We all know what it means to forgive, right? I mean to really, wholly, completely, and fully forgive… Throughout our lifespan, we are all challenged with the need to forgive on a daily basis – for things both big and small, but it wasn’t until this past year that I was faced with the challenge of forgiveness more than ever before. That’s when I began to seek the Bible and wise council for answers.
My sweet sister attends a church in her hometown in South GA. She has attended this church for…well, forever, and the lead pastor and his wife are great and longtime family friends. This past Sunday, he spoke about forgiveness. My sister was bold enough to ask the pastor for his notes, and he was kind enough to share them…all of them…the entire sheet, and his talk was amazing enough that I asked for permission to paraphrase it here.
Dwayne Smith, pastor of Hebardville United Methodist Church in Waycross, GA, began his sermon with a statement from Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop, Desmond Tutu. Archbishop, Tutu was speaking during the aftermath of the devastation the apartheid had brought to Africa, and the simple words that he spoke rang in the ears of so many and still stand true today. The words the archbishop spoke were simply, “Without forgiveness, there is no future.”
As Pastor Dwayne continued, he took the quote even further to say that “Without forgiveness, there is no freedom”;”Without forgiveness, there is no [mental] recovery”(emphasis mine);”Without forgiveness, there is no [emotional] healing.”(emphasis mine) I think that the word possibilities to ending this quote are countless. “Without forgiveness, there is no _______.”
According to Google Dictionary, to forgive means to “stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake; to cancel a debt.” Dwayne adds to this by saying that [after forgiveness] we are no longer owed anything from any wrong that has been done to us. It is letting the captive go free and no longer holding the offender in contempt. He goes on to say that when we forgive, it’s like putting a ‘Nothing Owed!’ stamp on a debt. The prisoner has been pardoned, and the offender has been released. When we do this, we are doing more than setting the offender free, we are setting ourselves free as well.
These ideas are easy, and sometimes we may think of them as just that – ideas. We say things like, “It’s easier said than done,” and I totally agree! It totally is! Forgiveness is hard! So hard! Especially when the other person hasn’t repented or asked for forgiveness in any way, but we need to remember that forgiveness begins with us and with our mind, not the heart. Once we decide in our mind to forgive, and our actions indicate that decision, the heart will eventually follow.
Now that we know what forgiveness is, let us take a look at what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not: denying any evil; excusing sin; excusing behavior; pretending that it never happened; ignoring our pain and hurt; removing consequences; allowing abuse (of any kind); acting as if it never happened, or letting others continue to abuse us.
We can choose to forgive, even when there is no confession. French theologian and pastor, John Calvin, stated that there are two kinds of forgiveness: one where wrong is admitted; forgiveness is sought and granted. The other would be the opposite–when guilt is not admitted and forgiveness has not been sought. When the latter happens, lies may be told to cover up the truth, and in some instances, the relationship may be cut off. The hard work of reconciliation may not be worth it to the other person, and sometimes the other person may keep hurting us on purpose in order to gain, or feel in control of us or the situation.
When we experience times resembling the above mentioned, we need to remember that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same, and forgiveness should not be confused with reconciliation. Reconciliation does not have to happen in order for forgiveness to take place. Forgiveness takes place inside our body and depends on us; reconciliation takes place outside the body and depends on both parties involved. Sometimes reconciliation is not necessary or recommended, especially when we may feel threatened or unsafe. Reconciliation is not necessary for our own healing and should never be sought after if it puts us in danger of any kind: mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually.Forgiveness lets go of bitterness+anger & refuses to let hurt dominate us. - John Calvin Click To Tweet
John Calvin also said that when we forgive, “we let go of the bitterness and anger and refuse to let the hurt dominate our life.” The hurt may still remain. We cannot and should not deny the pain, but what we do with that pain is what leads to our own, personal healing process. This is a great place to insert a professional counselor to help work through pain and feelings. Pastor Dwayne closed his sermon by reiterating Archbishop, Desmond Tutu’s words, “Without forgiveness, there is no future,” and he continued with the freedom, hope, and healing promises of God.