Dimensions of Forgiveness

The year after graduating from seminary I worked for a moving and storage company in Pennsylvania (a very MOVING experience…). During that time I noticed that a move is a good opportunity to do some “de-junking.” It is amazing how much “stuff” a family accumulates over time–ours included! Some black garbage bags are often used for garbage and junk. Since the black bags are handy, some of them also get used for bulky items like stuffed toys (and should be labeled accordingly). The big day comes and hopefully everything gets moved. However, more than once it was discovered (at the new location) that some bags contained, not household goods, but garbage! Someone hadn’t noticed the lack of a label. This trash would then be put out for garbage collection and finally arrive at the dump after many unnecessary miles.

As we travel down the road of this new year and century, I wonder if there is a “bag of garbage” in your life that you’ve been needlessly transporting. This sack really belongs in the “city dump.” I’m referring to the garbage of BITTERNESS.

In the last issue we studied how to let go of the unnecessary baggage of guilt. Let’s now take a closer look at the importance of releasing the burden of unforgiveness. The writer of Hebrews warned us to be “looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Heb 12:15). Unbelief and unforgiveness erode our fellowship with God and others.

What is our responsibility toward those who have hurt us? Christ instructed us to keep on forgiving. This shocked Peter, who asked, “‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'” (Matt 18:21-22). This is an idiom for saying, “keep on forgiving!”

And Col 3:12-14 says: “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.”

In cases when you are merely annoyed by the inconsideration of someone, forbear. Let the irritation go by showing tolerance. In cases when you are sinned against by a believer, take the steps of Matt 18:15-20.

Those who are bitter glean from their past only collections of sad events. Like metal particles bristling up to a magnet, their unforgiveness overlooks their many blessings. This was seen in the film, “Mommy Dearest” which painted a sour picture of life [Note 1]. By way of contrast, recall the the biography of Corrie Tenn Boom. Without minimizing the horrors of Nazi persecution, Corrie’s faith, hope, love, and assurance of God’s providence have been a beacon of encouragement to believers around the world [Note 2].

Now we consider some of the questions which may arise in the process of forgiving.

What if you are a victim of a crime? Is the Christian to ignore such a violation of the law? No; we are to cooperate with the judicial process because God has ordained authorities over us to punish the wrongdoer and reward those who do right (Rom 13:1-5). Crimes are more than an insult; they are violation of civil law.

What if the person who wronged you does not admit to their act or take responsibility for it? I have found it helpful to distinguish three key aspects of forgiving: relinquishment, reconciliation, and restoration.

1. We are always responsible to relinquish offenses to God–whether the offender admits to the wrong and repents or not. This relinquishment is “vertical”; it is between you and God. When you let go of your bitterness and your claim for revenge, you choose to live with the consequences of the other person’s sin. Your heart is then free because you have heeded the counsel of God’s Word: “… do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil… And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:26,27,32).

Without this “vertical” forgiveness (a matter between you and God) the Enemy has legal ground in your soul (Eph 4:27, “place”= an area of jurisdiction), from which he can build a stronghold (2 Cor 10:4,5). This false belief becomes an open door for “tormentors” such as anger, envy, strife, lust, and doubts (Matt 18:34). But by using the spiritual weapon of forgiveness, we follow God’s example, who gave His Son. “… And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.'(1 John 2:1,2; cf. John 3:16). [Note 3]

We free ourselves from a victim mentality by praying for those who “despitefully use” us, giving the burden to God (Matt 5:44; Ps 55:22).

2. This leads us the the second dimension of forgiveness–reconciliation. Although God has “forgiven” the world by paying the penalty for sin, there is a condition for reconciliation. ” … God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, BE RECONCILED TO GOD” (2 Cor 5:19-20). Although Jesus tasted death for every man (Heb 2:9) not everyone is reconciled to God. Rather, we are born into this world alienated from Him; apart from salvation we are “enemies of God” (Rom 5:10). When we admit our sin, repent, and receive Christ, we are reconciled to Him.

How does God’s reconciliation with us illustrate “horizontal forgiveness” –reconciliation between people? The offender must admit his/her fault and ask forgiveness so that mutual fellowship can be restored. The essential element of fellowship is mutual TRUST.

Christ’s directs His people: “… love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:44,45). Enemies are people you can’t trust, but still need our expressions of kindness.

3. The third dimension of forgiveness is restoration, which is the process of rebuilding trust between those who have been reconciled to each other. Reviewing these concepts we note that forgiveness requires the response of only one person–the one wronged. Reconciliation requires two parties–the offender (who asks forgiveness) and the offended one (who forgives). Restoration involves the relational progress of those who have been reconciled. As Paul counseled, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom 12:18).

Forgiveness is the attitude maintained in daily prayer as we focus on God’s gracious forgiveness of us. ” And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors” (Matt 6:12; cf. Luke 8:47).

A counseling ministry recorded this example of the power of forgiveness: “One lady had the entire medical community stumped concerning how to treat her physical ailments. She was so weak by the end of the day that she was certain that she was going to die. At this point she read The Ins and Out of Rejection and much that she had previously repressed began to surface. Both she and her husband thought she was losing her mind, and she called for an appointment. The counselor explained the way of freedom through the Cross, and she privately decided to allow the Holy Spirit full sway in her life. One day when she was alone, the Holy Spirit brought back to her mind a hurtful event from her past that she had repressed. Once she was able to process it and forgive those involved, she was free of the effects of this particular event and began to feel better physically. After other such occurrences brought the biggest one to her mind [which had been repressed more than 30 years]. Once she dealt with it, she was free and her physical symptoms disappeared. The Holy Spirit seemed to be systematically ‘downloading’ her repressed information to her memory so that she could process it and allow Him to deliver her from it. (Grace Fellowship Int’l, as recorded in Handbook to Happiness by Charles Solomon, p.124, 1999 revised edition.).

Are you starting off the new year right? Have you mistakenly carried into this new year the “garbage” of bitterness? As a Christian, the world’s greatest Forgiver indwells you; He will give you this grace to forgive–for your benefit and for God’s glory.

We cannot avoid living with the consequences of others’ sins, but we CAN and should live with these consequences redemptively. Walk with God, not in the bondage of bitterness, but in the freedom of forgiveness. Don’t carry that bag of garbage another unnecessary mile!

John Woodward

Vol. 3 #3 Jan 17, 2000

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Notes

Capitalization in Scripture quotes is emphasis added.

Note 1. “Mommy Dearest” was a book/film expose by a child of a movie star that portrayed the star’s personal life as negative and dysfunctional.

Note 2. “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Tenn Boom

Note 3. Resources on forgiveness: “Step 3” in “The Bondage Breaker”, by Neil Anderson; “Tearing Down Strongholds of Bitterness” by the Institute in Basic Life Principles ; “Recovering from Sexual Abuse” seminar by Audrey MacRonald, Georgetown Alliance Church, Ontario, Canada

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Copyright, John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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