By Ed New
First UMC Lakeland, FL
First, read Isaiah 43:25
There is no doubt that forgiveness is one of the Bible’s preeminent themes. Several of Jesus’ parables are on the theme of forgiveness - for example, the Prodigal Son and the Unjust Steward.
Forgiveness was on the minds of Jesus disciples, as Peter once asked Jesus how many times should he forgive - was seven times enough? Jesus shocked Peter and the other disciples when he answered, “Not seven times ... but seventy times seven."
Forgiveness is difficult for us, especially when the bar is set this high. As United Methodist Bishop William Willimon writes, “The human animal is not supposed to be good at forgiveness. Forgiveness is not some innate, natural human emotion. Vengeance, retribution, violence, these are natural human qualities. It is natural for the human animal to snarl and crouch into a defensive position when attacked, to howl when wronged, to bite back when bitten. Forgiveness is not natural.”
Willimon is right: forgiveness is not natural. So we start with this truth - God forgives us. It also applies to the one who has wronged us - God offers forgiveness to that person too.
Forgiveness is a gift of grace that flows from the very heart of God. For human beings, forgiveness is seldom easy or instantaneous. Forgiveness is in fact a process by which we overcome the negative effects of what has been done to us. It means replacing the negative emotions of anger, hate, and desire for revenge with positive emotions of love, compassion, and empathy.
Just as God offers each of us the gift of forgiveness, so forgiveness is a gift we offer the person who has hurt us.
Clara Barton, the founder of the Red Cross, was known as a forgiving person who never held resentments against anyone. One time a friend recalled to Clara a cruel thing that had happened to her some years previously. She seemed not to remember the incident. “Don’t you remember the wrong that was done you?” the friend asked Clara. She answered calmly, “No, I distinctly remember forgetting that.”
Perhaps that moves us closer to God’s reality of forgiveness. It is important to cultivate within our own hearts an attitude of forgiveness. Why? Because it will open our hearts to the receiving of God’s forgiveness.
But is that the same as forgetting the wrongs done to us? The passage that comes closest to “forgive and forget” is Isaiah 43:25: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more."
It is God who forgives. That is always the starting place. Then the verse moves to a second assertion, to answer to the question, “Why does God do it?"
God says, “I blot out your transgressions for my own sake." The motivation lies in God’s nature. You are forgiven not because you deserve it, not because you’ve earned it-but because of who God is. It is the very nature of God to forgive because you are loved so much.
Prayer: Gracious God, too many times someone has done wrong to me. For the ways that I still hold anger, please help me to follow your example. For the ways that I have angered others, please help me to seek forgiveness. Enable me to follow the example of the One who, on that day when he was nailed to the cross, said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Amen.
- Reflect on a time when you received forgiveness that you did not deserve; how did it make you feel?
- How are you fostering a spirit of forgiveness in your life?
- How can we truly "forgive and forget" in our daily lives?