Choosing to forgive is hard especially when you have been so deeply wounded by someone. There is a saying about unforgiveness that I like, “unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to be affected” (I don’t know who the quote is by). There is also a saying from the Nickelodeon kids cartoon “Avator: The Last Airbener”, that I like, Aang when talking about revenge says, “Revenge is like a two headed rat viper. While you watch your enemy go down your being poisoned yourself”. When Zuko says that forgiveness is the same as doing nothing, Aang replies, “No it’s not. It’s easy to do nothing. It’s hard to forgive”. It takes real courage to forgive when you feel such hurt and pain.
I think there are some preconceived notions about forgiveness that become a hindrance to many. Webster’s New World College Dictionary (4th edition) states “forgive” as “(1.) to give up resentment against or the desire to punish; stop being angry with; pardon (2.) to give up all claim to punish or exact penalty for (an offense); over look (3.) to cancel or remit (a debt)”. In most cases I think Webster’s definition of forgive is pretty accurate for the most part, but when it comes to forgiving someone who has done the unthinkable I find it lacking. In the book Toxic Parents the author, Susan Forward, had this to say about forgiveness, “I came to realize that there are two facets to forgiveness: giving up the need for revenge, and absolving the guilty party of responsibility” (pg. 178). I think this is how most people look at forgiveness, and it posses a real stumbling block for them. How can a person absolve someone of responsibility when they have done the unthinkable? I don’t have an answer for that. After all, I held my abuser responsible for his actions by taking him to court. We all are not an island unto ourselves. There are real consequences to all we say and do. I personally feel that you can forgive someone and still hold them accountable for their actions. I believe that it is a personal choice if someone chooses to show grace and mercy to someone who has wronged them by whether or not they choose to hold the person accountable. I also see nothing wrong in allowing a person to reap the natural consequences of their behavior. To me that does not show a lack of forgiveness unless it is done out of a sense of getting back at that person. Wrong will always be wrong, and forgiveness doesn’t change that. Forgiveness in many cases is acknowledging that the one who wronged us is not perfect and has made mistakes. In other cases forgiveness is saying that you will not allow unforgiveness to poison your life, and it is something that you do for yourself and not for the one who wronged you.
I’d like to share with you what forgiveness looks like to me:
1.) Forgiveness MEANS: to let go of anger, hurt, judgments and the need for revenge. To place the situation in God’s hands.
2.) Forgiveness DOES NOT MEAN: (a.) that you have to forget, (b.) that you have to stay friends with that person, (c.) that you can’t hold the person accountable or responsible for their actions because actions have consequences. (d.) it does not mean that what they did was ok
To me if I have wronged someone I need to not only ask for their forgiveness, but I need to seek God’s forgiveness as well because he is the only one who can truly absolve me of my guilty status, and so it is with those who have wronged me. I can forgive them. I can choose to show them grace and mercy (or choose to hold them accountable), but it is God who is their judge…not me. God is the only one who can fully absolve someone of the wrong they have done, and even then God may choose to allow the person to reap the consequences of their actions.
If God allows us (or the one who wronged us) to experience the consequences of our actions (or of their own actions) it does not mean that God did not grant us (or them) forgiveness. God is always faithful to forgive when we ask him to.
I am not perfect. So for me, most of the time forgiveness is acknowledging that others are not perfect either, and allowing them to be human…mistakes and all. In other cases, like with my abuser, forgiveness is about not letting what he did to me poison my life.
Most importantly I hope that this view of forgiveness is ok in the eyes of God. Secondly, I hope that it is able to help some of you to step out and to forgive. This may not be a perfect view of forgiveness, but it is one that has helped me tremendously. I have found freedom in forgiving others, and I hope you will too.