It’s Complicated: Forgiveness

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
– Matthew 18:21-22

Few people would argue that forgiveness is not a good thing. Inherently, we all know we should forgive. But, like Peter in the passage above, we have questions:

  • Is there a limit to forgiveness?
  • Do I have to forgive?
  • Does forgiving really mean forgetting?
  • Do I have to be friends with those I forgive?
  • What if they are not sorry?
  • What exactly is forgiveness?

The Bible teaches that we are broken people living in a broken world. Not surprisingly, the Bible teaches forgiveness. This is one of those things in the Bible that doesn’t get a lot of push back from our culture. Jesus says you should forgive, mental health professionals say that’s a good idea, and our culture generally says, forgiveness is a good thing.

In his message, Charles gave these summaries about forgiveness – both what it is and what it is not:

What is forgiveness?

  • When people hurt us, that’s wrong.
  • We have a moral right to be angry, to feel resentment.
  • Forgiveness is a decision to willingly give up the right to feel anger and resentment and to instead offer compassion. Forgiveness is an act of mercy.

Forgiveness does not/is not…

  • Forgiveness does not condone what happened.
  • Forgiveness does not mean forgetting.
  • Forgiveness does not mean trust.
  • Forgiveness does not mean a lack of consequences.
  • Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation.
  • Forgiveness is not bargaining or negotiation.

Like Peter, we may at first be most concerned about the limits of forgiveness. Yet, for most of us, there are people in our lives that we need to forgive.

When we move toward forgiving someone, we start an important process. Forgiveness is a process, but it begins with a decision. Deciding to forgive and deciding to offer mercy is the critical first step that gets the process started. It can take a long time and further resources can be helpful.

Recommended Resources

The International Forgiveness Institute //
Founded here in Madison, WI by Dr. Robert Enright, The International Forgiveness Institute has many helpful insights and resources.

Forgiveness is a Choice by Dr. Robert Enright //
This book can be a helpful next step in the process toward forgiveness.

Read Psalm 103 and take a few minutes to meditate on God’s unconditional love, grace, and forgiveness for you.