Forgiveness, one of the hardest expressions for us to extend, and yet one of the most necessary for our Spiritual health. Every generation has experienced tragedy and unspeakable evils during their life, moments that cause us to questions the fate of humanity and, at times, even the goodness of God.
Recent events [mass shootings, bombing, attempted assassinations of our leaders, the massive spread of human trafficking leading to slavery and sexual exploitation] seem to catch us off guard each time they are exposed. At times evil feels distant from our daily life, emotions, and experiences, but then, other events take place, which hit us at our core, and wake us up to reality.
This week I watched an interview on CBS this morning (watch here). The topic was religion and hope following the Boston bombing. One host asked the tough question: “how do you forgive the boys…?” (referring to the alleged attackers), and then: “does everybody deserve forgiveness?” I was struck by the Pastor’s response: “Forgiveness, really, this is the truth, is for our self. You’re not forgiving or excusing what they did; you’re releasing yourself from bitterness, releasing yourself from heartache. So I really believe forgiveness is for us, so that we can move on”
My intent is not to criticize or demean but I have two main issues with this response. First, forgiveness is not selfish; actually, it is the opposite, for it is self-less. In forgiveness, we are denying our self the perceived right of revenge, anger, hurt, and judgment. We are also releasing the other person from our retribution, in the process trusting God to deal with the consequences. Forgiveness does not deny consequences; to the contrary, it allows those consequences to come from a place of love and pure justice.
Secondly, I wonder what this definition of forgiveness means when we look at God. Does God forgive purely for selfish reasons? Is God’s forgiveness simply releasing himself from holding onto hurt we have caused Him? I do not believe so. Rather, God forgives because it is His character to do so. The forgiveness of God is a direct result of His promise that all who believe in the one He sent [Jesus] will be saved.
As we seek comfort In the Midst of tragedy, the words we choose to display God and encourage the hurting must be carefully crafted and spoken with prayerfully thought communication. God is the only hope for the nations and diminishing Gods great gift of forgiveness to a selfish endeavor misses the true character of God and leads to false forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a matter of will power and redirection of emotional energy, it is submitting to the grace of God for you and for others.