Many said it was hard. Others admitted they didn’t want to do it. Some didn’t think they could do it. But most knew that they had no choice but to forgive. These were the women in my workshops on forgiveness last weekend. They challenged my ‘no exceptions’ message by saying surely murderers and pedophiles didn’t apply. After I reiterated that no sin we could do to each other was greater than our sin against a perfect God who died so our sins wouldn’t be charged to us—thus offering us forgiveness, they understood that even murderers and pedophiles must be forgiven (Mark 3:28).
Understand this: Just because you forgive—no longer being angry and criticizing—doesn’t mean you validate the offender’s sin. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily cancel the consequences for the sin either (i.e., pedophiles must register as sex offenders and not be allowed to interact with children though they may “deserve” death). Forgiveness is a set of actions toward the offender to help her turn from her ferocious or violent behavior (Luke 6:27-37 & 17:3*). Christians are deliverance agents sent on a mission from God to reconcile people to Him. Forgiveness is but one method that God uses.
Forgiveness is not only used to heal the offender but also the offended (the ones directly affected and those offended by what was done to others). Until we forgive, our soul (mind, will and emotions) will be tormented (Matthew 18:15, 34-35). There will be no peace, even though we may have moments of happiness based on circumstances in our life, things that happen outside of us. Our inside, where stability comes from, will still be a wreck if we withhold forgiveness. We may not have daily manifestations of anger and pain, but unforgiveness works in concert with anger and pain, leading us to bitterness and an eventual outburst that will damage others (Hebrews 12:15). We must also forgive others so that God forgives us (Matthew 6:14-15).
The women in my workshops began to understand that unforgiveness creates fractured relationships and fractured souls. As Christians, we are called to be in fellowship with God and one another. We are also called to minister the love, grace and healing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ so that others’ might have a personal relationship with Him and be whole. Forgiveness calls for us to take our eyes off the offense and focus on loving the hell out of the offender. Each act of love serves to push the offense from the forefront of our minds. The more acts of love we offer the farther away the offense becomes. Again, forgiveness is not easy, but it is necessary for the welfare of all and for the kingdom of God.
So those of you who are withholding forgiveness, I continue to challenge you: Rewrite The Making of Unforgiving (also see Activate Forgiveness) to help you face your offender and the offense, not to relive the moment but to begin the process toward forgiveness.
Copyright 2010 by Rhonda J. Smith
*Greek definition of rebuke