Forgiveness in Proverbs #3
An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins. Proverbs 29:22
For me to understand forgiveness it is helpful to think first about what forgiveness is not. John Ortberg suggests three things that forgiveness is not in his book Everybody’s Normal Until You Get to Know Them, (p.157-58).
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One, excusing. Excusing is what we do when we make allowances for people who break the law or do something not normally considered appropriate when conditions warrant it. If you see me driving 55 in a 35, you might frown. But if you find out I’m driving someone with a serious cut to the emergency room, you excuse my speed. We call this extenuating circumstances. There is nothing to forgive because we understand the nature of the situation calls for some drastic action, such as getting to the hospital as fast as possible.
It was when an action is inexcusable that it must be forgiven. If I was driving 55 in 35 simply because I like to go fast, and I’m risking peoples' lives, that is inexcusable.
Two, forgetting. This is a hard one to wrap our minds around, because we’ve always heard forgive and forget used in the same sentence. It’s as if they go together hand-in-glove: if you forgive, you must forget; if you haven’t forgotten, you haven’t really forgiven.
Some things that can be forgiven cannot be forgotten. If you lose your leg to a drunk driver, can you forgive that? Yes. But, can you ever forget it? Every morning when you wake up and swing your legs (or leg) out of the bed and go to stand, you remember. If you can’t forget the offense, does that also mean you can’t forgive it?
No. So what does it mean to forgive if not to forget? To forgive someone an offense is to no longer hold that offense against them. You don’t judge them or treat them on the basis of the offense you have forgiven. I like John Ortberg’s description of forgiveness. He says forgiveness is when “past sins become irrelevant.” (P. 157). When we can treat the other person as if their offenses are irrelevant, we have forgiven them, even if we haven’t forgotten.
Three, reconciling. Often, when we forgive someone we are reconciled to them. But, not always. Forgiveness is what takes place in the heart of one person; reconciliation is what takes place between two or more people. A child can forgive his or her abuser. But, it wouldn’t be a good idea for them to reconcile, at least not until the child is an adult and can make the decision on his or her own. To reconcile is to be put back into active relationship. Sometimes that active relationship is not safe or healthy, and distance is best. But, the offended can still forgive in that he regards the sins of the other as irrelevant. The wounded party has let go of the offense and isn’t controlled by it anymore. “Reconciliation requires the rebuilding of trust, and that means good faith on the part of both parties.” (P.158)
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So, what is forgiveness? In the previous post I discussed three steps in the process of forgiveness. You can click here to read it. (In the reworking of the manuscript I have reversed posts 2 & 3 so that I discuss what forgiveness is not before discussing what it is).
There will be one more post in this series on forgiveness in Proverbs. Thanks for reading along!