Forgiving and Forgetting

In the kingdom of God, He chooses to forgive and He chooses to forget our sin. We are taught in this world that the ability to remember things is very powerful, but in the kingdom of God, the opposite is true… God’s greater power and sovereignty is displayed by His choice to forgive and forget.

Yet forgetting is not quite what we think… does God truly will Himself to forget? Maybe… although I think the picture of forgetfulness is that He knows, but chooses to not hold it against us any longer. The scripture “I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12) is thus that God chooses to remove the sin from the list of charges against us in the dock.

The difficult part is that, in the kingdom of God, He calls us to do the same.

A very challenging commandment, just after what we call the Lord’s prayer, is “if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will not forgive yours.” (Matthew 6:14-15).

The difficult part is that He makes no exceptions to this.
The helpful part is that He will enable us to do so, but we have to be a willing and active participant in the process.

I have been hurt deeply many times by other people, and the worst of it is, often from others who call themselves Christians.
Yet the imperative to forgive still applies… and is sometimes a process… even though it is the most difficult thing that I have ever done. And He has given me the strength to do so. There is no sin so great that God cannot forgive, and there is no offense so great that I am released from forgiving the person who committed the offense.

On many occasions I have held onto the offense and chose not to forgive. Yet this puts me in a dangerous place before God, and moreover, my life will get stuck in a holding pattern until I forgive (no forward motion).

On rare occasions, as He and I have covenanted to forgive another’s offense against me, He has given me the grace to actually forget the offense. Strange as it might seem, I cannot remember the details of that offense.

But the normal case is that I choose to forgive, even though it is the most difficult thing I have ever done, and it is a process. He gives me the strength to forgive. But I still remember and I do not forget.
But let me clarify… when I say I do not forget, it is like what I said about Hebrews 8:12 when God forgets our sin. I still remember the details, but I no longer hold the offense against the other person. Thus I have “forgotten” in kingdom of God terms, even though I remember what happened.

We need to be quick to forgive. The longer we nurse an offense (and I am not minimizing the hurt of an offense), the harder it becomes to forgive and “forget”. Also, refusing to really forgive actually gives the offense continuing power over us.

Forgiveness is not just an intellectual exercise. It involves the spirit, the mind and the body. It requires action, not just to release and forgive the offense, but actually do the opposite of the offense. This might even mean engaging in positive and practical activity toward the person who committed the offense.

For me, this is the litmus test of whether I have forgiven or not.
Does the remembrance of the event, or a fresh encounter with the person, recall fresh offense or bitterness, or can I remember the offense without being re-offended?
If I can remember the details but “forget” the offense, if remembering or encountering the person who caused the offense does not cause continued bitterness or fresh offense, then I know that I have truly forgiven.

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But I have to choose to forgive, and will myself to forgive, and He will enable me to do so. He calls each of us to this, and there are no exceptions, either in the offense that we must forgive, or in His strength which enables us to forgive… and “forget”.

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Forgiveness – It’s in You to Give

There are many difficult things that each of us will face in our lives.  Burying a loved one.  Loss of job.  Broken relationship with someone.  Bankruptcy.  Betrayal.  Persecution.  Bullying.  Sickness.  Just getting through another day.  And we can wonder why these difficult things happen to us.

These difficult circumstances that we face will stretch aspects of our character – demanding of us to show unconditional love, to trust people again and continue to trust that God really knows what He’s doing, to be patient with annoying and difficult people, and to persevere when everything and everyone around us says we should quit.

Yet the most difficult thing we will ever have to do – and we do have to do it – is to forgive someone, and to forgive them in the same way and to the same measure that God forgives us.  Now that’s hard.  But He enables us to do it in His strength, and expects us to put forgiveness into effect, no matter what.

In Matthew 18:21-35, Peter asked Jesus how many times was he to forgive someone who hurt him, and Jesus repled, “seventy times seven”.  The parable indicates that, when someone begs for forgiveness and mercy, we are to give unconditional forgiveness.  Jesus also taught that, if we refused to forgive others, that the Father would not forgive us.

