As aspect of faith – and of human relationships – that I’ve often struggled with is that of forgiveness. I never really seemed to have a grasp on a number of its implications: how Jesus has forgiven us our yet confessed sins, why we still have to ask for forgiveness for something we’ve supposedly already been forgiven for, how we can forgive someone without them saying sorry, and how we can say sorry and still have someone not forgive us. It never really solidified in my head and heart what this really meant.
Until I read this idea that the goal of forgiveness isn’t forgiveness, it’s reconciliation. This makes more sense. People hurt each other, sometimes intentionally, other times unintentionally – and we don’t just need forgiveness, we need reconciliation for the relationship to become whole again. The same with our relationship with Jesus.
When you change the end goal from forgiveness to reconciliation, you then realize the often overlooked aspect of repentance (or saying I’m sorry, but really meaning it). It was then that I realized that the two components which lead to reconciliation – the end goal – can exist independently of each other … but that for reconciliation to occur, they both both must coincide.
Forgiving someone is the act of accepting a wrong done to you and not holding onto the injustice. You can forgive someone for hurting you – in fact that’s what we’re encouraged to do. It’s the only way to really free yourself from a hurtful position. It’s what you do when your spouse insults you in front of your family. It’s what you do when a drunk driver takes away your ability to walk. It’s what the Amish community did when a mad man shot 10 girls, killing 5 of them. It’s what Jesus did when he died on the cross for our sins. The act of forgiving is unconditional on the act of repenting.
On the other side of forgiving is repenting - acknowledging a wrong you did and making an intentional effort to correct it, or at least not do it again. It’s more than saying “I’m sorry,” although those words are probably part of it. Repentance is admitting you insulted your spouse, belittling her in front of your family. It’s the drunk driver saying he was wrong, confessing his guilt, and being truthful with his wrongdoing. Repentance is caring for the Amish girl victims as the mother of the shooter, since the son is no longer around to repent himself. It’s what we do when we realize our sins and how we’ve fallen short of the perfection demanded of us. The act of repenting is also unconditional on the act of forgiving.
And when these two combine, then – and only then – can reconciliation take place. We’re free to choose which end of the wrongdoing we will respond to – forgiving or repenting. And we can’t force the other party to repent or to forgive. But when both parties do, relationships are restored. Shalom is present.
I find it somewhat ironic that the two components both have the same major obstacle to overcome: pride. Not forgiving is holding onto the notion that we didn’t deserve to be hurt. Not repenting is holding onto the notion that we didn’t do anything wrong – or worse, that the wrong we did was deserved. Pride is such an ugly thing. And it so easily camouflages itself into our lives. I don’t think it’s too extreme to say that pride is the single most damaging character flaw in all relationships. I wish I had better suggestions on how to pragmatically search our lives for pride, but I don’t. We simply must ask God to search our hearts like David did. Till next time, Jack.