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« More Thoughts on Forgiveness | Main | NIV 2011 Now Available for Accordance »

Finding Forgiveness

A few weeks ago, I was leading my New Testament Survey class in a devotion based upon 1 Corinthians 13, and for a while we got stuck on v. 5: “love…does not keep a record of wrongs” (HCSB). I made the statement, "Sometimes, I hear people say, ‘I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget.'" I questioned the level of forgiveness offered if someone makes such a statement.

Of course, this opened up a floodgate of questions about what it really means to forgive someone. A number of my students opened up about very deep hurts they had faced in life with some describing how they had found forgiveness for the person who had hurt them and left emotional scars felt for many years. Another student described her hurt and admitted that she had not forgiven the person and didn’t know if she ever could or even wanted to. She was encouraged by those who had faced similar situations and had managed to overcome what had been done to them.

It was a very emotional time; lots of tears flowed. My fifteen minute devotional and prayer time lasted an entire hour! Of course, it was a New Testament Survey class, and we were studying Paul’s epistles that evening, so I had my justification ready if administration had walked in and asked why we were taking so long for our devotional.

Anyway, I’ve continued to think about this discussion, and a few days ago I wrote a devotional for another class, which is online. I thought I would share it with all of you here. Surely there are not easy answers for the most deep-seated hurts in our lives. But I do personally know that forgiveness is freeing and allows us to move forward in the journey to which God has called us.

Here’s what I shared with my online class:

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

“I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven.
(Matt 18:21–22 HCSB)

When Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive his brother’s sin seven times, he thought he was being generous. Jewish tradition (but not biblical command!) said a person should be forgiven three times. So, Peter was offering twice that plus one!

Surely Peter thought he was being quite generous. I’m certain he was not expecting Jesus’ response that we should forgive each other “seventy times seven.” What does this mean? Well, Jesus wasn't raising the bar to simply a higher number—that is, 70 x 7 = 490. My wife sometimes jokingly says, “Sorry, that’s 491, and I’m all out of forgiveness for you!”

No, Jesus was saying that we simply shouldn’t keep count. That’s easier said than done for most of us.

I have occasionally heard people say, “I might forgive, but I won’t forget!” I think just making that statement proves one hasn’t quite reached the state of forgiveness yet.

Of course, someone can easily respond, “But you don’t know what so-and-so did to me.” Well, it’s true that there are very deep hurts that we often experience in life. And, let’s be honest, there are different levels of hurt. There’s a scale of offense, is there not?

There’s the hurt of someone lying to us, or breaking a confidence, or failing to keep a promise. There’s the pain of hurtful words and betrayal. And then there’s the hurt that is nearly unfathomable: abuse, molestation and even taking the life of someone we love. Those who survive such atrocities are usually never quite the same.

What does it mean to forgive? I believe the starting place for understanding forgiveness is to look at what happens when God forgives us. The Psalmist writes,

As far as the east is from the west,
so far has He removed
our transgressions from us.
(103:12 HCSB)

When God forgives, our offenses no longer count against us in regard to our relationship and standing with Him. How do we offer the same level of forgiveness with each other?

Well, it’s one thing to be forgiving of the neighbor who borrows your lawnmower and returns it without telling you he hit enough rocks that you’ll have to get the blades resharpened. But those more serious offenses aren’t always so easily resolved.

Remember when we were children? One of us might get angry at another and say something unkind or worse, strike our playmate. Our parents or teachers then made us say we were sorry. We quickly made up, forgave each other and went back to playing. But it’s not so easy in the “adult” world, is it?

I believe we have to start with being willing to be forgiving in the little things. From there we can develop an attitude of forgiveness that allows us to seek reconciliation whenever we can.

Certainly, it’s true that we can’t simply say, “I forgive” and it be so. But we can work toward that. In those really big offenses, and especially in those horrendous acts that sometimes occur in life, we may need a great amount of time to process our movement toward forgiveness. We might need the help of a Christian counselor or other mature Christians who can help us down this part of our journey.

Even actual forgiveness doesn’t mean that we put ourselves or our loved ones in harmful or vulnerable positions. However, if we keep unforgiveness in our hearts, we risks our own hearts becoming hardened. If we refuse to forgive, then we allow the one who wronged us to still have power over us. We let the offender win—we even risk letting evil win.

