To Err Is Human, To Forgive Is Divine – Part One


Alexander Pope was an 18th-century English poet. In his “Essay on Criticism” he wrote “To err is human, to forgive divine.”  We should be grateful that Pope’s assertion is absolutely correct.  We, human beings, are ever so prone to sin, but God is one who knows how to forgive.

Over the next several blogs, I will be sharing some thoughts on forgiveness as advertised in the message I delivered this past Sunday.  I hope the blogs will be helpful in our understanding of forgiveness.

The noun, forgiveness, means “discharge, setting at freedom”.  The verb, “to forgive”, when used with a personal object means, “to send forth or send away, to release somebody”.  In classical Greek literature, forgiveness is used to indicate “the voluntary release of a person or thing over which one has legal or actual control”.

Hence, to forgive means “to acquit, to let go without the responsibility of guilt, obligation or punishment”.

The verb, to forgive, occurs 142 times in the New Testament, which implies that forgiveness is important to God.  The noun occurs only once in the New Testament.  This would suggest that forgiveness is an action in the mind of God.  It is something we are supposed to do and not something we’re supposed to be.  Forgiveness is not a condition, it’s an action.

Here is a working definition of forgiveness: “the act of setting someone free from an obligation to you that is a result of a wrong done against you.”

Let’s take a deeper look into forgiveness by considering what forgiveness is not.  According to Professor Robert D. Enright forgiveness is not:

1.     Forgetting - deep hurts can rarely be wiped out from one’s awareness.

2.     Reconciliation:  reconciliation takes two people, but an injured party can forgive an offender without reconciliation.

3.     Condoning:  forgiveness does not necessarily excuse bad or hurtful behavior.

4.     Dismissing:  forgiveness involves taking the offense seriously, not passing it off as inconsequential.

5.     Pardoning:  a pardon is a legal transaction that releases the offender from the consequences of an action, such as a penalty.  Forgiveness is a personal transaction that releases the one offended from the offense.

Adapted from Robert D. Enright, in Niki Denison, “To Live and Forget,” Wisconsin, Nov.-Dec. 1992

According to Rick Warren, Senior Pastor of Saddleback Church:

1.     Forgiveness is not minimizing the seriousness of the offense.

2.     Forgiveness is not the instant restoration of trust.

3.     Forgiveness is not resuming the relationship without any changes.

Rick Warren, “Offering Forgiveness”, 1997

If forgiveness is not the above, what is the act of forgiveness?  What do you think?  How do you go about forgiving someone?

Something to think about…