Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and My Thoughts On It All

I'm pretty sure just about every Christian agrees that forgiveness is good and necessary. What we don't seem to agree on, exactly, is what forgiveness looks like. I grew up surrounded by a "forgiving is forgetting" attitude and I'm starting to see that this is an unhelpful and even harmful take on forgiveness.

Two things came my way recently:

I read this powerful article on forgiveness and reconciliation a few days ago: Portraits of Reconciliation.

And then today this: 10 Things Forgiveness is Not.

I've been praying about forgiveness and struggling with it here recently because I wasn't sure I was doing it right or that my heart was in the right place. All of the health issues that I've been dealing with have led me to pause and consider whether forgiveness is something I was lacking and needed to address. I was struggling because I felt like I had forgiven, but I have a well-meaning family member who is pushing the "forgiving is forgetting" idea because it suits their agenda.

The first article was posted by a friend on fb. I read it, and was immediately struck by a new (to me) thought: forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things! Forgiveness only takes one person. It doesn't matter if the person who hurt you has asked for forgiveness or even if they are "worthy" of forgiveness! We can, and should, still forgive. But reconciliation? That requires both parties. Both. Always. And here's why: me forgiving someone mainly helps me. It allows me to move forward. It keeps my heart from bitterness, anger, etc. And while it opens a door to the possibility of reconciliation, and points the way to Jesus, it does not provide healing to the other party. That is something they have to work on on their own. Period. It isn't something we can ever do or provide to someone else.

In the NY Times article above, I was fascinated by the offenders' side of the story. While I"m sure it wasn't easy, there was something beautiful and necessary about them taking responsibility, asking forgiveness, and then making amends to the offender. It helped them. Something in them was loosened and set free.

“The day I thought of asking pardon, I felt unburdened and relieved. I had lost my humanity because of the crime I committed, but now I am like any human being.”

Sin is death. As the Mars Hill article says, sin is so heavy that it required Jesus's death on the cross. We shouldn't make light of it. The full weight and conviction of sin is a good and necessary starting point for people. I'm not talking about adding shame or making things harder on people, but simply getting out of the way and allowing them to experience the full weight of the Holy Spirit's conviction of sin. Because once that has happened, they can then make the decision to deal with their sin. Hopefully, that involves crying out to Jesus, experiencing the grace he's provided, and then making an effort toward healing, reconciliation, and growth. Those are all good (difficult, painful, but good) things. Necessary things.

Instead, so many well-meaning Christians swoop in like mother hens, scooping up the offender, soothing and reassuring. But we are actually harming more than helping. Instead of protecting, we are actually hindering the spiritual and emotional progress of the other person. People who never have to deal with their sins become stunted, emotionally and spiritually. And they continue on their destructive paths. I see so many Christians who try to use forgiveness like a buffer between the offender and the outcomes of their sin. They are afraid that if they don't "forgive" i.e. enable, then the other person will continue down their path of destruction and end up harming themselves or others. The enabler's heart is in a good place, but they are acting out of fear, not love, and cheating the offender out of something important. When we forgive, we are pointing people toward Jesus, when we enable, we are trying to be Jesus.

Actually, we are trying to be more than Jesus. Even God will not force his ways on people and will eventually abandon them to their sin when they persist.

With all of this said, I, personally can attest that I'm no substitute for Jesus. And certainly not better than Jesus. Yes, we are his hands and feet. But while he can use us as instruments of healing, the other party has to agree to be operated on.

So, I'm free. Free to forgive; like a lit candle set inside a window, warm and beckoning. Hand out, heart open. Open to reconciliation.

Free to receive healing instead of focusing on how to heal another.

Free to extend that most beautiful and terrifying gift of free will to others, letting them make their own choices and follow their own paths. To let them struggle and to meet God in that struggle. Or not.



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