Such a difficult teaching… and even if we can intellectually get our heads around it, putting it into practice is an entirely different matter.

But it is so important to put it into practice – beyond the spiritual consequences that Jesus warned about, there is a very pragmatic result: until you and I forgive – not just intellectually but practically and tangibly live it out – you and I will be stuck in a holding pattern, and God will be unable to move you forward until you do.  And the forgiveness in you and me has to be real and unconditional with visible inward and outward evidence.

It is most difficult when the object of your unforgiveness / forgiveness is someone of whom you have regular reminders, or with whom you have regular contact – especially when they repeatedly re-offend.
I have been in this situation many times…

As a side note – If you are in a dangerous situation, physically or mentally, by all means remove yourself from it for a time.  But this practical requirement does not remove the need and instruction that you and I MUST forgive.

The need and instruction to forgive – even then – is unconditional.

To put it in terms which may offend our Canadian, post-modern, secular sensibilities – unforgiveness is a SIN.  No mitigating circumstances are given in scripture where it is deemed “okay” to live and breathe another day in unforgiveness.

Yet we all try to place conditions or escape clauses on the commandment that we forgive those who hurt us and sin against us.  Here are a few examples of the excuses we make:

a) conditional forgiveness – I will forgive you, but first… (add your own list). We add pre and post-conditions to our so-called forgiveness, but at the first sign of behaviour we don’t like, we bring up the catalog of offences.
It’s time to ditch the catalog and ditch the conditions.

b) payback – payback is closely related to conditional forgiveness, and may sound something like, “I’m going to make you suffer for a while before I forgive you”, or “I’ll let you know when you’re forgiven”.  Our goal in this is punishment, not forgiveness.

c) mitigating circumstances – we attempt to release ourselves from the need to forgive by saying to ourselves, and others, “you don’t know what they did.  If you knew, then you’d understand that I cannot forgive them.”  I tried this one on what is now a very memorable occasion for me, and I complained to God about how badly someone had treated me.  God then reminded me that He DID know and He showed me an image of the crucifixion and the forgiveness He showed. Then He said to me “Now go and do the same”.  Ouch.

d) I’ve forgiven but not forgotten – how many times have you heard or said this?  This is true in human understanding, but this is not the measure to which God forgives.  He says in His Word “I will remember their sins no more“… deliberately choosing to forget.  We cannot do this in our own strength, but in His… and while we will still remember the details of the offense, we will remember the details without re-opening the wound and being offended all over again.  He will enable us to release and forget the offense.

e) they haven’t asked for forgiveness – sometimes we take the Matthew 18 scripture above out of context and say, “Well I would forgive but they need to ask me first”.  There are enough other references to unforgiveness in scripture to indicate that unforgiveness itself is a SIN, and that to hold onto unforgiveness, for whatever reason, puts YOU and I into jeopardy and a position of bondage, sickness, bitterness, etc.  In unconditional forgiveness, you and I forgive even before someone asks, and even if they never do ask.
In unconditional forgiveness lies personal freedom.

f) running away from the problem – we can fool ourselves that, if we run away from the person or circumstance that caused the offense – or who we haven’t forgiven – then it will go away and you and I will be alright.
Nothing could be further from the truth.  Whether it is just the peculiarities of life circumstances, or whether God Himself has a direct hand in it, we will encounter again in someone else or in a different circumstance the same issue we ran away from.  It may manifest differently, but we carry the problem with us because it is you and I that have not forgiven.  And it is time – today – to release and forgive that He might begin the healing process in you.  That way lies freedom.

g) time heals everything – NOT.  Time, by itself, heals nothing.  Time allows scabs to grow over old wounds, but we pick at them and bleed again. Time allows experiences to go below the surface, but under similar circumstance or under pressure, they come back to the surface.  We need to walk continually in forgiveness and stop walking and living and breathing as the walking wounded.  In forgiveness is freedom and healing, in time.

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There are other excuses we make – but all excuses are based only upon unforgiveness – because we find it hard to forgive, or we don’t want to forgive, or we foolishly think that it’s OK with God, given the details of my circumstance, to not forgive.

