Sunday, May 10, 2009

Making Forgiveness Possible

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. -- Ephesians 4:32, NASB95

It is the center point around which our faith revolves. But when we are the ones who need to forgive, forgiveness becomes more difficult. To believe that God forgave me millennia ago, pardoning me in a broad theological sweep with billions of others, seems, for some reason, more reasonable than my granting forgiveness to someone who has wronged me. -- Discipleship Journal : Issue 105., electronic ed. (Colorado Springs: The Navigators/NavPress, 1999).

It is often helpful to pay attention to what Bible writers actually wrote. They often reveal far more than we see at first glance. Paul’s encouragement to the Christians at Ephesus to forgive each other is an excellent example.

Forgiveness means several things, and it’s not the intent of this article to dig into them. Suffice it to say that forgiving somebody means you don’t hold the offending behavior against them, and you release them from their guilt. Forgiveness makes it possible for a person to recover and move beyond wrong things done, and the pain and damage caused to others.

However, there seems to be a serious shortage of forgiveness. Even among Christians, forgiveness is often hard to come by. There is a lot of talk about forgiveness, but less meaningful forgiving happening. It may be that this shortage of forgiving is the result of two other things that are also missing from the human experience.

The first is kindness. The truth is that we live in a hard world. Kindness is much more than good manners and common courtesy. Many Christians can fake the kindness angle. They can greet you with a smile, hug your neck, then stab you in the back. They can look you in the eye and tell you they love you, then they can spread the latest gossip about you when you’re not listening. Kindness is a particular sort of behavior that always results in something good for the person to whom we are being kind. There are lots of other things that go into real kindness, like grace and mercy, love and gentleness. There is usually little doubt when kindness has been extended.

The second is tender-heartedness. That’s a term that is so self-descriptive that it’s hard to improve on it. It’s being soft-hearted toward others. It’s the opposite of hardness or harshness. It is a heart full of compassion and understanding. This heart is one shaped by grace and tempered by mercy. It’s the last thing from a demanding, insistent, judgmental attitude.

If you understand about kindness and tender-heartedness, then you understand what it takes to be a forgiving person. It may well be that unless a person can be kind and tender-hearted that person cannot forgive others. To the extent that kindness and tender-heartedness exist, to that extent he or she can forgive others.

It’s so much easier for us to desire forgiveness than to give it. We all want people to be kind to us, to have tender-hearted feelings toward us. But when it comes to forgiving others, we often get hung up on justice, retribution, and punishment. None of those are ours to give. God will take care of those things, if needed. We have a bigger job to work on: being kind and tenderhearted, so we can forgive each other.