His forgiveness.
Third, forgiveness is not given lightly, with a glib “no problem.” Sin is serious and forgiveness is costly. The holy nature of God demands sin be punished. He could neither overlook offenses against Him or underrate their seriousness. However, rather than inflict those who sinned, He sent His Son who “became sin for us that we might receive the righteousness of God.” God the Son suffered and died so we could be forgiven.
For us, forgiveness is not easy either. It demands a choice reject thinking about the offenses of the one who has sinned against us, refusing to mull it over in our minds or allow ourselves to indulge in indignation or a spirit of vengeance. While we may not ever forget what was done, we must choose not to remember it with hostility and bitterness.
For us, forgiveness also has little to do with the behavior of the one we forgive and a great deal to do with our inner attitude. The other person may never repent or ask for forgiveness, but we must hold an attitude of forgiveness in our hearts. Whether they are willing to receive it or not is not our responsibility. We have to wrestle with our own pride and sense of self-preservation with accompanying emotional desires to retaliate. It is a hard-fought battle to overcome our own anger for the sake of forgiving. When we do it, the ball is in the offender’s court.
Winning this battle is much easier for those who understand the price that was paid by God for their own forgiveness. He says: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31,32).
God knows we will be hurt, bitter, angry and filled with malice towards others. Life is like that and sinners are like that; we hurt one another and we react to those hurts. The imperative here is not to react with anger but instead put those thoughts away — the equivalent of not “remembering” them — and replace them with kindness and a tenderness towards those who offend. They may not deserve it or even ask for it yet that is how God in Christ has forgiven us. We have not deserved it and many have not even asked for it, yet it is fully available from Him.
No, refusing to hold on to a desire for revenge is not easy, especially if the offender keeps on hurting us, but it is possible by the grace of God and the example set by His Son to fully and completely forgive.