Forgive & Remember

Forgiveness is never 'looking the other way', or acting as if no wrong is or has been committed.   Forgiving is not excusing the inexcusable, tolerating the intolerable, nor sweeping things under the [proverbial] carpet.  That is NOT God's way.

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My way," says the Lord.  Isaiah 55:8

True love and forgiveness operate on the basis of integrity.  God the Father sent God the Son to die on Calvary's cross to make genuine forgiveness possible.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."  John 3:16.

"The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations..."  Luke 24:46,47.

The benefits of this divine forgiveness are available upon the condition that men or women acknowledge their wrongful behavior and status as lost sinners -- i.e., repent.  With God, there is no such thing a unconditional forgiveness.

"...your sins have been forgiven on account of his name."  1 John 2:12

"I [Jesus] have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."  Luke 5:32.

"I have listened attentively, but they do not say what is right.  No one repents of his wickedness, saying, 'What have I done?'" Jeremiah 8:6.

This is the biblical pattern of forgiveness which Christians are called to follow.  As the Lord requires accountability and genuine repentance to establish a relationship with Him, likewise these attributes form the basis for forgiveness amongst ourselves and the foundation for healthy human relationships.

"If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and IF he repents, forgive him."   Luke 17:3

"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as [in the same manner] the Lord forgave you." Colossians 3:13

"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as [in the same manner] in Christ God forgave you."  Ephesians 4:32


The biblical model for Christian forgiveness in human relationships looks like this:

ACCOUNTABILITY      DISCERN/JUDGMENT      REPENTANCE      FORGIVENESS     LOVE   

Let's see the model's application by the Apostle Paul in his letters to the Corinthians.

ACCOUNTABILITY

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife.  And you are proud!  Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?  1 Corinthians 5: 1,2.

DISCERN / JUDGMENT

Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present.  When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.  1 Corinthians 5: 3-5. 

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."  1 Corinthians 5: 12,13.

REPENTANCE and FORGIVENESS

For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.  If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent--not to put it too severely.  The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him.  2 Corinthians 2: 4-6.

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it.  Thought I did [temporarily] regret it--I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while--yet not I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.  For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret...2 Corinthians 7: 8-10.

Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  2 Corinthians 2: 4-7.

LOVE

I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.  The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything.  If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him.  And what I have forgiven--if there was anything to forgive--I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake...  2 Corinthians 2: 8-10.

By in large, the unsaved and religious folk are grossly confused on the subject of forgiveness.  They have ignored or rejected the need for accountability, judgment, and repentance--largely 'politically-incorrect' and deemed unnecessary in this day.  Then they wrongly substitute: tolerance, excusing, smoothing conflict, forgetting, or having an accepting attitude as expressions of forgiveness.  Going even further, an individual with an evil heart is devoid of conscience or repentance.  It strives, often successfully, to exploit this confusion over forgiveness in an effort to avoid accountability for wrongful actions.  When real Christians refuse to be universally tolerant of any and all behaviors, they are often falsely accused of lacking love, forgiveness, and not living up to Christian principles.  However, as most often the case, their accusers are simply trying to manipulate and control circumstances (lie) for the purpose of avoiding both accountability and repentance.  Given the lack of moral leadership and integrity at the highest levels (as well as in most churches), it's not difficult to see why false concepts of forgiveness have become so widespread.

Contrary to postmodern and liberal myth, Jesus was NOT tolerant or accepting of evil or of all types of behavior.  In the New Testament you'll find that His disapproval was expressed at times by silence (Mark 14:61), by words (Matthew 16:1-6), or by physical opposition (Mark 11:15,16).  Consistent with integrity, the benefit of His kindness was reserved for those individuals who did not deny their wrongdoing (John 8:10,11).

Of course, there are many circumstances in which accountability, judgment, and repentance will be missing.  Scripture clearly the states that victim is restrained from seeking personal vengeance or retribution, as that is to be left up to God.   In these cases, extending forgiveness largely provides psychological healing for a victim.  Thus, the measure of value for forgiveness is never whether reconciliation becomes possible and whether broken relationships have been restored.

Christian author Miles J. Stanford said it this way.

