“If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O LORD, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.” (Psalm 130:3-5)
Forgiveness does not mean ignoring the offense or treating it as though it didn’t happen.
Forgiveness is when the offended party suffers the consequences of the offense.
We see this in action in many aspects of life, such as in:
- Banking laws – transferring a debt that is owed by the debtor to the to someone else who pays what is owed, or assumes the debt, also known as “imputing” the debt. For example, it is estimated that in that one banking crisis tax payers covered $8.5 trillion in bailouts to banks and insurers.
- Judicial laws – transferring the punishment imposed on an offender to an innocent person who pays the fine or serves the time.
- Personal relationships
We struggle with forgiving those who have hurt us because we feel, justifiably I would say, outraged that the offender gets to shrug off responsibility instead of admitting and repairing the harm that was done to us. Intuitively we understand that when we forgive, we cancel the debt owed to us, and we are left bearing the burden of that offense through emotional suffering, physical suffering, financial costs, damaged reputation, loss of social standing, loss of hopes and dreams for the future.
I once counseled a woman whose boyfriend had insinuated himself into her life over a period of months, charming her into more and more involvement until his true psychopath personality could finally erupt. When I saw her she was recovering from broken bones from his most recent and most vicious beating. in retaliation for being told to leave he had utterly destroyed her house by ripping out all the plumbing and electrical and smashing all the windows, drywall, floors, doors and appliances. (The photo represents the damage done, but is not an actual photo of the woman or her home, nor does it fully show the extent of the damage.)
He had wrecked her car. He had terrorized the other employees at her workplace, triggering the loss of her job. She was left to suffer the consequences all alone. She had no homeowner’s insurance for the property damage because it was deliberately caused by an occupant who had lived there long enough to be legally classified as a resident. She had no insurance coverage for her medical bills because she had lost her job. She had no income or outlook for another decent job. Inconceivably, she had no recourse even to have him arrested. She had allowed him to get away with increasingly violent behavior for too long, lied to the authorities too many times. She had long since allowed herself to be alienated from former friends by her psychopath control freak boyfriend, she was now homeless, unemployable with a mortgage to pay on a condemned property, forced into bankruptcy with consequent loss of credit rating, terrified of encountering him again.
And Jesus said,
“if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
That just doesn’t seem right!
But in fact, whether or not she felt like it, her best course of action was to forgive her abuser. Her mental, emotional, physical, social – and because we are all interconnected body, soul and spirit – her spiritual health depended on it. How so?
As long as she chose not to forgive him, she was holding on to the debt he owed her. Can we not recognize that meant she was holding on to a relationship with him?
“You owe me! You need to change your behavior, your attitude, your beliefs to make things right with me!”
Isn’t this how marriage counseling usual goes? And goes and goes around in a circle without ever coming to a resolution as to who will change?
Think about your own experiences with unforgiveness. I know from my own personal experience that brooding over injustice, regret, insistence on “It shouldn’t have been like that!” trapped me in a pit of despair, deep depression, physical deterioration, social restrictions, terribly poor judgment, and a cycle of failed attempts to restore the unforgiven relationship through a series of duplicate and therefore likewise bad and failed relationships. When my divorce lawyer asked “Why did you ever marry _________?” I unwittingly blurted out “Because I wanted ____ to love me, or at least a close facsimile.”
Christianity’s most evident loss of power to overcome cycles of sin in individuals and society can be directly linked to its failure to understand forgiveness.
Christianity’s teaching that salvation is from punishment for sin in hell by believing that we are forgiven because Jesus is the Son of God who died to take our spiritual punishment is such a massively oversimplified dogma of the entirety of God’s work in mankind.
If we stick with scripture rather than preachers, we factor in the understanding that Singularity Creator YHVH created mankind to be in relationship with him to have dominion over all of creation. The Adam’s rejection of that relationship pulled all of creation on the path to destruction. Only by returning to solidarity with YHVH could all of creation be salvaged.
Only Singularity YHVH has the power to restore a relationship by the act of forgiveness, the first act being the acceptance of the destruction of his creation.
