Tuesday, October 11, 2005
A Higher Standard  

I have heard it said that acceptance is the key to mental health. Surely part of any type of genuine acceptance is forgiveness. Because Jesus wanted us to know real peace in our lives, He told the disciples that they should be willing to forgive someone who has offended them seventy times seven times. In other words, they should be ready to continue to forgive someone although they continued to hurt them.

How difficult are these words of Jesus to implement in our own lives! We are constantly being offended by this person or that person. Often it is those who are closest to us who are the most egregious repeat offenders. They definitely can be the most difficult to forgive because they cause the worst scars. The wounds of those who should love us are so much deeper than the wounds of our enemies.

Many of us carry around wounds from those who injured us even long ago, and we simply do not know what to do with this pain. It really hurts, and although we try to see past it, we just cannot. We find it to be too painful. Why is it that we cannot forgive even we try to? We know that forgiving does not mean setting ourselves up to be doormats for someone who constantly wants to wipe their feet of bitterness and anger., but we cannot seem to completely forgive and move past what happened.

The difficulty with forgiving as Jesus asks us to forgive is that because we are human, we are ready to implement a higher standard than God Himself has for forgiving someone. Think about what God does when He forgives us our sins. He asks us to come to Him in humility acknowledging our sins before Him. In other words, He wants us to be contrite by simply recognizing the reality that He is God, we are creatures, and we have offended Him as His creatures by acting in a way that is against our own selves and Him. Also, note that He asks us to confess our sins to Him not in public but in private. He does not forgive us based on the idea that we will never again sin against Him nor that we will not again commit that very same sin. He extends this mercy despite the fact that He knows exactly what we will do in the future. Finally, realize that His forgiveness is complete. He actually removes the sin and "forgets" that sin.

Now look at our standards for forgiveness. We want people to come crawling to us begging for mercy in order that we might decide whether we will accept their apology. We always want to hold on to the option of not accepting the apology in order that we can keep the person "captive" to the offense that he committed against us. We want people to be very sure that they are on shaky ground with us. The person has no idea whether we will even give him the time of day to listen to his apology. Also, we would not mind if the person had to make a public proclamation of what he did wrong although the matter might be very private. (There is a time and place for public acknowledgment of wrong, most of the offenses against us are essentially private matters.) Finally, we are very wary of accepting an apology because we know this person, and we are sure that they are just going to do something to us again that will once again hurt us. By accepting his apology, we believe that we are just giving them an invitation to hurt us again.

It is that last "criteria" that we have that probably is the most often used reason for not forgiving someone. The problem with this idea is the fact that in forgiving someone, all the forgiving is on our side. In other words, we are in charge of forgiving, not the other person. We are the ones who can acknowledge that a wrong has taken place, but we are not going to hold against that person. The other person might have no idea that he has even done anything wrong. When we tie our forgiveness to the other person's apology or acknowledgment, we are tying ourselves to the other person in a way that prevents us from actually forgiving the other person.

God's way is that the generosity of forgiveness is all on His side. He is waiting to apply that forgiveness to our souls, but if we never come to Him to confess our sins, His forgiveness will not be given to us. Our not coming to Him does not take away the fact that He is offering complete forgiveness of our sins. We see this in Jesus Christ who did not wait for us to come to Him, but came to us and acted to atone for our sins. Now He offers that atonement to all of us because we have all sinned against Him.

Similarly, we must pray to God for the grace to forgive even those most bitter hurts without waiting for the person who sinned against us to say as much as a word to us. This does not mean we set ourselves up again to be hurt by that person. Instead, we remember that the forgiveness is all on our side. It is also on our side to avoid being hurt again by the person who hurt us. God does the same. He does not forgive us our sins and then not give us the grace to avoid the same sins. Instead, He gives us everything we need to turn from the next occasion of that sin. We can do the same, by making it more difficult for the person to sin against us if the situation is such that it warrants such an action.

Part of the key to our mental health is forgiveness. It enables us to get past the actions of others that keep us from moving forward in our lives. We need to remember that forgiveness is on our side. We are in charge of forgiving regardless of the reaction of the person who has sinned against us. We should also remember that in forgiving, God, too, is on our side.

Posted by David at 8:00 AM  |  Comments (0)  | 


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