God wants more from us because he wants us to be whole. Sometimes the journey is uphill. But ultimately, we must forgive just as he forgave us. And aren’t we glad he did, in fact, forgive us!

Is there any unforgiveness in your heart toward someone who hurt you—perhaps even long ago? What steps will you take to find forgiveness so that you can move past whatever it is that is holding you back emotionally and spiritually?


I also shared these thoughts via email with a Bible study group I teach at church. I've received a number of positive responses from friends of mine who were struggling with forgiveness toward individuals who had wronged them. One person asked me a very good question—almost a rebuttal to the ideas presented above. I'll come back and share that question in a couple of days as well as my response.


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Reader Comments (7)

Rick, I think you might find this book useful and inspiring:

May 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTim Chesterton

I'll be curious to get your thoughts on forgiveness vs. discipline. When our 7yo does something wrong and is confronted, he'll confess and ask for forgiveness. I've said the "I'll forgive you, but not forget" in the sense of "there will still be consequences [discipline] for doing something wrong". Perhaps they're the wrong words to say, but sometimes there needs to be correction more than acknowledging his confession, yes?

May 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElShaddai Edwards

E, in my opinion, it's simply the wrong words. Yes, our actions have consequences that sometimes have to be seen through to the end. Our heavenly father forgives us, but at times may discipline us because he loves us. But our actions have not brought about eternal separation from him if we belong to him.

In my post above, I said, "Even actual forgiveness doesn’t mean that we put ourselves or our loved ones in harmful or vulnerable positions." This was a veiled reference to discussion we had in class about molestation. One woman who was molested by an uncle when she was a child, had over the years, worked through the issues, and had been able to forgive him. But at the same time, it didn't mean that she was going to drop off her children at his house for him to watch.

When God forgets our sin, it doesn't mean that if we talk about it with someone, he's up in heaven scratching his head. But when the average person says "I'll forgive, but not forget," that's usually a sign to me that true forgiveness hasn't taken place. But I don't think that's what YOU mean in regard to your son. I think you simply mean you are holding him accountable for his actions.

Moreover, you have a responsibility as a parent to "train up your child in the way he should go," which will at times require accountability for actions.

May 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

>> I think you simply mean you are holding him accountable for his actions.

Yes. That's the big lesson right now - that some actions have consequences and we are accountable for them, even when we are forgiven for the action itself. I appreciate your thoughts!

May 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElShaddai Edwards

[...] Finding Forgiveness May 10 [...]

I'm finding it very difficult to forgive the person who my husband committed adultery with. She has no remorse and has in fact broken up another home since. How can u forgive someone who has no repentance?? I've prayed and prayed but no answer is coming. This person also makes a mockery of church by coming and putting up a holier than thou act all the while living with a married man. No one in the church even says anything about it.

May 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBecky

Just stumbled onto The Lamp tonight and have enjoyed it very much (liked the article on tithing). wife and i are considering starting to try to have kids and I appreciate the insight. I will try to remember, when punishing my kids, to remind them that God also punishes us as discipline when we disobey. Thanks for the tip.

And to Becky...I don't have any advice for you. Sorry your in such a rough situation. I hate it for you even though I don't know you. All I can say is that when someone has wronged me (in much lesser offenses) I too find it difficult, sometimes impossible to forgive them because I am a weak human and cannot have any love for them whatsoever. So I ask God to give me the same amount of love for my enemy that He has. I cannot love them on my own, so I need God to show me how, and basically do it for me.

Just got done reading a book called "sitting at the feet of rabbi jesus." Written by 2 Christian women who have much experience in Judaism and dissected a lot of Scripture for us that don't know the cultural background. They noted that the term "seventy times seven" was used once in the New Testament when Jesus spoke it, but also once in the Old Testament. Its found in Genesis 4:24. " 23 Lamech said to his wives,

“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
24 If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

Lamech was an ancestor of Cain. Obviously here, Lamech was hoping revenge in the amount of "seventy times seven" would come upon anyone who tried to hurt him. The book commented that, since Jesus was speaking to a largely Jewish audience, this verse would have been memorized and it would have popped into their minds when Jesus used that phrase. The authors noted that Jesus was basically saying that the amount of revenge that Lamech wanted, is the amount of forgiveness that we should show others. Thought it was interesting and I hope you enjoyed it.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrent

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