Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What Forgiveness is Not

1. Forgiveness is NOT primarily a gift for the offending party

The primary beneficiary for forgiveness is the one who is forgiving. The alternative to unforgiveness is carrying around a bunch of bitterness and brokenness. Forgiveness does not allow the past actions of another party to determine your future. Unforgiveness burdens us with brokenness and pain. Anger makes us smaller while forgiveness forces us to grow beyond what we were. Forgiveness sets the forgiver free and points to a hopeful future. And if the offending party can rest their head on their pillow at night and feel a little less guilty, all the better.

2. Forgiveness is NOT a one-time event

Forgiveness doesn’t happen in a day; forgiveness happens daily. Forgiveness is not a process; forgiveness is a journey. Smells, sounds, and sights can bring back painful memories and the forgiver is often forced to re-forgive.

3. Forgiveness is NOT forgetting

Abuse, betrayal, and hurtful words are not forgotten. Forgetting certain offenses is nearly impossible and sometimes not even desirable. Thomas Szasz writes, "The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget." Remembering can help us learn from the past and can protect us from future hurts. Forgiveness is not allowing the unforgettable past to ruin the present and the future.

4. Forgiveness is NOT an act of weakness

Forgiving is not easy. Forgiveness is tough. Ghandi said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." Forgiveness is challenging and rewarding.

5. Forgiveness is NOT permission to continue self-destructive behavior

Enabling dysfunction is stupidity, not forgiveness. A profound difference exists between the two. Forgiveness is not continually letting somebody off the hook. Sometimes forgiveness loves so much it has to say no or goodbye.

6. Forgiveness is NOT conditional

Forgiveness doesn’t depend on the other person apologizing or changing. Forgiveness is unconditional grace, not conditional justice. It is given, not earned.

7. Forgiveness is NOT necessarily a fully restored relationship

It takes one person to forgive and two people to reconcile. Sometimes forgiveness leads to reconciliation. Sometimes it doesn’t.

8. Forgiveness is NOT denying a wrong doing

Forgiveness is not a doormat to a house that allows itself to be walked on time and time again without response. That is denial, which is quite different than forgiveness. One is an emotional dysfunction and the other is a grace.

9. Forgiveness is NOT neglecting justice

You can forgive and hold accountable. Sin has consequences. The murderer and the rapist should go to jail. The embezzler should pay back. The gossiper should make amends. The forgiveness of sin doesn’t remove the consequences of sin. It just doesn’t. Only the offending party can do his or her best to make things right. And we all painfully know, sometimes that isn’t enough.

10. Forgiveness is NOT a new-age, self-help idea

Forgiveness is God’s idea. Nobody is better at forgiving than God. Nobody knows the benefits of forgiving more than God. God tells us to forgive because God loves us and wants what is best for us.

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