The American Christian subculture has some warped views of forgiveness. From crooked church-going businessmen and wife beaters demanding forgiveness as their lawful due to telling bullied teens to shut up and forgive or God won’t love you, it makes sense why “forgiveness” as preached at church is so unpopular.
I have disliked it for many years since this doctrine–like any good thing–has been perverted and abused to oppress the weak in our subculture. We can take advantage of employees, insult the poor, and mistreat wives. Then we act offended when they don’t forgive like they’re “supposed to.”
The truth will set you free. (John 8:32.) Here are myths we have been taught and believe about forgiveness.
- You owe forgiveness to the person who wronged you. The truth is you do not. That’s like saying shop owners owe everyone free merchandise. Did God owe us forgiveness?
- You can force forgiveness on someone against their will. No you cannot. You can offer your forgiveness, but often they don’t want it because they refuse to admit they have done you wrong. In fact publicly “forgiving” someone can make a great passive aggressive form of revenge. Because God won’t force His forgiveness on us many will go to Hell despite His great love. Even as He offered His forgiveness to us while we—His enemies rejected it–we can intercede on the behalf of our enemies in prayer and hold a willing attitude to freely forgive them if they’re ever able to ask for it.
- Forgiveness will produce a warm tingling glow and euphoria. Just like heroine but it’s a Christian high. You will probably grieve the loss of your hope for justice. Since your life is ruined–it seems–hate is all you have left. The truth is it will provide closure. Like lancing an inflamed abscess it will relieve you of an intolerable pressure and allow healing to occur.
- This is more popular with the secular crowd. “You don’t forgive for the other person. You do it for yourself.” With that kind of attitude (It’s all about ME!) forgiving is not even possible since self-centered attitudes run counter to love. Forgiveness is the ultimate act of love.
In the end I realized it wasn’t about me–or my enemies either. The main reason I could not forgive was because I couldn’t believe God loved me enough to forgive my sins. Once I realized He loved me after all it became possible to forgive those who had trespassed against me.
It’s about Jesus. He has already sacrificed so much and been so much kinder to us than we deserve. We can’t show Him our gratitude directly.
That’s okay. All He asks is that we pay it forward.