Have you ever found yourself playing reruns of times you hurt someone? How about the times when others hurt you? Do these memories keep you awake at night? Do they overshadow your daily thoughts? Do they affect your interactions with others? Relief from these difficult memories can be found through a better understanding of forgiveness.
Let's consider the following aspects of forgiveness by picturing a triangle with a base and three upright faces.
We'll label the base, "Asking God for Forgiveness." The best thing about God's forgiveness is that it is assured. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9 This does not say that he might forgive us, or that he will think about it if we change and become good enough. It doesn't describe a degree of "badness" to the sin that needs forgiveness. It simply says that he will forgive us if we confess. How freeing that promise is! Without asking God for forgiveness, we will be like the Psalmist who said, "When I kept silent (about my sin), my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long." Psalm 32:3 The Psalmist goes on to say that when he confessed, God forgave him and became his refuge and hiding place.
The first upright face we'll label, "Asking Others for Forgiveness." We've already seen that God willingly forgives us but it may seem harder to ask other people for their forgiveness. We are told to examine ourselves honestly, not glossing over our sins. "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you." Romans 12:3 Asking others for forgiveness does require a humble spirit. But what if others won't forgive us? That is difficult but even if they don't, we've done our part in repenting of our wrong before God and them.
The next face we'll label "Giving Forgiveness to Others." If someone asks us for forgiveness, we must forgive because God has forgiven us. "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Colossians 3:13 How many times must we forgive? "Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying 'I repent,' you must forgive them." Luke 6:37 What if they don't ask for forgiveness? Our need to forgive is not determined solely by whether it is asked of us. We need to forgive because God says we should and again, because he has forgiven us.
The final face we'll label "Forgiving Ourselves." Sometimes we believe that we don't deserve forgiveness. This is actually true. In fact, we don't deserve our next breath. But since God promises and gives forgiveness, how can we not forgive ourselves? Unforgiven guilt will become a bitter, unbearable burden. Also, if we won't forgive ourselves, aren't we saying that our standards are higher than that of a perfect God? Isn't that presumptuous and self-absorbed? We might say that we're just being humble but perhaps we've gotten to the point of being proud of our humility! That is not God honoring.
There may be natural consequences of the events that brought about the need for forgiveness but we can always bask in the refreshment and joy of God's forgiveness. "Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." Hebrews 10:22
Helen McCormack writes the Reflections column every six weeks. She and her husband, David, are serving with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Germany.