5. THE FREEDOM OF FORGIVENESS
THIS SERIES: A HEALTHY HEART
Because we live in a fallen world, living comes at a price. People wound us, unintentionally or deliberately; family, friends and strangers sin against us, in huge devastating ways, or needling pin-pricks; and if we neglect these wounds they fester and become a serious cause of ‘heart-disease’.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or from evil).
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Why was Jesus so unequivocal? Why isn't forgiveness a matter of choice—particularly for those who have had terrible wrongs done to them?
There are three words in the New Testament which can be translated ‘sin’: one refers to ‘that which is owed’; another to ‘falling beside or near, or deviating from a true path’; and the last to ‘missing the mark’. ‘Sin’ covers the whole spectrum, from murder and theft to the irritable motorist in the car behind. Sin is all about falling short—and if I am leaping across a ravine, it doesn’t matter if I miss by a yard or an inch. Each one of us has fallen short of the glory of God by some degree, and desperately need forgiveness by the Lord. And Jesus teaches clearly that God’s forgiveness is contingent upon us forgiving others.
In addition, harbouring areas of unforgiveness in our lives has a serious effect on our spiritual well-being, on our prayer-lives, and also on our physical health. Unforgiveness cages us in.
Despite this, many of us carry around unforgiven issues from the past and present. Some of these are to do with the recognisable and serious sin of others, but sometimes we also carry wounds from the shortfall of loved ones, things which we balk at defining as ‘sin’ out of love and respect for the people concerned; but which nevertheless have left their mark on us.
To be set free we have to name sin for what it is; and then forgive, which in the Greek means ‘to send away’, or ‘to set free’. Forgiveness is a choice, an act of obedience, rather than a feeling. We choose to send the sin away; in setting the offending person free from their debt, we also set ourselves free.
COME OUT OF THE CAGE
I have found the following process really fruitful in my life and in counselling others:
1. Speak aloud to the person concerned. They do not have to be physically present—we are spiritual beings, and our words have spiritual effect—and it is not always appropriate, or possible to speak face to face. (It is also important to do this even if the offender is dead, as the wounds we carry continue on.) Sometimes it helps to write a 'letter' to the person in question (again, not necessarily to be sent) and read it aloud.
2. Name the sin. ‘You sinned against me when you…’ By doing this we bring the issue into the open, recognise it for what it is, and allow the Lord’s healing light to shine on it.
3. Then speak out how that sin has affected you. ’You made me feel…’; ‘It caused me to…’ etc. Recognising the effect of others’ sin on our lives is an important part of the healing process.
4. Now it’s time to forgive. ‘In Jesus name, I forgive you for… I set you free. I send that sin away and declare it has no more power over my life.’ Sometimes feelings of forgiveness may follow immediately; sometimes it takes time and persistence as we choose to obey for our emotions to get into line.
5. And then comes the cruncher; this is when we know whether we have truly forgiven or not—we release blessing on the person concerned (Luke 6:28): ‘I bless you, in the name of Jesus, with His love and grace and mercy…’ or if the person is dead, on his or her family line. If the Lord reminds us of anything good connected with the person in question, we can bless those things as well.
6. Having come out of the cage of unforgiveness, we can then ask the Lord to 'bind up our wounded hearts'—one of the things He came expressly to do [Isaiah 61:1].
7. We then need to walk in this attitude of forgiveness. When thoughts of the person or situation come into our minds we need to declare ‘You are forgiven in Jesus’ name’, and ‘I bless you with…’
It is important to note that forgiveness does not imply a restoration of relationship or collaboration, without the appropriate change on the part of the offender. I might forgive a fraudster, but I will not let him have access to my personal accounts without repentance and a suitable period of discipleship and accountability—and even then, it might not be prudent. We are called to be wise in a fallen world.
WHEN WE FEEL WE CAN’T FORGIVE
“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former SS man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing centre at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.
He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message Fräulein”, he said “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.
I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your Forgiveness.
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”
The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom
WHAT ABOUT THE SMALL STUFF?
We also carry the effect of more trivial shortcomings; the pinpricks, petty irritations, and throw-away remarks of people around us. Often, we ignore them, or push them away, but these scratches can also have a negative effect, cloud our vision, nibble at our faith, and pull us down. And so, they too need forgiving—sending away—as they happen, as it is good to keep short accounts with God.
He has promised to work all things for our good, even the trifling failures of others. And so we can be thankful, knowing that what the Evil One would like to use to oppress us, in the hands of God, is an opportunity for blessing instead. And having received His grace—His unmerited favour—we can in turn shower it upon others.
It’s time to make the choice to be unoffendable, to learn to walk as Jesus walked—in forgiveness.
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
NEXT WEEK: DEALING WITH WORRY
Continuing our series on the ‘Healthy Heart’, next week's post focuses on worry. For many, worry is the source of almost constant misery, driving people to the doctor for medical support, straining relationships and clouding lives. Fortunately, there are answers...
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