(I will be continuing a short blog series on forgiveness based on a sermon in March. I have been on vacation and wrote a time-sensitive blog last week.)
In review, 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”.
A working definition I shared in the March blog was “the act of setting someone free from an obligation to you that is a result of a wrong done against you.”
What is the purpose of forgiveness?
For the follower of Christ, the ultimate purpose of forgiveness is to create an environment for reconciliation hence, forgiveness is not an end unto itself. Without reconciliation, forgiveness, although beneficial to the one who forgives, is unfulfilled. Without the goal of eventual reconciliation, forgiveness can become another medium of self-help in an already narcissistic world.
If we are to imitate God, then the goal of forgiveness is reconciliation while the benefit of forgiveness is release of vengeance. However, since reconciliation is bilateral from a human perspective, even if there is no cooperation from the “other party”, forgiveness still has virtue and merit by itself.
Lewis Smedes, in his book, The Art of Forgiveness, shared the fundamental stages of forgiveness. In a later blog, I will share a more detailed process put forth by Robert D. Enright that might be helpful.
According to Smedes, these are the three fundamental stages of forgiveness.
First, rediscover the humanity of the person who hurt us. This has been especially helpful to me. It is extremely difficult to forgive someone who has become a symbol of the offense. However, once we try to understand the person and perhaps see why the offense occurred, it is much easier to feel compassion and forgiveness.
Secondly, release our right to get even. Vengeance seems sweet at the moment, but is highly destructive to everyone including our relationship with the Lord. Besides, God has informed us that vengeance belongs to Him (Romans 12:19-20).
Finally, revise our feelings. We know that forgiveness is having an impact on our lives when our feelings about the offending person begin to change from vengeance to compassion, from hate to love, from negativity to positivity. It may not happen overnight, but with the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, it will happen if we commit ourselves to it.
Forgiveness is not an easy matter. Hardly anything really worthwhile ever is.
Something to think about…