Forgiveness is one of those words that is used by society, the church, and even the psychological community. It is commonly recognized among all cultural and philosophical groups that forgiveness is essential to emotional and physical health. One might go as far as to say that forgiveness is the doorway to all healing! With all the emphasis on forgiving, it seems we may have lost its most basic component, thereby losing its most dynamic power.
It could be that the resistance of people to forgive others and themselves may be due in part to a basic flaw in our understanding of what it means. We think that when someone forgives they have somehow become accepting of the offense. In other words, to forgive the person who hurt me means I now accept or am willing to overlook what was done.
Working from this somewhat flawed concept it seems that few people forgive; therefore, few ever get past the offense. In fact, it is a syndrome of cause and effect. I won’t forgive you because I can’t get over it and the fact that I don’t forgive keeps it alive in me. People can’t conceive of “being alright” with the wrongs done to them, therefore they can’t conceive of forgiveness.
As a counselor I can personally attest to the fact that most people spend their entire life with a limited capacity to experience love, a diminished quality of life, poor health, and even premature death because of the unwillingness to forgive.
Our flawed ideas of forgiveness even restrict our capacity to trust God. If forgiveness means God has to be alright with what we’ve done or if He is going to overlook them, then no wonder we can’t believe that God has forgiven us. Our concepts of God and forgiveness are rooted deep in mysticism. We see Him as an angry God who seeks appeasement.
Many believers think forgiveness only comes when a great enough price has been paid. I’ve actually heard Christian leaders say those words. The result is what the Bible calls condemnation, i.e. the expectation of judgment. This expectation of judgment is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We believe it, our mind/body creates it, and we wrongly blame God for what we have, in fact, done to ourselves.
Forgive literally means to send away. We can’t send away the unkind actions of others but we can send away the offense, the pain, and the suffering! It is, after all, the way things affect us that we need to get past. This isn’t something we do for them; it is something we do for us. Forgiveness is an extravagant kindness to us. It is where and when we get on with our lives.
In John 20:22-23 Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. In my undergraduate studies I remember a long class debate about this Scripture. Everyone struggled with the idea that we could forgive sins. The problem was we saw this as us forgiving being the key to God’s forgiving. “How, after all, could a man forgive anyone’s sins? That is left to God!”
This question reveals two flaws in our thinking: our limited concepts of forgiveness and our failure to understand our responsibility to act. I don’t know that me forgiving someone has anything to do with God, but I do know that it has everything to do with me. If I send away the pain and offense of your actions I know I can be free, which is exactly what this Scripture is saying.
You have two choices when you are offended: send it away or retain (keep) it. If you send it away it no longer affects your life. If you retain it, it stays alive in you forever poisoning your peace, joy, and quality of life! Maybe The Message Bible translation can shed some light on this. If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them? (John 20:23, TMB)
Because most people do not understand man’s role in Planet Earth we continually ask God to do things that we should do. We ask God to heal us of our pains, yet we refuse to do the things that bring healing. We want God to take away the pain of offenses committed against us when God says we should send away offenses ourselves! The New Living Translation says If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. If you don’t do it, it won’t happen! It could be that praying for healing is pretty much useless without sending away what’s killing me!
Holding on to your pain isn’t serving you. It isn’t getting you what you want. In fact, it isn’t making the offender pay, it’s making you pay. Every day that you hold on to your pain you are rewarding the person who hurt you!
When you are in prayer and meditation simply identify your pain and send it away. Acknowledge that it is not serving you. It is not from God. You don’t want it. Create some visual and physical concepts to see and feel it leave you. Thank God for the freedom to do this. Call yourself free. And if you know how to do it, create a trigger that anytime those negative emotions try to come back on you, you can simply say one word, or create one thought and you will immediately feel free.
When it comes to you, God, and your offenses know this: God is not holding on to your offenses and failure. He does not want them affecting His ability to give you the best! Jesus became your sin – all of your sin, before you got saved, since you’ve been saved, and until the end of your life. Then He took those sins away. God said He would forgive (send away) your sins and remember them no more!
In the Old Testament there was a scapegoat used to exemplify Jesus taking our sins away. As far as God is concerned our sins don’t exist. The problem is two-fold: we don’t believe what Jesus did for us and we are not willing to forgive ourselves. Forgiving yourself does not mean you are justifying your sin or offense; it just means that you don’t want to live under the weight and effect of that sin. When you send away (forgive) your offenses you will be free to move on with your life. You send away your offenses against yourself, God already has!
As long as we are connected to past offense through guilt and shame they are alive in us, i.e. they still have power over us. We are not serving God, ourselves, or the world at large by living in guilt and shame. We are simply setting ourselves up to repeat the past! Send away your guilt and shame and begin to acknowledge that God, too, has sent away your guilt and shame. In your freedom return to fellowship with Him and experience a cleansing from the very root of all past failure!
Remember, whether it‘s your sin or someone else’s, if you don’t send it away, it’s still there. God has done His part. Now you do yours and you will be in harmony with God. You will find the peace you so deeply desire and so desperately need! In the end, this will not only be your road to emotional healing but also to physical healing.