But there are no mitigating circumstances.  NONE.

Think of the cross and the forgiveness it implies, even to us who didn’t deserve it, who mock it, who didn’t ask for it, who never knew we needed it…  Think of the freedom that resulted.

God’s love, and the measure of His forgiveness that He gives to us, and then desires for us to go and do likewise, is shown in Hosea 3, where Hosea is told to go and love his adulterous wife again who has repeatedly been unfaithful and caused repeated heartache and offense… just as God says He pursues and loves and forgives His people who continually sin against Him.  He forgives even though forgiveness is undeserved.

Forgiveness is a choice we MUST make, IF we are to be free and move forward.

It is the most difficult thing you and I will ever have to do – but we are commanded to do it, no matter what.  He will give us the extra-ordinary strength to do it, and walk it out.  That way lies freedom and He will lead us into healing and restoration.

Who do you need to forgive today? What catalog of offenses are you carrying forward in bondage?  Begin the forgiveness process today – and let Him set you free.

No Free Ticket Or Easy Escape?

Much of current evangelical Christian teaching would instruct us that Jesus Christ will soon return for His church, in an event called the “rapture”.  The stated purpose of this event is so His faithful people will escape the coming tribulation, a period of intense persecution under a future anti-christ world leader.  The thinking behind this “free ticket out of here” or “easy escape” is that Christ’s love for His church is to pull them out of the world as a reward for faithfulness so they can avoid the coming suffering.

But… what if the “rapture” – at least as it is taught – is not going to happen?  What if the pre-trib eschatological theories presented as fact in our churches and popularized by the Left Behind series of novels are in fact wrong?

If you and I had no free ticket out of here, or easy escape from the “great tribulation” – how would this change how we live our lives as Christians in our world?

THAT is really the KEY question for each of us.

While it is easy to demonstrate how the “free ticket out of here” theory of the end-times does not really line up with scripture, and easy to show how this uniquely western/first-world viewpoint did not really exist before the 1830s or become popularized until after the first world war…
the fact remains that this theory enjoys great popularity. 
AND it has had a deleterious effect on the effectiveness of the church within our secular society.

While we could debate eschatological theory, of greater concern is the unfortunate result of this pre-trib end-times viewpoint.  For those of you who aren’t seeing beyond a theological debate, read on.

It has taken the church out of the world (at least out of our own secular society we live in).
It has turned our attention from the import of Christ’s Second Coming and toward a fixation on our own escape from this world.
It has caused the church – at least fundamentalists – to turn inward and withdraw from society, instead of engaging it.
We have been called to engage the world with the practical Great Commission and be light to the world until He returns… and not just to prepare ourselves and hunker down to wait until he pulls us out of this temporary challenging existence.

So to return to the key question… If you and I had no free ticket out of here, or easy escape from the “great tribulation” – how would this change how we live our lives as Christians in our world?

If we truly understand the Father’s heart – and why Christ came the first time – we would know that we exist as the church and are present in this world to bring Him glory, to carry out the Great Commission, to ensure that, before Christ returns the Second time, that as many people as possible will come to call Him Lord, because He loves every one, and desires that NONE should perish or be left outside the kingdom.

The Great Commission may call some of us to other nations, cultures, or unreached people groups.

But the Great Commission is placed upon all of us.  The Great Commission is no further than our own household, our own family, our own neighbors, our own co-workers, and every person that we encounter on a given day.  That is your mission ground.  That is my mission ground.  That is our ticket.  That is why we exist and why we are still here. We are called to be here and to be light to the world until Christ returns.  No escape clause!

So this calls me and you to self-examination.  If we lived our lives with the view that there is no free ticket pending – no get out of jail free card – and no escape to wait for, but that we are to be light to our world and engage with it until He returns – how would this alter the way I conduct my life on a daily basis?  Would I be more deliberate about the people I meet?  Would I be more active in changing our world?

That is the RIGHT question.  And now I am off to review myself.

p.s. for you theology buffs, a discussion that focuses on the different eschatological viewpoints may be forthcoming in a future post.  But I thought it imperative to focus first on what really matters most.  😉