Unmasking Forgiveness

Written by Dawn Rutan

Matthew 18:34-35 (ESV)- “And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Lloyd John Ogilvie writes in Autobiography of God:

The word ‘heart’ is like a burred hook. We can’t slip off. We may say we forgive. We may conceptually forgive. But it is the vocation of the heart not to forget. Many of us say we will forgive but not forget. Or that we will forgive the person but not the deed. All are ways of evading the reproduction of the awesome completeness of God’s forgiveness of us… There are lots of people who need our forgiveness. Then there are those whom we have said we have forgiven but with whom we want nothing to do now. Cheap forgiveness! Verbalism without a vital, reconciled relationship…

The parable of the unmerciful servant will become part of our character and response if we will take time to think about all the times the Lord has forgiven us. Write them down in a list. Then consider the people whom you have not forgiven. Be sure to list all the ones you have cut off because you do not trust what they will do even if you forgive.

I’m not sure I can fully agree with Ogilvie on this, though perhaps that is due to a difference of vocabulary. What does it mean to forgive “from your heart”? I think there can be a desire to forgive and a conscious volition to forgive, but that does not necessarily translate into a “vital, reconciled relationship.” Forgiveness does not always mean a return to the same level of vulnerability that led to the broken relationship. A man who abuses his wife or child should not be quickly trusted in the future. A person who betrays a confidence should not then be privy to confidential matters.

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forgive-208824_640Forgiveness does not always equal trust. Forgiveness is a choice to release the other person from condemnation and revenge. Reconciliation is a more relative term. The word reconcile means essentially “to bring back together.” But relationships are so fluid and complex that there is no status quo to return to. There can be a restoration of fellowship, but nothing ever remains the same. That’s not to say that it’s necessarily a worse relationship than before the conflict, but it is different simply because of the experience.

Matthew 5:23-24 says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (I notice that it is the offender who is to seek reconciliation in this case.) Although this Scripture implies a quick process, nothing about forgiveness and reconciliation is quick or easy. Our reconciliation to God was not an easy process either. Jesus had to die to make it possible, and even then we may be reluctant converts and we definitely will make frequent blunders.

I was thinking about this in relation to the Lord’s Supper since that is on our church’s calendar for this week. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:27-28, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” In this examination, how do we discern whether we have indeed forgiven our brother from the heart as Jesus instructed? Is it primarily an act of the will in choosing to forgive? Does a change of heart require renewed emotional ties, or is it simply the choice and desire to release the other person from judgment?

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As I’ve written on other subjects, I don’t think we can place too much emphasis on emotions, particularly when it comes to our faith. Feelings may or may not reflect reality. I often don’t feel like I’ve been forgiven, and I may keep recalling the pain of how others have hurt me, but that doesn’t really reflect my heart’s desire to live in fellowship with God and others. I’ve been trying to memorize Romans 8 and several verses came to mind:

  • v. 1- “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” –No matter what the conflict, I am not condemned before God because Jesus’ blood covers all my sin.
  • v. 28- “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” –God can even use conflict, sin, and reconciliation for His good purposes of refining me and conforming me to the image of Jesus.
  • vv. 38-39- “For I am sure that [nothing] in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” –His love endures through all trials and suffering, even those that are self-inflicted.

This is one area where I definitely feel like an amateur. I don’t think I want to become an expert on forgiveness. That sounds too painful since it has to be learned by experience. A theology of forgiveness is only as good as its application.

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“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love… He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” –Psalm 103:8-12


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