The following is adapted heavily from Timothy S. Lane’s article titled “Pursuing and Granting Forgiveness” which was originally published in The Journal of Biblical Counseling in Spring of 2005. It can be read in its entirety online here: http://www.gigr.org/uploads/Forgive.pdf
Forgiveness is such a crucial part of many people’s healing. Unforgiveness is one of those top three factors that brings on depression. But it is also a very difficult topic. There are many confusions about what it is and how it happens, and why we fight it. Timothy Lane’s article does an excellent job of detailing all of these hard to explain or understand topics. I’ve used it with many clients, and found great results. Below I will summarize each section and point made, and provide my insights as well.
WHAT IS FORGIVENESS?
Before we can know how to forgive, we have to accurately define. Lane separates out this definition into 7 sections:
- Forgiveness cancels a debt.
When someone wrongs us, we have this feeling as if they owe us. Forgiveness involves releasing them from that obligation.
- Forgiveness makes a three-fold promise.
1 – I will not bring up this offense again. (Forgiveness is not authentic if we use the offense over and over to knock the offender down again)
2 – I will not gossip or malign you because of this offense. (No getting together with your girlfriends or buddies and knocking your spouse for it behind closed doors)
3 – I will not dwell on this offense. (No playing the video tape of the event over and over. No, I won’t ask you to destroy the tape, but it’s time to pop it out and put it on the shelf)
- Failure to forgive turns victims into victimizers.
This is the concept where the real person that unforgiveness hurts is you – not them. You are sabatoging your own future. They are free, they’ve probably moved on. You are stuck, and it may be eating you alive. You may inevitably take that out on others or yourself.
- Failure to forgive has an eternal cost.
Matthew 6:15 says “if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Yoda says “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering” – all of which is the path to the dark side. Unforgiveness breeds bitterness, hate, fear, and suffering.
- Forgiveness is both and event and a process.
It is something we don’t just do once and be done with it. It is an event, in the sense that it is an action we take, but it is also a process in the fact that we have to continue to choose a lifestyle of forgiveness. It’s a daily choice. It is not a simple one-and-done.
- Forgiveness is not forgetting.
This is one that really trips a lot of people up and prevents forgiveness. Many think they must forget that the offense ever happened. This is simply not true. This is a wrong interpretation of Jeremiah 31:34 that says that God will remember our sins no more. Lane says “but the omniscient God does not have amnesai when it comes to our sins. The word ‘remember’ in this passage does not mean ‘memory’, it means ‘covenant’”. God chooses to not dwell on our sins anymore.
- Forgiveness is not peace at any cost.
Many do not wish to forgive because they think that will give the offender the permission to walk all over them. To get past this we need to understand that forgiveness is not for them, it is for you. Forgiveness opens the door for Godly confrontation in love. It opens the door for healthy communication and restoration.
After these seven concepts, I think we can summarize forgiveness into the following statement:
Forgiveness is treating another person not as though they deserve.
Or you can put it towards yourself… forgiveness is treating yourself not as though you think you deserve.
Now that we know what forgiveness is or is not, we can move onto how to do it.
Lane outlines five parts of how to practice forgiveness, and you will notice quickly that most of them have to do with looking inward first and making sure you are ready to forgive. Matthew 7:5 says “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
- Don’t turn a blind eye to sin.
Don’t ignore your own faults. Watch your behavior. Learn from mistakes.
- Love the habitual sinner wisely.
This has to do with setting appropriate boundaries. Sometimes we don’t know exactly what to do or how to handle the situation, but God does! This is where we entrust the person’s well being to God because we can’t be involved in that lifestyle.
- Hold yourself to a high Biblical standard.
Here’s where we really examine ourself: our character, our integrity. This is where we remain open to reconciliation even in the worst of circumstances. I think about the many times I hear people talk about marital unfaithfulness as a ‘deal-breaker’. I understand that feeling, but I don’t think that concept resembles a high Biblical standard. Just because divorce is justified because of unfaithfulness, doesn’t mean it has to automatically be our default position.
- Deal first with your own heart attitude.
This has to do with making forgiveness a lifestyle, not just a choice or action we do. Lane says “you cannot use the offender’s failure to ask for forgiveness as an excuse to hold onto your anger and hurt.” We have a responsibility to forgive first on a vertical axis – with God before we attempt horizontal forgiveness with the offender… and there’s no excuse for not forgiving them on the vertical axis.
- Ask for forgiveness.
And finally, after all that preparation – this is the step where we actually do it. This is the event of forgiveness. The process continues on afterwards. This may be us asking for forgiveness or letting someone know we forgive them. In my house when our kids have to ask for forgiveness it is a 4 step process:
1 – apologize.
2 – why was it wrong.
3 – what will you do differently in the future.
4 – ask for forgiveness.
Even after learning all of the above, many of us are still hestiant to forgiveness. Why is that?? Lane outlines three more bullet points on why we don’t forgive.
WHY DON’T WE FORGIVE
- You don’t believe that you need to be forgiven.
Ever thought this: well, I’ve done wrong but I’ve never killed anyone. Yeah, that’s this concept. It wasn’t a big deal what I did. But by who’s standard? God’s standard is perfection. In only took one sin for paradise to be lost in the Garden of Eden. What’s so wrong with eating a piece of fruit? Nothing in theory, but it was wrong because they were told not to. Anything that God tells us not to do, but we do anyways is sin – and automatically separates us from God – and we need forgiveness.
- You don’t think you are forgivable.
Sounding like humility, this is actually pride. What you are saying is:
1 – My sin is too big, there is no way God’s grace can top it.
2 – I don’t want to rely solely on God’s mercy.
3 – God may forgive me but I can’t forgive myself.
This last one sounds like humility but it’s full of pride. If God is the judge and deems you not guilty, then you sit in judgment of his judgment – what does that say about your faith?
- The joy of His forgiveness has grown dim.
Lane says “the white hot truth of the Gospel gets lost in that monotony, and it soon becomes simply a nice, warm experience of the past. We return to handling daily life and the provocations of others in ways similar to our pre-Christian days.”
This entire article is the roadmap to forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is for you, for your sanity, for your future. It is God’s plan for your life. It is a lifestyle. It is choosing to treat someone not as though they deserve. God does it for us. The least we can do is do it for others. I know it is hard, but I promise it is worth it. I leave you with the song and story behind the song of Matthew West’s “Forgiveness”…