Talking About Forgiveness
“I’m sorry… Excuse me… I didn’t mean it… It was wrong of me… I beg your pardon… Can you forgive me?”
Words of forgiveness are commonplaces in our language and culture. We ask forgiveness from the stranger we inadvertently jostle when passing through a store (although such instances are few and far between these days). We turn around and use the exact words with our closest friend or lover, pleading for mercy after committing a grievous wrong, often intentionally and knowledgably.
With regretful language being so commonplace, the concept of forgiveness is relegated to a sliding scale of what is or isn’t “forgivable.” Of course, the person who nudges us in the grocery line gets a free pass. It was a mistake. But what about the person whose passions and purposes result in overt insults or, worse yet, intentional infliction of pain? How do we forgive folks who mean us harm? Must we always forgive?
In our Christian tradition—as with our Jewish ancestors—forgiveness is viewed as the epitome of God’s lovingkindness (in Hebrew scripture) and grace (in Christian texts). In both contexts, forgiveness goes beyond excusing wrongs and implies they are forgotten. And if we believe God always forgives, then—tough as it seems—we are expected to forgive always.
It’s also why “forgiveness” is a common financial term that effectively says the debt is not merely satisfied; it’s no longer remembered and, therefore, doesn’t exist. This is the sense we hear in the Lord’s Prayer: forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Forgiveness for us generates forgiveness for others.
At the same time, those who’ve suffered deep injury from another may take heart in knowing forgiveness is not to be confused with pardon. It doesn’t free the wrongdoer from responsibility or consequences. Accountability is still required and reparations must be made. These are the terms of restorative justice, which is the only type of justice we find in scripture. Losses must be repaid. Damages must be remedied.
Forgiveness frees us, even when we do it repeatedly, as Jesus tells Peter (Matt. 18:22). Thus, there must be value beyond simple kindness in this practice. And the forgiving individual will testify that learning to forgive is a truly liberating act.
That’s why there is no sliding scale in forgiveness—no ranking of wrongs that are and aren’t “forgivable.” The worst wrongs committed against us are clearly the most oppressive; forgiveness is the key to disabling their power over us. However the plea for forgiveness comes, the best answer is always, “Yes.”
Our “Just Living” conversation continues this week with a look at forgiveness. Join us via Zoom each Thursday evening at 7:30pm CDT.
You can access the study here:
Meeting ID: 823 9769 5803
Or join via phone at 1-312-626-6799 using the same meeting ID.
We need your help!
As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!
Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea
As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.