When we are hurt or offended by someone, they owe us a relational debt. Jesus teaches us to pray saying “forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are our debtors.” We use debt in our common usage today only when we talk about money owed. But it is the word God uses in scripture. Forgiveness is you choosing to tear up another person’s IOU or debt that they owe to you, even though your heart has been hurt.
- Forgiveness isn’t forgetting
We know that we do not forget when someone has hurt us. God commands us to forgive each other as we ourselves have been forgiven in Jesus Christ. (Eph 4:32) He doesn’t say anything about us forgetting. The act of forgiveness means I choose to clear the debt the other person owes to me. God Himself does not forget, He knows all things at all times (omniscience). What scripture says is, “I will remember your sins no more…”(Heb 8:12) He makes a choice of His Sovereign will not to remember our sins, never throwing our past back in our face. He invites me to choose not to remember once I have forgiven someone. That takes an act of my will. I will need to take the hurtful memory captive in my mind each time it resurfaces (which it will) and then to remind myself I have forgiven this already, not giving myself permission to bring it up again.
- Forgiveness isn’t reconciling
Reconciliation means to bring together or to reunite. Reconciliation is based on a level of trust. Forgiveness is a choice to cancel the debt owed, but forgiveness does not restore trust. The relationship has been changed because of the offense given. Sometimes it is in small ways where trust is easily rebuilt. But there will be times when the process to rebuild trust will be painful and will take time, if it is even possible at all.
- Forgiveness isn’t condoning
This concept is commonly misunderstood. Forgiving someone does not mean that what they did was right, that it really didn’t matter that much, or that they don’t owe you a debt. Forgiving them does NOT change the fact that they remain accountable before God for their sins, and His promise is He will pay them back. (Rom 12:19)
- Forgiveness isn’t primarily about the person who hurt you
It is actually far more about you! This is why forgiveness can be given even after the offender is no longer living, or is still living but inaccessible. Holding an offense can harm us emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
May you rejoice in the forgiveness God has offered you, and be strengthened in forgiving others.
By Cindy Van Wingerden, PhD, RN
Licensed Clinical Pastoral Counselor