What does it mean to forgive? What is forgiveness? In Christianity we are told to "forgive", but what does that mean? We are also told that if we do something wrong to someone, then we should go ask for forgiveness. But in truth, when a person is asking for forgiveness,what are they asking for? Let me make it simple. How would you ask for forgiveness WITHOUT using the word "forgive". Let me give it a try. Would this be an equivelant of asking for forgiveness, "Please pretend like I didn't do anything wrong, pretend like I didn't hurt you, and don't hold any illwill towards me. Treat me as though I had never done anything wrong to you. AND if you don't "forgive" me, YOU will be the unspiritual person, you will be the one who is wrong."
If we were to say those words to a person we have wronged, how utterly repulsive and despictable that would be. To heap all that garbage on someone we have already injured. To ask them to put aside all their feelings of anger and hurt towards us would be unthinkable.
Here is one problem with the world's (or Christianity's) view of forgiveness. It does nothing to change the offender. If anything, all "forgiveness" (in the typical sense) does is to set the offender free from the consequences of his behavior.
I propose that we look at the process of forgiveness. There are two parts of forgiveness:
Part One is to set the offender free from the power of sin in his life. (Only God can do this, but the offender can do his part.) Truly forgiving is taking away the offender's desire to sin, which includes putting away his pride by showing who and what he really is. This involves confession (closely examining oneself and confessing ones deepest darkest fears and sins.) It involves getting a trusted mature friend or a good counselor to help him examine his immature and hurtful thinking patterns and immature behaviors. This is a process that can take months or years. It involves a complete transformation of the offender so that he no long is an offender. It involves the offender making restitution, as much as in his power, to those whom he had harmed. In doing so, he should have no expectations from the people he has harmed. he should in no way ever ask for forgiveness of those whom he has injured. To ask for forgiveness would be to injure them again. Asking for forgiveness is often an attempt by the offender to escape the consequences of his actions. Instead the offender should repent (permanently change the way that he thinks and behaves. This is a long process, but over a period of time the changes slowly begin to take shape as the offender develops new thinking pattern, new habits, and new behaviors.
The Second Part of forgiveness involves the injured party letting go of the anger and ill will that she has against the offender. There are two paths to being able to truly forgive another.
- One path often naturally follows Part One, that of the offender becoming a new person. As the injured party sees the offender acting responsibily over a long period of time the anger can slowly melt away. This can take many months or years. Sometimes some people are not ready to let go of the anger or illwill that they feel against the offender. For some people it takes time, even a lot of time. We should not pressure them to forgive.
- The other path involves the injured party making a decision to forgive (not hold illwill towards) the offender. This person realizes that holding anger or bitterness towards someone is harmful to oneself, so she lets it go.
- This does not mean that she should not hold the offender accountable for his actions. Instead, true forgiveness often involves holding the offender accountable while at the same time letting go of the anger and bitterness. As has been said by someone else"“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." We let go of the anger and bitterness towards our offenders because holding onto them damages us. Holding onto anger and bitterness towards another turns us into the very type of person that we abhor. Even as we struggle to let go of our rage, we can still call the police or other authorities to report the crime that was committed against us. If the offender escapes consequences, then he is left in the power of his offending behavior. Going the consequences of his behavior is part of the path of setting him free from his bondage, which causes him to hurt people.
Some people are not at a place where they can just instantly let go of their anger and truly forgive someone who has hurt them deeply. Don't try to coerse them into "forgiving" someone before they are ready because you would injure them again. Their anger at what the offender did is a very natural feeling.
Other people are deeply offended at the idea of a horrendous murderer or someone who has caused great harm just being let off scott free. Their sense of justice cries out against someone who has hurt many others should escape being punished severely. Part of the reason they may feel this way is that they don't believe people should be able to escape punishment and they don't believe that people can truly change.