Monday, April 5, 2010

The Cost of Forgiveness

Forgiveness. Yesterday was Easter and my reflections fell on it. It is not a frightening word. It is not a negative word. On one hand it's expected. On the other, it's... impossible. Forgiveness is the act of moving beyond an offense, intentional or otherwise. Neither side of forgiveness is pleasant. The one who has offended must accept it with humility, with lowliness and meekness. The one who offers forgiveness does so at a cost.

God has been teaching me the cost of forgiveness and I am learning a greater sense of awe and reverence for who He is. I have discovered that forgiving others means that, although they were wrong, I bear their offense. If I was slandered by another, I bear the price of their slander. I am the one that was defamed. But in forgiveness, the price is not laid on the one who initiated the crime. It weighs on the one who was wronged, the one who forgives.

To forgive is to relinquish the expectation of reconciliation or retribution*, although that may come. To forgive is to simply live on apart from the offense. It is so very impossible. My mind recalls words, details, memories and I must put them to rest. I must take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). I must choose not to dwell on, or remember, those details, by the grace of God. Apart from the working of God Himself, this is humanly impossible.

This is the forgiveness of God. This is the picture of Christ's death, His substitutionary death for me--that He took on Himself my sin, my wickedness, my death, and I pay nothing. God does not expect me to make it right. I cannot. He does not expect me to pay Him back. I cannot. In His forgiveness, He indwells me and enables me to "simply live on apart from the offense."

The other amazing thing I've learned in practicing forgiveness is that God has already given us an antidote for relieving the pain. Five times the writers of the gospels quote Jesus saying, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39, 16, 25; Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, 17:33). In a voila moment, I realized that the hurtful moments that roll off my back are the ones I don't take personally. Jesus was not only speaking of finding life after death, but of the eternal life we can experience in the here and now. I can experience the joy and peace of God when my life is not my own. In those moments that my life is lived for Christ and not for myself, the offense is not mine, it is His. Not only is the offense not realized at the time, the pain of forgiveness is nil. It is not mine to forgive, it is God's and He has already given it.

To walk in the Spirit is to walk with an eye ever on the Savior, with a heart bent to His will, with an ear listening to His voice. To forgive is to rely on God to faithfully prune those areas of my life that I hold too dearly, and cling to those that will draw me closer to His side.

* I may be wrong, but I believe God's forgiveness is free of reconciliation--Jesus forgave those who nailed Him to the cross. But reconciliation is the only way to experience a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The forgiveness is available, but must be received in order to restore the relationship. Through Christ I can forgive someone apart from a restored relationship.