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Monday, June 27, 2011

Quiet Time: Forgiving Our Fellows

Forgiving Our Fellows

"In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God's part. - Matthew 6:14 (The Message)

Is the assurance of our forgiveness and fellowship with the Father really tied to our forgiving others? Yes, according to (Matthew 6:14). But that doesn’t mean God stops being our Father. God’s children must forgive. “Ok”, we say, “forgiving those who slight us from time to time is actually pretty easy, but what about the mom who brutally murders her own child, the drunk driver who carelessly kills a family, the spouse who walks out on their family, or the abusive parent who has built years of resentment, fear, and anger in the heart of his wife and children, (the list of bad behavior could fill up a page and then some). Must we forgive even these unrepentant people? People who, if our true thoughts were know, we’d really rather hate. Yes, we must forgive if we are to continue in fellowship with Father God. However, in order to understand what forgiveness is it may be helpful to first discuss what it is not.

Forgiveness is not “excusing” the sin. Excusing means that we give a false reason for bad behavior. We may say something like, “She couldn’t help what she did,” or “He grew up in an abusive family, that’s why he’s attacks his wife and children,” when the fact is that people choose to move in wrong directions and they must be held accountable. Their behavior may have a reason that makes it easier to understand but it doesn’t make it right. Therefore, excusing bad behavior doesn’t lead to forgiveness; to the contrary, it leads to hidden hatred.

Forgiveness is not ignoring the truth by saying things like, “Well, she really didn’t mean that”, or “words can’t hurt you”, or “I don’t care” when in fact the offender actually knew quite well what he was doing, the offensive words actually did hurt, and yes, we certainly do care. We care enough to think bad thoughts about the offensive person, even to the point of wishing them dead! So ignoring the facts when we’re offended doesn’t encourage forgiveness; it makes us liars and cowards.

Forgiveness is not foolish trust. When a spouse repeatedly participates in illicit relationships, a person continues to drink and drive, or a mother repeatedly strikes her child in anger and all say with sympathy and sincerity, “I’m sorry, I’ll never do it again.” Their sorrow may be heart felt, but their promise is hollow. We cannot trust them. Jesus didn’t trust certain people either (John 2:24-25). C.S. Lewis said, “You may not believe his next promise…but you must make every effort to kill every trace of resentment in your own heart – every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out.” The fact is: forgiveness is given, but trust is earned.

Forgiveness is not the act of forgetting. God does not remember our sins because he chooses not to (Jeremiah 31:34). The scripture doesn’t say that God “forgets”, it says that He doesn’t “remember”. In other words, He chooses not to bring them up again. God may record my sins but He also stamps “FORGIVEN” over each one. So too, when we choose to forgive, our memory still functions but we don’t bring the memory up again. As one bible scholar teaches, “Forgiveness doesn’t require forgetting; only choosing not to call to mind repeatedly while God heals the memories.”

So, the bottom line is this: We forgive because we’ve been forgiven and forgiving others is a choice, as well as, an act of faith. When we act in faith we are acting in fellowship with our heavenly Father. He will empower us to do it.

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