"Yes, frank and immediate confession of sins is vital.  Think for a moment of someone who observes a loved one sinning against him.   Wounded, but ever loving, he forgives and says nothing.  Meanwhile the loved one, although knowing there is forgiveness, does not confess his sin.  Forgiveness is there, love is waiting.  But now, where is the fellowship and integrity of this relationship?"


There are several things forgiveness is not.   The following thoughts are from the book FORGIVE & FORGET, Lewis B. Smedes, 1984, Harper & Row.

Forgiving is NOT tolerance

Forgive me and you heal yourself.   Tolerate everything I do and you are in for a lot of trouble.  You can forgive someone almost anything.  But you cannot tolerate everything.

Whenever people try to live or work together, they have to decide on the sorts of things they will put up with.

Every group has to decide what it will put up with and what it cannot tolerate.  But what we need to remember is this: we don't have to tolerate what people do just because we forgive them for doing it.   Forgiving heals us personally.  To tolerate everything only hurts us all in the long run.


Forgiving is NOT excusing

Excusing is just the opposite of forgiving.   We excuse people when we understand that they were NOT to blame.

Forgiving is tough.  Excusing is easy.   What a mistake it is to confuse forgiving with being mushy, soft, gutless, and oh, so understanding.  Before we forgive, we stiffen our spine and we hold a person accountable.  And only then, in tough-minded judgment, can we do the outrageously impossible thing: we can forgive.


Forgiving is NOT smothering conflict

Some people hinder the hard work of forgiving by smothering confrontation.

Some parents are dedicated to smothering conflict.  They shush us and soothe us and assure us that whatever makes us mad is not worth raising a fuss about.   They get between us and the rotten kid who did us wrong, always protecting, always pinning down the arms of our rage, forever pacifying.  Their "now thens" and "there theres" keep us from ever unloading our anger and from ever forgiving.  They say, "Forgive and forget," but what they mean is: "Don't make a fuss, I can't stand the noise."

Quieting troubled waters is not the same as rescuing drowning people, and smothering conflict is not the same as helping people to forgive each other.


Forgiving is NOT forgetting

When we forgive someone, we do not forget the hurtful act, as if forgetting came along with the forgiveness package, the way strings come with a violin.

If you forget, you will not forgive at all.   You can never forgive people for things you have forgotten about.  You need to forgive precisely because you have not forgotten what someone did; your memory keeps the [emontional] pain alive long after the actual hurt has stopped [passed].

Forgetting, in fact, may be a dangerous way to escape the inner surgery of the heart that we call forgiving.  There are two kinds of pain that we forget.  We forget hurts too trivial to bother about.  We forget pains too horrible for our memory to manage.

Once we have forgiven, however, we get a new freedom to forget.  This time forgetting is a sign of health; it is not a trick to avoid spiritual surgery.  We can forget because we have been healed.

But even if it is easier to forget after we forgive, we should not make forgetting a test of our forgiving.   The test of forgiving lies with healing the lingering pain of the past, not with forgetting that the past ever happened.

The really important thing is that we have the power to forgive what we still do remember.


Accepting people is NOT forgiving them

Accepting a person can feel a lot like forgiving.  But it is not the same.

We accept [or reject] people because of the good [or bad] people they are for [to] us.  We forgive people for the bad things they did to us.


"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Have nothing to do with them."   2 Timothy 3:1-5.


The following are links to other interesting sites on the subject of forgiveness.  Readers should exercise discernment as the inclusion of these pages do not imply full endorsement.

When Forgiveness Seems Impossible.  Tim Jackson, RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI.  Overall, an excellent treatment of the subject of biblical forgiveness and far superior to what I've written above.

What Interpersonal Forgiving Is and Isn't - by the Rev. Dr. Douglas K. Showalter.  Dr. Showalter is an ordained United Church of Christ (liberal) minister who has also gained insight from the works of Lewis B. Smedes.  Based on his comments, he doesn't seem to understand or accept that mankind is not born in relationship with God.  Further, some of his Scriptural references do not support his statements.  For example, see #4, Biblical.  Only one of the five verses support unconditional forgiveness.   Luke 17:3 actually states the reverse!  However, he does have some good insights on the subject of failed reconciliation.

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