I came across a blog post recently about the topic of forgiveness and it struck me in a way that I didn’t really expect. The topic was in regards to some specific offense that someone had offered an apology to, but had forgiveness for this offense withheld by the offended party, a confessed Christian. I will admit that I had almost zero interest in the case in particular, but the advice offered stirred something in me.
The common advice for an unforgiving heart anymore is this, “you need to forgive that person, do you know what you are doing to yourself emotionally, spiritually, even physically by holding this grudge”. That is all fine and good, not terrible practical advice. The problem being that from a Christian perspective (and this was a Christian blog) this completely misses the point of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not chiefly for the offended, but for the offender, and when we miss that we miss a vital piece of the gospel. Jesus did not come to die for us because the Father was on the throne chomping on antacids and taking blood pressure medication. God saw fit to lower himself to live this messy human life, and die a humiliating death for the benefit of the offenders.
If your psychiatrist tells you that you need to come to a place of forgiveness or it might kill you, that is probably some good practical advice, but if your pastor were to give you the same advice I think that you should expect something more. The church, probably even more than politicians, get stuck with the charge of being hypocritical. This is something that we should expect, to a certain degree we should even wear it as a badge of honor because being called out for hypocrisy is also a recognition that we stand for something. How does it look for someone who claims that God died in order to have mercy on his beloved creation to harbor unforgiveness themselves? It looks like hypocrisy because that’s exactly what it is, and scripture backs it up (see Matthew 18:21-35).
I am not saying this as a legalist, telling people that they had better fall in line and forgive, but I am asking that we take a look at the life that we are living, and what message our unforgiveness sends to the world around us. We have in the ability to offer forgiveness to those who have offended against us the privilege to display to them the image of who God truly is. We are able to empty ourselves of our pride, and our own entitlement, and let the person know that we love them enough to overlook this offense. In a way or ability to give forgiveness introduces others to the one who ultimately offers forgiveness. The love that we give in this act displays the one who loves us enough to suffer and die in our place. That is a worthy reason to forgive.