I have a confession to make.
I cringe when I hear the word “forgiveness”.
I know. I hear you. You probably think I’m crazy, or that I’m just one of those people who are triggered by truth. Maybe I am. I’ll let you decide, but I respectfully ask that you keep reading before making accusations of this sort.
A few times when I’ve been vulnerable enough to admit that the word forgiveness makes me cringe, I caught a glimpse of narrowing eyes. And I understand why: to people who’ve never had forgiveness thrown in their face, it makes no sense.
But for those of us who’ve been told that forgiveness is a quick-fix-cure-all for deep emotional pain, it is a trigger. For people who’ve been told that they are bitter because they do not trust the person who hurt them, forgiveness is a trigger. A huge one.
I know I’m not alone. Forgiveness can be one of the hardest things for a survivor to hear, particularly if forgiveness has previously been used to buy their silence or “fix” relationships.
You need to understand that I have not closed my heart to forgiveness. I haven’t and I won’t. In fact, I decided to study it more closely. I wanted to see for myself what forgiveness is and what it is not. I should know by now that when one seeks the Lord’s view on something, He brings clarity and peace.
I started with the verse in Ephesians 4:32, which states that we are to “forgive one another, even as God through Jesus Christ, forgave us.” And so, my first question was, “How did Jesus forgive?”
I went to the crucifixion story. Yes, Jesus forgave. He did so by putting the immeasurable injustice done to Him in the lap of His Father. He said, “Father, forgive them; for they don’t know what they are doing.”
So, did Jesus’ plea to God for the forgiveness of the people who nailed Him change the consequences they faced for doing so? No. Not unless they chose to repent.
Did Jesus’ forgiveness of the thief on the cross who saw Jesus as an innocent Man change the consequences the thief was facing for his crimes? No. Not at all. The thief still died for his sin.
Did Jesus’ forgiveness take away His pain? No.
Did Jesus’ forgiveness “fix” the relationships between Jesus and His offenders? Did His forgiveness (by itself) bring restoration? No.
Was Jesus shy about showing His scars? Did Jesus’ forgiveness prevent Him from speaking about His death? No.
Jesus’ forgiveness, was an outpouring of His Father’s love. He begged His Father to have mercy on His killers. He longed for them to see the truth. To believe. To repent. To embrace His Father, instead of turning away from Him.
This, my friends, is forgiveness.
Unlike the things many abuse survivors have been told, forgiveness does not entail silence; it tells what God has done for you, even when that includes the messy stuff. Forgiveness is not a quick fix for the pain, though it likely will be part of the process of healing. It is not a one-time occurrence; it is an attitude – a desire to see your offender turn away from sin and turn to God. Forgiveness is not covering up sin; it is exposing it for the good of the offender. By itself, forgiveness is not reconciliation, restoration, or trust.
I wonder if Jesus understands why the word “forgiveness” makes me cringe. I wonder how He feels when it is twisted into something it was never meant to be. I wonder if He begs God to forgive the people who use so called “forgiveness” as a weapon to harm the wounded.
Just as Jesus pled for mercy for the souls of His killers and continually intercedes for us, we too can pray for the people who’ve hurt us. We can desire repentance while we grieve and long for truth even in our pain, just like the Man of Sorrows who carried our own sin and pain so many years ago.
If there’s Anyone who understands pain, it’s Him. May we choose to forgive like He does.