In the light of Eternity and in the shadows of cancer, soul searching is an important inventory to keep. Forgiveness is a concept with which I struggle a lot lately.
I have written about some of the difficult times and circumstances in our lives. It is funny that when I write and then read it, I think, “Wow! That is really bad!!” I suppose the mind is funny about keeping things repressed until the heart and soul can safely handle the intensity of the emotions.
Lately, I have taken time to research “Forgiveness”. I was always taught that you forgive and forget. Humanly, it is impossible to forget the actions that become like hot brands used on a soul. There are things in my life that seared so deeply into my heart that, if I allow it, I would never attempt forgiveness.
My brother always said that he didn’t get mad, he got even; and he usually did. He, his wife and I discussed a particular vexing situation that he had with the leader of a gospel band in which he played guitar. He had just cause, but because it was a “gospel” band, he didn’t want to act badly. It wasn’t his nature to fly off the handle like “some” of us did. (See me with a halo. *smile*) The longer the situation went, the angrier he got.
His wife and I suggested that his anger might find release if he would write a “hit” letter. That is a letter in which you tell the person how you truly feel about them, the situation, their parentage or anything else you felt inclined to grouse about. I explained that after writing it all down, you take the letter out to the fire-pit or fireplace, light a match and burn it….Not my brother…
He wrote the letter and then he mailed it…yes, he did. Then he proceeded to take back everything, including instruments that he contributed to the band….he was done. He could genuinely smile, greet them kindly and be totally free from any hostility.
Of course, those in the band were quite uncomfortable around him, but they would not engage in such honesty because they needed to keep their “righteousness” intact. My brother knew this. He had already anticipated their behavior. He was free from the anger and he was done with the band…
My mother was different. She would overlook the transgressions over and over until an invisible line was crossed. When the line was crossed, that would be that. She would never treat the person impolitely, fail to greet them will a “Hello” or say a cross word about them to anyone. However, she was done….stick a fork into it kind of done. There was nothing anyone could say to cause her to allow the trangressor back into her good graces. Done.
The only people that had half a chance to uncross the invisible line were her children. Even for us, it could get to a point that the relationship would not return to its orginal state. She didn’t love us any less, she just didn’t trust us like she did. She forgave you, but she never forgot how ugly your words or your actions were. Her wisdom instructed us that when you find yourself confused, look to the actions. If they were the same as the words, then life was true. When the words walked a different path from the actions, then believe the actions. Actions were more of a true indicator of the heart…I have found her wisdom true.
For me, I can forgive and I can lie to myself and say that I am able to forget the infraction. It is only over time and in my explosion of anger that I learn that I never truly forgave. That usually causes a lot of guilt for me. I always wanted to believe the words more than the actions. In my younger years, I thought my mother was just “old fashion” and the words were more true. Silly, I know.
In today’s society, forgiveness seems to be granted before it is asked. In the justice system, the punishment is abated before the crime is even charged. Forgiveness seems to be considered so lightly and its insincerity cheapens the word and action.
Personally, I truly wanted to forget as well as forgive. I wanted to forget the pain, the humiliation or the fact that someone could be so callous. Also, I believed that forgetting was the way God would have me to forgive. I believed that He would have me “release” the person from the offense and carry on the relationship as if the transgression never occured…that is what I wanted.
Lately, I have learned that forgeting was never a part of the act of forgiveness. Forgiveness did not erase the crime. It released the offender from the punishment by granting a pardon, but the crime still stood.
I also learned that there were three degrees of forgiveness and that there were steps or criteria that had to be met before forgiveness could be granted.
Firstly, the offender had to ask for fogiveness. There was no such thing of talking around the subject or just ignoring that the offense occurred. The words had to be said. My grandfather never uttered the words, “I am sorry” in his long life. When he would gamble or play cards, he would come in the door with a new dress for my grandmother. That was his “Sorry”, but hearing the words was never an option.
The second part was that the offender had to stop doing the offense. Intent was not enough. There is no such thing as saying that you are sorry and then contining on with the offending. That denotes a lack of remorse of any kind or a lacking of change in the heart. No action to follow up the words meant absolutely nothing.
The third component was that they had to make restitution. Something had to be given or an action of some sort had to accompany the remorse. I think that my grandpa went straight to this part of the process….and grandma didn’t complain too much, she just knew that he was guilty.
Without all three components, forgiveness was not to be granted. According to the author of the article of explanation, to grant forgiveness without meeting the criteria promotes evil in the greater community. In light of today’s headlines or leading news story, the concept of cheap forgiveness promoting evil makes some sense. The crime still stands and the punishment is dispensed or pardoned in the making of the plea deal. Somehow, we have confused forgiveness with mercy.
When all three components were met, the criteria for granting forgiveness was satisfied. With that satifaction, an obligation to grant forgiveness was required. To withhold forgiveness was committing a sin or transgression as serious as the original offense. No one could say, ” I’ll never forgive you for that.” if the offender had met all of the requirements.
Accepting that the person satisfied the requirements, forgiveness was granted. It was a moral obligation to forgive. No emotion required. That was the first kind of forgiveness.
The second degree of forgiveness is when the person that was wronged empathizes with the offender. This seems to be easier for some than for other. This deeper kind of forgiveness involves the heart of the one offended and can make life easier on all involved.
The third kind of forgiveness is reserved for God. It is called “atonement” and it is when the crime is not only forgiven after the person meets the criteria, but it is totally forgotten. When it is forgotten, the relationship resumes as if the offense never occurred. Atonement is reserved for God alone because it is humanly impossible to totally forget offenses done to the heart or to whose heart you offended.
After all these years of attempting to grant atonement for offenses when that person never ever admitted that they committed the transgression, I realized that I had it all backwards. That is why I would want to believe that I had forgiven. I confused myself further by believing that I had forgotten the transgression only to act out and reveal that I truly never forgave. I was trying to be God. No wonder I messed everything up!
I understand that the New Testament teaching doesn’t agree with this concept, but it was a great help for my own understanding. I really had this forgiveness thing warped and I was the one paying and satifying the crime on the part of both parties… Now for the really hard part…
Just how do I forgive???
All I can say right now is that I am working on understanding more about this very important concept and action. The offense held to the heart is more damaging for the one offended than to the one who committed the transgression. I suppose it is like the death sentence that the Romans pronounced when they strapped a dead body to the guilty person until the decay and bacteria caused the living to die. Unforgiveness is that deadly…
I am still learning and I truly want to forgive. I want to forgive rightly and whole heartedly, but I am still in the shadows of forgiveness…..