Forgiveness

During the Coronavirus lock down, Sarah and I have been running a facebook Live event called Afternoon Tea each day. We’ve covered all sorts of big topics including bullying, suffering and forgiveness. In this article I want to jot down some of the thoughts we shared this afternoon. This isn’t a structured article – more just jotted thoughts

  • The question of forgiveness relates to the topics of bullying and suffering, many suffer because of bullying and abuse. Is forgiveness possible?
  • STOP is used to define bullying in schools “Several Times on Purpose.” This is helpful but remember that sometimes repeat behaviour may not be overtly deliberate but we must look out for “wilful ignorance” when someone simply refuses to pay attention to the pain they are causing.
  • It is easier to forgive a one off unintentional hurt if the person apologises quickly
  • Ideally we are looking for full reconciliation and restoration but sadly this is not always possible.
  • Forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration does not mean there are not consequences for example the church treasurer who steals and the pastor who commits adultery may be restored to fellowship but probably not to role because part of the restoration includes them understanding where they are prone to particular temptation.
  • Similarly, forgiveness does not mean that you have to stay in a dangerous situation such as  with domestic abuse. This also means that being directed to a 1-1 or even a facilitated/mediated conversation may not be helpful if an abuser is simply using the mediated or 1-1 meeting to continue  emotional abuse.
  • Forgiveness does not avoid justice. In fact, it is important to recognise who is responsible for justice. I may not be the only person who has been wronged. So personal forgiveness does not exclude church discipline or criminal proceedings
  • The reality of justice is central to our ability to forgive. This means Biblically that justice is done either on the Cross or at judgement day.
  • This helps us think about the phrase “forgive and forget.” This may not be helpful. God forgives and remembers no more. That is on the basis that justice has been done at the Cross. The result is not that he forgets something in his memory but he regards us as justified -just as if we had kept his law perfectly, loved him completely and not offended him. This is true because the old man is dead and we are new creations in Christ.
  • This does help us to consider our approach to forgiveness.  We aim to reach the stage where we are not seeking the punishment of the person.
  • Jesus tells Peter to forgive 70*7. This is a large multiple of 7 meaning ongoing and complete forgiveness. Therefore forgiveness is an ongoing, freely given state of mind/attitude.
  • I believe that we act to forgive first even before the person repents. This models grace. It also means repentance is more likely to be genuine because the person repents out of true sorry not to make us change towards them.
  • We should not confuse forgiveness with healing. So, some people will struggle and say they are trying to forgive but find it hard. In those cases, I think they are forgiving. Their attitude orientation is one of love. However they may struggle still with the pain caused. The real prayer here is for healing and peace.
  • We can and should aim to forgive even when the person does not repent and is not reconciled. This not only models grace but is also helpful and healing towards us. Often we hold on  to the anger as a way to punish someone but they are oblivious to this and so we just end up hurting ourselves more.
  • Forgiveness should never be used as a tool to control the situation. Indeed when it is, it raises questions about my own culpability in the situation. Beware of gaslighting where someone is actually raising issues against someone to avoid addressing their own.
  • Matthew 18 puts a principle in place that things are kept to the smallest number possible. So if sin has a significant effect on others, is known to them and/or is persistent without repentance then church discipline may involve meetings with witnesses and in front of the church. But if the issue is a one to one issue then keep the forgiveness and reconciliation as close to one to one as possible.  We don’t create forgiveness and reconciliation situations that are designed to shame or threaten.
  • We forgive because Christ has forgiven us much more than we can forgive anyone (the parable of the unforgiving servant).

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