Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Conditional Forgiveness

Ravi Zacharias, in his and Vince Vitale’s 2017 book, Jesus Among Secular Gods, describes how the attitude that “forgiveness is only for those who deserve it” is incompatible with Jesus Christ.

I am thinking deeply about this: about the conditions I put on forgiveness, and the conditions others may put on whether or not they forgive me.

It is fascinating to discern the many layers, often subconscious, of forgiveness.

We may intellectually forgive someone, adamant that we “hold no grudge.” But our actions tell another story.

We may withhold forgiveness because we feel a person is undeserving:
Perhaps they have not “properly” apologized;
perhaps they have not apologized at all;
perhaps we are upset that they are not mind-readers and thus appear to be unaware of our being offended;
perhaps they have denied any wrongdoing;
perhaps they do not want to or cannot apologize;
perhaps they blame us for the infraction and see no need to be held accountable.

We may deem institutionspoliticiansleaders and political parties unworthy of forgiveness. We may in fact see forgiveness in this case as being traitorous to our cause, incompatible with our sense of justice, or an infringement on our self-righteousness.

We may ignore any signs of regenerative maturity from another person because our wounded pride wants to continue to believe they are still the rotten person they were days, weeks, or years ago when they were steeped in their own dysfunction. And so we don't forgive.

And even if we concede someone has changed for the better, and their actions are conciliatory, we hold onto the past infraction forever, basically “paying them back for what they did to us” within a mindset of unforgiveness.

Many of us have, or currently are, practicing this withholding of forgiveness, all the while paying lip service, on social media and in other areas of our lives, to kumbaya, love and world peace, and “being the change.”

Very few of us ever get to the place where I believe Ebenezer Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, in the story, A Christmas Carol, was: unconditionally loving his abusive, curt and hurtful uncle while keeping the door of forgiveness open, whether Uncle Scrooge walked through it or not.

Note that Fred did not love the abuse, the curtness or the hurt it caused, but he loved the man in bondage to it by maintaining a forgiving heart and mind.

This nephew was able to practice daily compassion for his uncle by not taking the uncle’s gruffness personal; a very difficult, very mature stance.

Fred did not read into the attitudes and actions of his uncle, but instead separated himself from his uncle’s outworking of inner fears and hardness of heart. The nephew was loyal to the uncle, not to the uncle’s behaviors.

Fred was patient in letting Scrooge work out his demons, and did not punish him once that battle was won. In fact, Fred celebrated with Scrooge in his victory, letting all the bygones melt away.

It is a wonderful turning point to be able to emerge out of, logically and emotionally, our own unforgiveness with all its qualifiers, and to separate one’s self logically and emotionally from the unforgiveness of others. 

It is the ultimate freedom to detach from what has been and what may yet continue that is out of our control, and attach instead to what is in Christ.

copyright Barb Harwood

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:7-14

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13

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