The following is a guest post from Bo Lane of ExPastors.com. Bo is a writer and filmmaker. I am working through forgiveness in my own life right now and have at various times over the years. As Bo says, “Forgiveness is a process.” I’m in that process right now. Maybe you are, too. Read on:
Forgiveness is a funny thing. Because once you choose to forgive someone, you’ll find that what it brings to you, some strange divine phenomenon – if you will, is far greater than the forgiveness you handed out. If that were not the case, millions of Pinterest extremists would not have pinned Alexander Pope’s famous quote on their wall: To err is human; to forgive, divine.
Forgiveness is divine. Or is it?
Some might argue that forgiveness is more a paradox or an impossibility altogether. Because forgiveness, they’d say, that’s granted to the unrepentant, is actually condonement. So, if you were to forgive someone, who has no desire to be forgiven, you’d actually be condoning the very thing you were forgiving them for.
I can’t say I agree. Why? Because, as a believer in Jesus, we forgive by faith and out of an obedience to God and his commands to forgive, not based on an individual’s repentant or unrepentant status. We forgive because we have been forgiven. Forgiveness has more to do with the position of our heart and less to do with the one who has offended us.
But how do we forgive someone who has done something to us that’s nearly unforgivable? It’s easier said than done, I know, but the benefits will eventually, but probably not immediately, outweigh all else.
Take, for instance, a Santaesque man named Robert Rule. His daughter, only 16 years old, was taken from the streets and murdered by Gary Ridgway, Seattle’s notorious Green River killer. She became one of his many, nearly fifty, victims.
Rule took the stand at Ridgway’s sentencing trial and, with what appeared to be sincere humility, made a statement that stood out among all the rest. “Mr. Ridgway,” he said, “there are people here who hate you. I’m not one of them. I forgive you for what you have done. You’ve made it difficult to live up to what I believe, and what God says to do, and that is to forgive. And he doesn’t say to forgive certain people, he says to forgive all. So you are forgiven, sir.”
As you’re thinking through the areas of forgiveness that you’ve experienced in your own life, both given and received, consider these few points:
1. Forgiveness is a process. Often times, a very slow process.
For Robert Rule and his wife, it took more than 20 years before they were able to confront the person that stole such a large part of their lives. He had a long time to process his hurt and anger and chose, above all else, to forgive.
2. Forgiveness is mostly about you.
Lewis B. Smedes, the author of Forgive and Forget, wrote that “When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself.” Forgiveness is more about freedom than forgiveness; a divine process that is felt more than it is understood.
As I write this, I’m reminded of specific times when the actions of certain people caused a lot of hurt in my life. The forgiveness process, on many occasions, took several years and much healing was needed to overcome the hurt. If there is something that you are holding on to, now might be a great time to embrace forgiveness.
Because, ultimately, that’s where we find freedom.
How have you handled forgiveness in your own life?