You Really Want to Imitate God? Practice Forgiveness
But you don’t know what he did to me!
Or How can I ever get past that?
Or I wonder if you would say that if you were the offended one.
Another one is I have relived what she did a hundred times – I can’t get those images out of my head!
Those are some of the legitimate responses when a discussion of offenses and the notion of forgiveness takes place. For the Jesus follower, practicing forgiveness is an essential component of the Christian life.
It wasn’t a request – it was a command (Matthew 6:14-15).
And for married folks, extending forgiveness is an absolute necessity if you are going to move forward in a functional, healthy union. Offenses are inevitable when people are involved. Sometimes our wires get crossed and we do offend one another. The one perfect spouse is God – and we question and challenge Him too as to why He allowed this or that or seemingly didn’t come through and let this happen to us. Let’s keep it real – has God ever offended you?
I remember saying the Lord’s Prayer each night as a boy, kneeling at my bedside and reciting these impactful words. “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” I have revisited them many times and God has stirred my conscience to action because of them.
Whether a great offense or a small one, there are times in any relationship where forgiveness needs to occur. I don’t mean to trivialize it – God never said that forgiveness didn’t take time and work – but He did say forgive. Jesus’s response to the inquisitive Peter about how many times forgiveness should be practiced was not once or twice but “70 times 7.” (Matthew 18:21-22). In other words, the well from which forgiveness is drawn runs deep and wide.
Forgiveness has been called the highest form of love. Forgiveness is giving up my right to stay offended and my expectation for the offending party to “make things right.” In my selfishness, I have often downplayed or set aside my own offenses and need for forgiveness – but I’ve had the audacity to meditate hard on bestowing such grace to someone else.
Forgiveness is NOT automatically going back to “the way we were.” Situations oftentimes must change and yes, offenders need to be held accountable, lest they repeat the offending behavior.
There are so many incredible examples of forgiveness.
I marvel at Gayle Haggard, wife of Ted Haggard. Remember that story? Ted Haggard was an evangelical heavyweight who made national headlines in 2006 when he admitted he was “guilty of sexual immorality" after a male prostitute outed him with the revelation that he and Haggard had been in a years-long sexual relationship and had done methamphetamines together. The Haggards, outspoken conservatives who had a thriving 14,000-member church and five children, were disgraced and let go from the church they founded. Against all odds and public opinion, Gayle Haggard stayed with her husband and fought for her marriage. She authored a book about her reasons for staying and told one interviewer that she never considered leaving her husband. "I thought about who am I going to be in this story. What do I really believe and what do I really value, and what's worth fighting for for me?" Gayle said. "My marriage, as I had known it, was definitely being challenged but it was worth the fight."
She and Ted are together today and again lead a church, forever humbled by their past. But I have asked myself – what if I were in similar shoes? She had Biblical grounds to bounce, but she chose to stay. For her husband, what must he see when he looks at a spouse who chose to stay with him after his lies, deceit, and betrayal? Well – perhaps a picture of Jesus? I find Gayle’s capacity to forgive and restore her husband truly amazing. Only the power of God allowed that to happen.
But that story, as horrendous as it was, and countless other tales of humanity letting one another down, pales in comparison to the example of Jesus Himself. When I think about the worst betrayals I have experienced, when I relive them at times, I find myself running back to one place. When I shrink in horror at some of my own terrible choices that have hurt others, I have only one place to go for refuge and renewal. The cross.
When Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” He was not only talking about “them.” He was talking about me – and you. When He, in His unblemished perfection, took on the sins of the world, He rendered any argument we could make for unforgiveness moot. No matter the offense! I know that what some have experienced is heart-wrenching and beyond description. I in no way want to minimize the pain we inflict on one another.
But with the backdrop of Christ’s crucifixion and God’s demonstrated love for us, how dare we contemplate unforgiveness, no matter how much counseling, coaching, prayer, therapy, or time it takes. What He did for us is incomparable! Let’s walk in His footsteps.
Please don’t get me wrong – forgiveness is NOT restoration. Restoration takes two, and sometimes it is not advisable or possible – but forgiveness is an act that I can extend through submission to the Holy Spirit. And if my mind takes me back to the offense, I run back to the cross. And I forgive again. And again. And again.
It’s not always easy but don’t let offenses and unforgiveness rule the roost of your life. Be like Jesus and trust Him to turn those ashes into beauty. With what He did for us, how can we not give Him our all? In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace, Ephesians 1:7.