When Jesus warns that if we don’t believe that he is the Singularity, the only source of power capable of overriding the consequences of our destructive actions, he is not primarily warning of punishment by an angry God.
He is warning of humanity’s only option for survival.
“We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (I Corinthians 15:51-52)
Giving and receiving forgiveness is the ultimate soul changer. It is a human thought process by which destructive elements of the soul’s memory are eliminated, like a computer’s ROM is cleared of malware.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8-9)
The Promised Seed / Christ…In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins…In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise…Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.” (Ephesians 1)
But like every other law of nature, this only works for those us who believe in, and act on, YHVH’s forgiveness through identifying with, including re-enacting, the death of his Anointed Savior who conquered sin and therefore its consequent death through his sinless life.
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness…
- For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me….
- Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash / vigorously scrub me, and I shall be whiter than snow... Submit to painful processes to repair the damage done to the body and soul from consuming and engaging in harmful and filthy habits. Alcohol and heroin are not the only things that trigger withdrawals. Any pleasure-inducing habit is hard to break, and relapses are more common that successful rehab, witness unsuccessful diets.
- Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. This gets to the source of the problem. Cast me not away from thy presence; acknowledges the prerogatives of an existing relationship, in God’s case, as our Creator, and take not ty holy spirit from me…uphold me with thy free spirit. This is the ultimate “higher power” that succeeds in overcoming all other drives…The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.The humility required to admit we can’t do it alone, we need help.” (Psalm 51:1-17)
The man who wrote that prayer was King David, notorious for adultery and murder just to have sex with a woman who caught his eye.
But David didn’t only asked God for forgiveness, he also asked the woman he had wronged for forgiveness.
Most sinners shift the blame, claiming exculpatory circumstances with claims like “It’s her fault, she made me do it, she shouldn’t have tempted me…” But David accepted responsibility and, highly unusual for a man in a powerful position, made reparations to the woman he had wronged.
Bathsheba was an innocent victim who suffered extreme abuse at the hands of a respected political and religious figure who betrayed her submission to his authority and used his power to deny justice. And then to be forced to live with the abusive, lying, deceiving, man who destroyed your life? It would be insufferable. To really feel how this impacted Bathsheba, consider the accounts of the survivors of the genocide in Rwanda, poignantly communicated in the book As We Forgive.
And then, one night, David comes to Bathsheba, saying in whatever way he communicated it, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” She could look into his eyes and see his agony, his soul poured out onto death, his sincere remorse and desperate need for her forgiveness.
Bathsheba had a choice to make – justice, or mercy.
Justice would salvage at least her reputation and financial stability by demanding public acknowledgement that she was innocent, that he had raped, or at the very least, abused his position of power over her, and force restitution.
While mercy, through forgiveness, would cost her dearly. For the rest of her life Bathsheba would bear the humiliation of an irreparably destroyed reputation as she was falsely convicted in the court of public opinion of seducing the nation’s hugely popular rock star politician. She would feel a sense of betrayal to her first husband Uriah, who had loved her with a total devotion as his only wife. She would experience loneliness, shunning, and outright hatred from the other, highly competitive wives in the king’s harem pushing their own and their son’s interests. She would find it impossible to assuage her heartbreak of losing her first born son due to continued involvement with the man who caused her trauma. This was not an easy choice for her to make.
But if Bathsheba had chosen to withhold forgiveness and instead get “an eye for an eye” justice – suffering for suffering – could David have reclaimed his life and lived out his destiny? Or would it have been the end of him, and the new nation?
I don’t think it was enough for David to hear from the prophet Nathan that God had forgiven him. I think we humans require experiencing forgiveness from one human to another, with our senses – to see the change in expression on the face of the forgiver, to hear the words “I forgive you”, to feel the hug, to smell the skin your face is pressed against, to taste the tears of reconciliation.
Is it possible that people have a hard time believing that God can forgive them because we have so little experience of human forgiveness? After all, we are designed to have God’s likeness, and our impression of what God is like is informed by our knowledge of humans.
Is it possible that our world is in such a mess because humanity refuses to forgive?