“Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34 – NIV). As Jesus died, these are the words he uttered as he gazed out into a crowd, a crowd filled with people who knew they needed to be forgiven and with those who felt they rarely if ever did anything wrong.
Forgiveness can be one of the toughest things in life and often it is a journey that takes time, humility, much prayer, and living through pain again. At times I have struggled mightily with forgiveness and there remain people in my life history with whom I still struggle with the idea of forgiving. I also know the converse is true. Yet, forgiveness is at the heart of our journey with Jesus and is as central to who God is as love.
Forgiveness is hard but it is harder now given the spirit of our nation and the conduct that many people find acceptable. Yes, forgiveness can be very difficult, especially when the person needing forgiveness is either unaware of any wrongdoing or lacks the integrity and humility to be honest and truthful. Forgiving others is hard, but so too can be forgiving ourselves.
Jesus’ words on the cross mean that humankind is forgiven. Every person is forgiven, like it or not. As Christians, life changes when we accept God’s forgiveness and learn to live by it. When we accept forgiveness, we travel lightly without burdens, anger, hurt, or the bitterness of the past that is weighing us down. When we truly accept God’s forgiveness into our own lives, it is then we begin the journey of forgiving others.
With this said, it is important to say that forgiveness does not mean we forget what a person has done. It does not mean saying what a person has done is ok. It does not mean we necessarily stay in a relationship in which we were harmed. It does not mean hanging around people who are toxic nor does it mean we allow ourselves to be mistreated by misguided souls. Nor does forgiveness mean we do whatever we want to do because we are forgiven. Forgiveness does mean, however, that we along with others need to be held accountable for our actions.
Forgiveness is also not the same thing as reconciliation. It is part of it, but not the same. Reconciliation requires not only forgiveness, but truth telling and sometimes we engage in forgiveness even when there will not be reconciliation.
Forgiveness is not easy. Sometimes it just plain hurts and feels costly. It can be an agonizing journey that takes years. Forgiving means we are willing to extend to another what God has already offered to that person. It means we leave judgment to God and trust that God will do what is right.
Ultimately, forgiveness has more to do with us than the other person, because when we forgive, we let go of the person and turn the other person over to God, praying that God will bring about good, repentance, and healing in the person’s life.
Forgiveness is a vast topic. So many writers have left us with much to offer when it comes to the journey of forgiveness and if you are struggling with forgiveness, please dive into that life giving literature or reach out for help from us.
As we turn to Good Friday tomorrow, I invite you to join me in pondering, exploring and praying about forgiveness. To ask questions such as, “How and from whom do I need to be forgiven? Whom have I hurt in some way? Where am I in accepting God’s forgiveness or even my own? Whom do I need to forgive and where am I on that journey?”
“Do I need help from others or guidance? What are some things I need to ask God for forgiveness knowing I already have been forgiven? Am I too hard on myself? Am I overly confident and certain about things that I tend not to listen to other people and their feelings and perspectives? Do I need to be more gentle with myself when it comes to forgiving another?”
The journey of forgiveness is life changing, life restoring, and healing, but sometimes all of us struggle with it, need God’s help, and the support of others to get there. Spend some time before Easter with the cross and explore what Jesus’ death on the cross might be saying to you right now.
Know over the hours ahead, I will be holding our community of faith in prayer, that we will not only be guided in our journey of forgiveness and learn to live in response to it, but that we will be released from the pain and hurt we may be feeling around issues of forgiveness. I am so blessed we are on this journey of forgiveness together.