There is a fallacy maintained in our churches today, and it is this: forgiveness and turning the other cheek go hand in hand, and forgiveness should look like, be like and feel like turning the other cheek.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Turning the other cheek is one of two things: it is either getting what you know you deserve, or it is a subtle rebuke which will drive the repentant to confession and reconciliation. In the worst case, you will be slapped again, and having no more cheeks, you turn and leave.
In regards to forgiveness, wise people will tell you something like this: “forgiveness does not mean you allow yourself to be run over by the same bus more than once.” Doing so is passivity which results in further damage and resentment towards the bus driver and yourself.
The two types of forgiveness
There are two types of forgiveness: personal forgiveness and reconciliation forgiveness. In this post, we will explore the necessity of personal forgiveness.
Forgiveness is necessary because the damage has been caused to you. Someone did something to you that caused some type of damage. It’s as if you are a car and someone smacked you with a sledgehammer, leaving a large hole in your fender. Forgiveness is necessary because you’re damaged, physically and/or emotionally.
If you’re like most people, you may be thinking that forgiveness opens you up to another attack. No, actually, it does not. What opens you up to another attack is an improper boundary. If you’ve been robbed because your door was unlocked, and you refuse to lock your door after the robbery, then you are partially responsible for subsequent robberies. Should the robber keep out of your house? Of course, he should. Should you erect the proper boundary, in this case, a locked door, to keep future attempts at bay? Most certainly, you should. So then, forgiveness does not obliterate proper boundaries; rather, it has the potential to enable you to erect proper boundaries in the future.
While you’re holding onto unforgiveness, you are not in any way hurting the offender, nor are you protecting yourself. The way you protect yourself is by erecting a proper boundary, by locking the door. But this doesn’t negate that fact that you still have damage, something has been stolen. The robber is perfectly happy with your goods, and you’re perfectly unhappy without them.
It’s about letting go
Personal forgiveness is the mechanism that begins the process of releasing us from the damage caused by others. Until you can let go of the damage caused by others, you will continue to suffer in that damage in which you maintain.
If someone threw a rock through your window during the middle of the winter, do you fix the window, or do you maintain anger against the person who broke your window? You fix the window because you’re cold, and your heating bills will break the bank.
What sense is there in leaving the damaged window and maintaining anger against the person who threw the rock when you’re the one suffering? The logical thing to do is fix the window and ask the person who broke it to pay for the damages because to make you whole is what he owes you.
When we choose not to forgive, we chose to hold on to damage, and in doing so, we become bound to the damage – we are in bondage to the pain, the suffering, and they hurt. Furthermore, failing to forgive causes more damage than the actual offense: you’re living the hurts continually. Failing to forgive does nothing to the one who hurt you, but it causes a root of bitterness to grow deep, strong, and hard in your heart.
What is Personal Forgiveness?
Personal forgiveness is a private, volitional exercise that we perform so that we may be released from the bondage of the damage caused by those who sinned against us. It is the forgiveness is spoken of in the Lord’s Prayer –
… and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors … (Matthew 6:12)
In this type of forgiveness, we do two things: we release the offender from their obligations to repair the damage they caused in us, and we release ourselves from bondage to the damage in us.
This type of forgiveness is not tied to the offender repenting of their sins, nor is it tied to the offender saying they’re sorry. Sometimes the offender cannot repent or refuses to speak to you, or worse, they’re dead. In this type of forgiveness, the participation of the offender is never required.
Condemning the Damage
Personal forgiveness requires that you call sin what it is: sin. If you don’t mind people robbing your home, then you’ll leave the doors open and replace all of the things people take just so those things can be stolen again. In this case, you’re not agreeing with the sin, you’re not condemning the sin, and you’re not calling it wrong. But God has given us a permission to call a spade a spade:
“No weapon that is formed against you will prosper, and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their vindication is from Me,” declares the LORD. (Isaiah 54:17)
You have a right and obligation to call offenses and sin what they are: sin. We refuse to condemn the sins against us; we are in effect calling them blessings and goodness. If you don’t call it wrong (condemn it), then you have no place to forgive, for how does one forgive the good done by another? Good is not forgiven, it is praised, and thanksgiving is offered.
Avoiding a Root of Bitterness
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiledHebrews 12:15
Unforgiveness results in bitterness. But forgiveness is the key that opens the pathway to grace. And grace is that thing that makes you into something that you cannot become on your own. When your car is damaged by someone else, they typically have insurance that makes you whole again. But if they don’t, you can call your insurance company, and they will make you whole.
In personal forgiveness the participation, or repentance of the offender is absent. It’s as if they hit you and ran away. But God is your insurance company, and He will make you whole again. But, you have to be willing to condemn the sin (agree that it was wrong) and report the offense to God, and then release the offender from their responsibility to you. Once you’ve released them of their obligation to you, then you have enabled God to make you whole.
Personal Forgiveness is not Reconciliation
You cannot be reconciled to someone who is dead, but you can forgive them.
Reconciliation is not the goal of personal forgiveness. Personal forgiveness is not for the offender and it is not for restoring the relationship with the offender, it is for you, your freedom and your relationship with God. Personal forgiveness always frees you to pursue reconciliation with the offender, should they be available and participatory.
When we take our hurts and our damage to God, He makes us whole. But only when we choose to let go can we be free of hurts. Personal forgiveness not only releases us from the damage caused in us by others, it is also the mechanism by which we maintain or re-establish communion with God in the midst of the trial caused by other people.
When we do not forgive, we shy away from God and hide from Him. When we harbor bitterness in our hearts, we damage our walk with God. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they hid from each other and hid from God. Jesus said, “whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25) Having something against another is sin – it is something that you must confess. The Law of Bitterness ensures that your relationship with God suffers while you suffer in un-forgiveness.
When we fail to forgive, we hold onto something that is not ours: we hold onto the damage caused and created by someone else. Ultimately, we allow the person of offended us to continue an additional offense.
Personal forgiveness is the gateway to eradicating or preventing a root of bitterness. It’s not necessarily easy, and you may find that you pick up the offense again and again. But when you do, just take the offense back to God and forgive again. Eventually, you will find God has honored his word by restoring you to the place you were before the offense, and by giving you an additional blessing to move you forward in your relationship with Him:
Return to the stronghold, O prisoners who have the hope; this very day I am declaring that I will restore double to you. (Zechariah 9:12)
You can read my post on reconciliation forgiveness, here.